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White groundhog spotted in Rural Valley

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Friday, June 29, 2007

COWANSHANNOCK -- Although it doesn't have a name as yet, a white groundhog near Rural Valley may be America's answer to Canada's Wiarton Willie.

The rare color phase groundhog was spotted Sunday by Dr. Michael Ondich, a Rural Valley physician, while he was taking a walk through some fields and woods in the township. Ondich wouldn't reveal the exact location of the groundhog's home. He said only that he was "lucky" enough to have his camera with him when he spotted the animal.

Another white groundhog gained fame and notoriety in the town of Wiarton, Ontario, named "Wiarton Willie." Unlike the groundhog spotted by Ondich, "Willie" was an albino, that is pure white with pink eyes.

According to Wiarton town records, Willie was found along a roadside sometime in the early 1980s. He was taken into captivity and fast became a legend with his 37-percent plus accuracy rate in predicting whether Old Man winter would hang on for another six weeks or not. Wiarton Willie died just a few days prior to Groundhog Day in 1999 at the ripe old age of 22.

Willie of course, is a relative newcomer on the block compared to Pennsylvania's own Punxsutawney Phil, whose weather prognostications date back to 1887. Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, also known as Candlemas Day, was inspired by an old Scottish couplet: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."

German settlers in the Punxsutawney area are said to have started the tradition of watching to see if a groundhog would see its shadow. Phil was the first underground den dweller to be credited with "predicting" the course of the winter season.

Some Wiarton residents insisted that "Willie" had an uncanny ability to make his predictions, not only because he was a true albino, but also because he was born exactly on the 45th parallel, midway between the Equator and the North Pole.

Ondich's mostly white groundhog was born at 40.8 latitude, slightly more than four degrees south of the "magic" 45.

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