Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bobcat tracking at Quabbin

Janet and Bob Z. spent about 4 hrs at Quabbin today, where there were
many old, obscured tracks, but enough fresh, crisp ones to make for a
satisfying experience. Deer, moose, coyote, porcupine, etc., were all over.

As we were following moose tracks down a logging road, we noticed a scat
in the middle of the road. Bobcat tracks were leading to and from the
scat. In the photo, you can see the two front prints, with left clearer
than right, as well as the two hind lower legs, as the animal lowered
its butt to relieve itself. Positing a postprandial poop, we forgot
about the moose and backtracked the cat into the woods in pursuit of a
piece of pelage, or perhaps a portion of plumage, of the putative prey.

We ran out of time before finding any kill site, but the cat entertained
us with a lot of stone wall and log walking for the half mile we stayed
with it. One of the photos above shows its trail on a stone wall -- can
you find the cat tracks? I think the one at bottom center is pretty
easy to see.

You might have heard or read about the rule of thumb that says that a
felid will cross a log by stepping on it, but canids will step over it.
Poppycock. The coyote(s) that crossed paths with our bobcat stepped on
the log just like the cat did. The cat track is the roundish one on the

We also stumbled upon (literally) 4 black powder hunters -- remarkably
pleasant, despite the fact that we had totally destroyed their chances
of a successful hunt. Though well armed, they confessed that it's more
about being out in the woods than getting a deer.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle

Three times in 10 days, Lars has now seen two (and heard a third) Great Horned Owls in the pine stands of the most northern portion of Delaney Complex in Stow. Last week, I followed an early morning Owl through the woods as it got chased by a group ("murder") of crows. I followed them as they chased the owl from tree to tree. On Xmas eve at about 5p, I spotted an owl, then saw it join a second owl, perched high in dead trees at the edge of the marsh. They were calling to a third across the marsh. I attempted stealth on crunchy snow, but one flew away. The other posed for a few snapshots, and then grew tired of my clumsy approach and left. Then yesterday, I came across the same crows and their relentless chasing of the owl. I followed them through the woods until the owl doubled back and I lost them. Is this the same pair I saw at the same location last winter?

Included is a chance encounter with a bald eagle seen on 12/21 while crossing the new stone bridge across the Sudbury River/Rt 117 in Lincoln/Sudbury. I've never seen one around here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Confused Sharp-shinned Hawk

Yesterday, while I skated with family at the neighborhood pond (yes, the one where the wild things are), I noticed a sharp-shinned hawk swoop across the far bank. A minute later, my daughter Kelsey spotted it very nearby perched in a tree watching us. The next thing we knew, the hawk swooped over our heads right down to the puck a couple of the boys had been hitting around! It quickly discovered that they hadn't been playing hockey with a small rodent, and took off into the woods. Richard managed to find the disappointed hawk sitting on a wire and took these two photographs.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bobcat at Mt Pisgah

Janet writes: Bob Z. and I spent yesterday morning in the northern
portion of Mt. Pisgah. We soon picked up a trail of roundish tracks in
a wetland, which we initially thought were gray fox. However, we soon
began to notice more classic feline characteristics, upon entering the
woods where snow conditions were slightly different. Many tracks
remained obscure, and occasional ones still showed an X, but there were
plenty of real beauties, like the one above.

We stayed with the trail for about 3/4 of a mile, found 4 classic scent
posts, all with a strong cat urine smell, where the cat backed up and
sprayed, or just paused to sniff and enjoy the scent of his/her past
spritzing. The one above was particularly interesting, because the
smell was just beneath that overhanging flap of bark.

For a short stretch (less than a quarter mile), small fisher tracks
followed the bobcat trail, occasionally veering off to explore this or
that stump, in typical fisher fashion, but quickly returning to the cat

I've seen different predator species follow each other's tracks many
times, and it's a little puzzling when they use totally different gaits,
and therefore are clearly not following in order to take advantage of
broken snow. I wonder if they are thinking something like, "hey, maybe
I'll find that cat's cached kill if I stick with this trail".

This begs the question of whether we were seeing gray fox and bobcat
stepping in the same tracks. Possibly, but we never saw the trail
divide into separate cat and canine, and never smelled fox. And it
sometimes kept up a stride that seemed too long for gray fox.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tracking exercise

These are all poor tracks, but based on what you see, what animals do
you think could have made them, and why? What would you look for to
help you make an exact determination?

Little wings

There were so many of these in the woods and at the edge of an open
field today. Perfect conditions for feather marks.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Raccoon Raiders

Every camera I've placed along the wetland edge gets visited by
raccoons. In last week's cold weather, they were the second most
frequent visitor. Can you guess what was the first?

The final two photos were taken a few feet from my backyard bird feeder.
One of the cameras was malfunctioning when I retrieved it, so I put
it out in the cold overnight to see if it was a temperature-related
problem. I expected I might get some early-morning bird or squirrel
shots, but instead I got a 2AM visit from a raccoon. No wonder the
birdseed isn't lasting...

I've been setting my cameras out close to the ground to capture photos
of mink, otter, and beaver. The motion detectors work by sensing
changes in heat, and so a warm animal sticks out like a sore thumb when
it's below freezing. The most frequent visitors to my cameras have been
white-tailed mice. Some nights I'll get dozens of shots with just a bit
of mouse tail showing, as the mouse scurries back and forth along the
water's edge.

