The Bug Geek

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Porcupine ‘hood

I went walkabout on the weekend in a woodlot near my property.  We have been getting SO MUCH SUNSHINE the past week or so, it’s getting me all antsy and stroll-y (even if it’s still rotten cold).  This woodlot is very lightly managed and has some old skidoo trails which make for very pleasant strolling in an otherwise densely forested area.  In the midst of a (mostly) cedar and white pine stand, on the west side of the skidoo trail, I came across what appeared to be the home turf of a porcupine.    I present the following evidence (click for full size image):

The animal had fed extensively on three white pine trees spaced about 5 meters apart; I found smatterings of damage on other trees, but these three were apparently the filet mignon of pines.   

How and when that school bus was driven into these dense woods is beyond my comprehension; but there it is.  The porcupine seems to think the bus is a pretty fantastic place to hang out.  I will be bringing a flashlight next time so I can have a better lookie-loo under the old wreck to see if anyone is home.

Winter Treasure Hunt (Part 2: stories in the snow)

(Continued from Part 1: critter feet!) 

The lonely road provided this wanderer with a wonderful range of habitats; old fields, dense cedar stands, deep swaths of maturing hardwood forest…and every so often the trees would part and I was reminded that civilization was not so very far away: 

Clearing: a corn field

Frozen streams lined the roadside.  I came upon two small holes in the ice that had recently been used by a mammal… 

Swimming Hole

Did it come for a drink?  Go for a dip?   The slide marks in the snow seem to indicate the latter.   The size of the tracks and the undulating line between the ones at the left of the photo tell me it was likely a mink fresh from a successful hunt.  It must have entered the water elsewhere (there were no tracks leading to the hole), emerged, and probably dove several times in search of a tasty morsel before finally walking back to a den to enjoy its snack (possibly a hibernating frog). 

Further down the path, I found this treasure…do you see it? (Look where the tracks coming in from the right seem to end.) 

The End

There is the distinct impression of two broad wings.  Here’s a closeup of the left one: 

Closeup of Left Wing

Methinks this is a murder scene.  A small mammal, the one coming in from the right, met its end in the talons of a bird of prey.  The bird left imprints of its wings and body (the large indentation between wings) when it descended upon its victim.  The wing prints were not terribly large; I would guess this was a small owl.   

Hmmm…a perfectly round hole (about 3″ in diameter) at the base of an old fence post…to whom might this belong?   

Red Squirrel Hole

Here’s the culprit:  Red Squirrel, in the flesh.  He was the only animal I actually saw on my walk.  He dashed between the fence post and the tree, then back again, stopping only to see if the Geek with the camera was still in hot pursuit (she was).   He flipped his tail.  He eyed me suspiciously.  He yelled at me a little bit.   Finally he relaxed long enough to be pretty for me *pose*, then darted down the post and into the little nook in the previous picture.  

Red Squirrel (much displeased)

This one I almost missed.  In fact, I didn’t notice it until I had begun my homeward trek back the way I walked in.  What caught my eye?  The stark pallor of a branch whose bark was recently removed. 

Stripped Branch

It was pale and “fresh”.   A quick glance at my surroundings and its position with respect to the road said it was very unlikely to be the result of human or mechanical damage.  I went in for a closer look, looking for teeth marks, thinking at first that maybe browsing deer were responsible.  But, a) this branch was quite high and b) there were plenty of much smaller, more tender shoots available closer to the ground – where white-tailed deer tend to browse.   A second naked branch was broken off and lying near the base of the tree: 

Stripped Branch

Yes, there’s a turkey track there, but it wasn’t the bark-chewer.   There were no other tracks visible around the tree.  Hmmmm. 

Then I looked up: 

Bark Sloughed Off Tree by Climber

Notice the darker, reddish patches of bark?  Those are places where bark was recently chipped off by clawed feet climbing the tree; a large critter making its way to a cavity hidden in the fork of the larger branches.  I’ve seen similar bark damage I knew to be created by raccoons, but in this case, my bet is a porcupine.  I only recently learned that they do not hibernate.  Although they hunker down in their tree-dens during rotten weather, they’ll emerge to feed on pine shoots and tree bark all winter long. 

Do you have different interpretations of these Stories in the Snow?  I’d love to hear your theories! 

Stay tuned…more to come!  Part 3: the fungus amungus!

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