Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quabbin 2/25/09

Janet went to retrieve camera, which, unfortunately, had no photos of
animals other than an unbecoming view of a deer's back end. I found no
fresh moose sign on the mountain in the vicinity of the camera. I did
find nice moose tracks at a lower elevation. See photo above.

I spent a lot of time, stupidly perhaps, on the icy ledges (continuing
south of where we turned around last time), scrabbling around in rather
unflattering positions, in order to avoid becoming a distant thud on the
ground below. I did find 3 porcupine dens. The first was an old
abandoned one in a large hollow snag, while the other two were side by
side in crevices in the ledges. At least one of those was occupied.
The crevice was not very deep and I could easily see the tail quills
glistening out at me in the sunlight. I wish I had paused to take a
photo, but the animal, alternately shifting around and raising its tail
at me, was obviously troubled by my presence, and I was troubled by the
sharp dropoff of the icy ledge behind me.

I examined the trees in the area and noticed that there were several
hemlocks with signs of porcupine feeding on the bark only a foot or so
off the ground. Some of these trees were dead or dying. So the
porcupine is a forest manager much like the beaver, but on a far smaller
scale. Also, some hemlocks near the dens had been heavily browsed over
the years, giving them a bonsai appearance, while neighboring hemlocks
were untouched. Why?

On the way back down the mountain I picked up an adult bobcat's trail
and decided to follow it all the way down. Sure enough, I came to an
area where a trail of small cat-like tracks crossed the trail of larger
cat tracks, just like we found last time. I found no urine marking at
all. So what are those smaller tracks? The choices are:

1. Subadult bobcat still hanging out in Mom's (the large tracks)
territory. Young disperse anywhere from age 6 mos to 2 yrs.(Incidently,
male bobcats sometimes don't reach adult size until 3.5 years, and
females until 2.5 years.)
2. Small female and male thinking about mating (March is the typical time)
3. Domestic cat bold enough to prowl around bobcat's territory.
4. Gray fox (small tracks) and adult bobcat just happening to cross

If this was a soon to mate male-female pair, I would expect some sign
that at least one of them was turned on (urine spraying). If it was a
house cat, I'd expect some sign of the bobcat exerting territorial
rights (urine marking again). The fact that the two animals appeared to
be indifferent to each other's presence leads me to think that the
smaller one has to be a juvenile bobcat or a gray fox. Look at the
photos: which do you think? NONE of the small tracks had claw marks,
and some of them did have a leading I guess I'm back to
favoring juvenile bobcat....But I reserve the right to change my mind
yet again, should we return to the area and find clearer tracks.

As I followed the adult cat down the mountain, the tracks brought me
right back to that fallen tree whose exposed root system had attracted
the cat last time. Remember that? This is where we all paused to admire
the beauty, and where some of us got wet as we crossed the stream. This
is where I dropped my mittens in the mud last time. I even found the
hand warmer that I had lost! So this is a place the cat frequents, not
just a random passage. Maybe a good spot for the camera.

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