Mink out of water

Dan writes:

Last week wasn't a very productive time for camera trapping. The cold
weather kills batteries quickly, and the hard, crusty snow didn't reveal
many new tracks. One of my cameras stopped responding by the time I
retrieved it, and another went all week without a single photo. There
were some rewards, however, starting with this photo of a mink, still
glistening wet after emerging from the water. Note the white chin patch
and the pink toes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trail pattern quiz

Janet writes: Recently, I was reading about trail patterns, and learned
about a not very common one that I thought I had seen a few years ago.
However, at the time I misinterpreted it. So I dug up the photos to
take another look. Here are two of them.

You'll recognize from the close-up that the tracks are those of red
fox. Many of you will also recognize that the trail pattern photo shows
that in the foreground the fox was using the side trot. Then, about
three quarters up the photo, the gait changes to something new, which
the fox holds for at least a few strides. That's the one that confused
me when I first saw it a couple of years ago. The order of tracks
remained the same as in the side trot: front-hind-front-hind. What
might that second pattern be?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Active beaver lodge

Janet writes: So here's a good example of a bank lodge plastered with
mud, and a with a winter food cache -- those branches sticking up out of
the ice just beyond the lodge. There were plenty of nice beaver tracks
outisde the lodge. Obviously active. Susan and I came upon it this
morning while walking her dogs in Bolton (that's Taz on top of the lodge).

There is an old lodge in the middle of the pond, not plastered, and with
no food cache. The bank lodge is new since last summer, I believe.
Perhaps the occupants were living in a bank burrow over the summer, and
recently built the lodge around the opening for better winter protection.

There was a lot of otter sign in the area, as well, but nothing
particularly photogenic, due to the conditions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who made these tracks? #2

Dan found these tracks last night on a dog walk at Delaney, leading up
and over one of the steep earthen dams. The animal followed a direct
course from open water on the outlet side of the dam, up the steep hill,
and then walked down the other side, directly into the water.

Sorry I didn't include anything for scale. These are large tracks, and
the second photo shows the animal descending the hill to water.

Who made these tracks? #1

Dan found these tracks in his backyard at noon today, leading up from a
partially-frozen spot on the edge of the pond.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A watchful eye

Janet writes: This pales in comparison to all those recent otter,
beaver, fisher....and now bobcat photos we've been getting, but it was
so cute I couldn't resist.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Similar Behavior - The Coyote & The Collie

When I went to retrieve the NT camera this morning, my neighbor's border collie got to the site just ahead of me. As I pulled up the photos a little later, I was struck by the coyote and collie's very similar reactions to coming upon an especially alluring scent.

Bolton Hot Spot

Susan chose a photo site at the edge of a local pond where there was an accumulation of otter scat, and managed to refrain from retrieving the camera for eight whole days. It pays to be patient. As the pictures show, a veritable parade of animals examined the spot.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Three otter visited the beaver haul-out, resulting in the photos above.
These are some of the best otter photos I've been able to capture.
Normally they move so fast that I'm lucky to get a bit of tail in the
frame. One winter I set up a camera on a trail where I'd found otter
slides. I got a series of blank photos on a snowy night, but each
subsequent frame had a new otter slide right across the photo. Remote
cameras take 2-3 seconds to wake up, focus, and take the picture. So
you either need to move the camera back so to capture the entire area an
animal might move through in that time, or you need to find a location
where the animal slows down or pauses.

Fisher? Mink?

What do you think these are? It's hard to get a sense of scale, since
both animals are pretty much on top of the camera. The first looks like
fisher to me, and the second like mink.

Beaver Scent Mound Visitors

Beaver scent mounds appear to be popular destinations, and not just for
beaver! Dan's camera trap recorded beaver, raccoon, mice, deer, and
birds visiting a scent mound in the Delaney wetlands.

I expected to get multiple photos of beaver at the scent mound, figuring
they'd be inspecting their dam works and territorial outposts on a
nightly basis. Only one beaver visited this mound (on the night that
the camera trap was placed), and in the few days I had a camera on a
beaver dam, no photos were taken.

Beaver at work

Beaver are working hard at this time of year, venturing up on the bank
to cut saplings, and freshening up their scent markers. This has been
one of the most productive photo trap locations, and I almost passed it
up. The only sign of activity I saw was a small pile of vegetation that
looked like it had recently been hauled up from the pond bottom. I
mistakenly thought this was the beginning of a scent mound building
project (gotta use those beaver stimulus funds!). When I went back to
retrieve the camera, there was no new material deposited on the bank, so
I thought the location was a bust. Only when I looked at the photos did
I realize this was a haul-out point for beaver, raccoon, and otter, and
that plenty of other animals were passing through as well.

About 20 feet from the water, I found an exposed pine tree root that had
been gnawn upon. Gnawn! Whether this was the reason the beaver were
coming up onto land, or if it just happened to be tasty snack en route
to other browse, I don't know. I never found really fresh browse, but
as the third photo shows, the beaver were definitely cutting vegetation
and bringing it back to the water. There was considerable stump
sprouting in the area, evidence that the vegetation had been repeatedly
hammered by beaver in the past.