Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quabbin outing: camera placement

Susan and Janet tracked in the woods off Monson Turnpike in Petersham
today, in search of bobcat sign as described by Bob. We picked up the
trail of bobcat tracks where he had, at the top of the hill near the
cliffs. We chose backtrack the cat prints down the hill, as Bob had.
We reached the logs he had mentioned. The logs had the sent of bobcat
urine spray, but we did not find evidence that the cat had been using
the logs as shelter or napping sites. It appeared to us that the cat
merely investigated the logs. So, rather than place the camera there,
we continued on, following the cat tracks, and came to a small scat
where a bit of blood stained the snow. There only tracks in the
immediate vicinity were those of the bobcat. We dug up the remains of a
gray squirrel - just the tail, some additional fur, and a large
cat-looking scat.

We decided to mount the camera at the cache site. However, we noted
that the freshest bobcat tracks in the area were those that Bob had
followed 3 days ago. Thus, it does not appear that the cat frequents
this area on a daily basis, but we suspect (hope) there is a decent
chance that it will return to the place where it found either a meal or
another animal's cache. Maybe other predators will be attracted to the
squirrel cache, too.

I found it interesting that a (presumed) cat scat was buried with the
squirrel remains. I have read in several books that bobcats typically
do NOT bury their scats. But perhaps this indicates only that unburied
bobcat scats have been found by people. Perhaps bobcats sometimes (or
often) bury scats that no one ever discovers. The scat buried with the
squirrel tail remined me of J. David Henry's findings that red foxes
seem to have a sort of labeling system, urinating their on caches only
after retrieving them. For the fox, this appears to be a way of keeping
track of which caches it has consumed and which are still available for
a future meal. Do bobcats have a similar labeling system using their scat?

Other noteworthy findings on this hike: Deer beds (see photo), moose
tracks, moose beds, moose scat, porcupine trails and feeding sign. Most
of this was amongst the hemlocks at the higher elevations approaching
the cliffs.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Visitor to our chicken coop

My dog’s (Merlin) barking (inside) alerted me to the trespasser. It was sitting on the side of the coop as she barked furiously to get out. I went to another room to get my camera and got off several shots before it moved. I ran back to get my zoom lens and came back to find that it had moved several feet back (out of sight of the house), but was still sitting on the side of the coop. Merlin’s barking intensified (if that was possible!) and the fox circled around to the opposite side of the coop (shown here), in a more direct line of sight to where Merlin and I were. It thought about leaving, then paced up and down several times (by now our second dog had gotten in on the barking action), apparently deciding it wasn’t worth it and ambled off toward the common drive.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tracking walk report: at Oxbow NWR

Several people from our group, along with about 10 other people, walked
the loop trail at the Oxbow. We saw plenty of coyote tracks and scat, a
dead Canada goose frozen in the river near the shore, the remains of
blue jay (just feathers), raccoon tracks, a few otter scats near a
well-used hole in the ground that led to water, possible fisher tracks
(old and melted out), a lot of red squirrel digs, deer tracks, and the
ubiquitous beaver sign.

But the highlight was the trail of bobcat tracks coursing throughout the
area We followed them out onto the ice and reached a lair (see photo).
A largish (maybe 10 inch diameter) hole entered a snow-covered knoll,
with bobcat tracks going right towards it. The photo isn't very good,
because the lens cap was partly frozen shut, but if you look carefully,
you can see a cat track at the bottom left. There is also a very small
scat at the bottom center, but this appeared to be full of seeds, and
looked much more like fox scat (or even fisher scat) than bobcat scat.
There were a few more of these small, seed-laden scats on top of the
knoll. Perhaps this hole has been used by multiple animals in sequence.

Assabet River NWR Hike Sunday, February 1

Explore winter at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR),
Sunday Feb. 1, 1:00 - 4:00 PM. Join the Assabet Keeping Track team of
the Friends of the ARNWR for a nature walk with an emphasis on winter
wildlife tracking. Dress and equip for the weather, including
snowshoes depending on conditions. Meet at the north entrance to the
Assabet River NWR: Take White Pond Road South off of Route 117 just
east of the Stow Shopping Plaza (Shaw's), go across the bridge and up
the bumpy ARNWR access road to the large parking area on the right. We
will walk rain, snow or shine. For more information or to be added to
the Stow Conservation Trust e-mail list, contact Jill Kern.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Trip report: SVT tracking hike in Concord, MA

Dan helped Lydia R. lead a winter tracking hike for Sudbury Valley
Trustees at Nut Meadow, Concord. There were 16 attendees, including
Karen and her husband from Assabet Keeping Track, and Don from
Littleton, who joined us for our Keeping Track training in Vermont.

We found red fox, fisher, raccoon, mouse, crow, and heron, and found
the remains of a bluebird that was probably taken by a hawk or owl.
The red fox took advantage of a cross-country ski track, never once
stepping off of the packed snow left by the skier's left ski.

Other highlights included a temporary fisher den in the upturned root
ball of a fallen red oak, with muddy footprints coming and going along
a well-packed run. Further out on a peninsula we found a giant white
pine with a cavity at chest height, with raccoon tracks leading away.
The tracks were discolored from the rotting pine wood inside the
hollow portion of the tree. The lower bark showed numerous climb
scratches and held a hair or two. Fisher tracks also led up to the

That same fisher left a full body print, including tail, after jumping
out of another big red oak.

Out on the frozen beaver pond, we followed the raccoon and found some
wing impressions left by crows as they landed, explored a bit, and
then took off again. We found the feathers of a small, junco-sized
bird, and turned up several deep blue feathers, leading us to believe
it was a bluebird.

Despite some cold toes and fingers, everyone seemed to have a good
time, and several people remarked that there ought to be a central
Web site or mailing list for finding out about tracking walks in the

Rabbit Kill

By Susan: I've seen more rabbit sign in my woods this winter than ever before. This morning I came across a fresh kill site. I'm guessing the rabbit was taken by a bird and eaten in a tree because all I found was fur. Perhaps one of the great horned owls I've been hearing lately got lucky. Not far from the kill site, I saw where the rabbits have been foraging on hemlock, and also taking advantage of shelter afforded by our shed.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tracking Walk: Sunday January 25, 2009 at Oxbow NWR

Sunday, January 25, 2009: Tracking walk led by Janet Pesaturo at Oxbow
Wildlife Refuge in Harvard, MA. Meet at parking lot at the end of
Still River Depot Road past the railroad tracks. 10 A.M. - 12:00 noon.
Weather date: Sunday February 1, 2009. Sponsored by Friends of Oxbow
NWR. Free and open to the public.

Tracking Trip Report: Quabbin Porcupines

Dan went out to Quabbin in late December, and snowshoed back to the
porcupine dens on the back side of Bartlett Hill. On the way back to
the car, he came across a porcupine up in a 20-foot hemlock.

The porcupines were mostly sticking to the area right around their
rock dens. There were very few tracks outside of a 0.2 mi radius
around the dens. Even the deer seemed to be hunkered down due to the
deep powder snow.