Scurry Zones

Brush Rabbit – Sylvilagus bachmani
The coyote brush shown here offers small animals shade and protection from predators.

What is a Scurry Zone?
Shrubs at the edge of grasslands provide important shelter for small animals.  Brush rabbits and other small herbivores creep out from their shelter to nibble sun-loving plants, ready to dash back in (“scurry”) if a hawk flies overhead or a coyote comes into view.  They stay close to their shelter, creating a scurry zone of clipped plants several feet wide.

Brush Rabbit – Sylvilagus bachmani
Brush Rabbit – Sylvilagus bachmani.

Brush rabbits have the biggest impact creating scurry zones, but rodents such as deer mice and woodrats that live in the scrub also forage in the scurry zone.  Ground-foraging birds such as California quail, California thrasher, towhees and sparrows that live in the scrub also come out into the scurry zone to scratch for seeds and insects.

The result of this concentrated animal activity is a micro habitat.  Many green, leafy plants get eaten but a few less palatable ones survive. With much of their herbal competition removed and animal activity spreading their seeds, these plants can create dense colonies.

A Habitat for Small Plants
Here are a few plants that you can find in scurry zones at Edgewood.  Even though you should make sure not to walk on these special and delicate ecosystems, you might like to kneel down on the path to see them up close.

Calistogia navarretia needs sunny, open areas to thrive. It emits a skunky scent that deters herbivores, like our brush rabbit, from eating them.

Calistoga Navarretia - Navarretia heterodoxa
Calistoga Navarretia – Navarretia heterodoxa

Woolly marbles also thrives in open sunny areas, but uses a different strategy to keep from getting eaten – it covers itself in woolly fibers. Each delicate flower is almost surrounded by a woolly sack which makes it look like a woolly marble. The rabbits seem to prefer tender green shoots to a mouth full of wool.

Woolly Marbles – Psilocarphus tenellus
Woolly Marbles – Psilocarphus tenellus

Tiny thyme-leaved pogogyne uses its Mint-family smell to deter herbivores. Humans often like this smell but it appears the rabbits don’t.

Thyme-Leaved Pogogyne – Pogogyne serpylloides
Thyme-Leaved Pogogyne – Pogogyne serpylloides

Tocalote uses spines to discourage nibbling.

Tocalote - Centaurea melitensis
Tocalote – Centaurea melitensis

Larger Mammals Reinforce the Scurry Zone Path
Once a scurry zone is formed, it provides an easy path around the shrubs that is used by bigger mammals, such as coyote and deer. Their use makes this nature-made path even more distinct.

Coyote pup in a scurry zone
Coyote pup in a scurry zone

At Edgewood, Coyote Brush is the Primary Enabler of Scurry Zones
Coyote brush is common at the edges of grasslands, and provides excellent shelter for the small animals that create scurry zones. Coyote brush itself is fascinating, with odd-shaped leaves and separate plants for male and female flowers. Learn more about coyote brush.

Coyote Brush - Baccharis pilularis ssp. consanguinea
Coyote Brush – Baccharis pilularis ssp. consanguinea