Friday, April 17, 2009

Otters at Oxbow NWR

I forgot I had these photos until it came up in my Field Mammalogy class today. So I thought I'd post them. These are from mid-February.

I failed to get a wider-angle overview shot, but you can see Dan's feet and he is facing the frozen pond/wetland.

It's hard to see inside the opening, but there was a lot of scat inside there as well.

These close-ups were in front of the opening.

This image was taken from the side opposite the first photo; there was a bunch of scat and scent on top of the mound there.

Quabbin gate 37 4/16/09

Janet spent the better part of the day here, discovering a surprising
abundance of animal sign for snowless conditions.

At the beaver wetland, the dam was broken, and the entry hole to a bank
lodge (and probably the pond lodge, as seen through binocs) was above
water. The only fresh feeding sign I could find was in a small area
where they had chopped down the stems of some small shrubs, and a bunch
of small scent mounds, some freshly scented. So it looks like the
beavers had been gone for a while, and just returned this spring. At
the shore there were scattered mussel shells, probably feeding sign of
raccoon, mink, otter, or even muskrat. Maybe a few old otter scats. I
heard loons and frightened wood ducks.

As I ascended the east face of Soapstone Hill to explore the "cliffy
refugia", two male yellow bellied sapsuckers did battle while a 3rd
sapsucker, presumably a female and the object of contention, flitted
about obliviously. The forest here, and at the top, was quite different
from that at the unnamed hill where we tracked all winter - mostly white
pine, red maple, and oak, none of which are porcupine favorites. I did
find a small area of heavy porc. feeding on witch hazel near these
cliffs, so, although I was not able to locate any dens, there must have
been one somewhere close by.

The view of the reservoir from the top of Soapstone is spectacular. The
photo above does not do it justice. As you scan the reservoir and the
hills beyond, you get the feeling of true wilderness, because you cannot
see any sign of development from there, no houses, roads, etc. But this
is an illusion, of course, because the reservoir itself is man made.

On the way down the more gradual north slope of Soapstone Hill, I found
a few large carnivore scats (full of fur), one probably coyote ("twisted
anus canis"), and the other more felid in appearance: untwisted,
blunt-ended, and segmented.

In the forest along "The Gorge" there was quite a lot of moose sign -
scats, incisor scraping on red maple, and a few walk overs - seen
amongst every stand of hemlocks. There was also some sign of porcupine
feeding on those hemlocks. In fact, there were several examples of
"bonsai" hemlocks with clear sign of porc. feeding (niptwigs and
broomsticking). This was not in an exposed, wind-swept area, so it was
not likely a weather effect, as we had debated in the past. Here, this
stunted growth habit must be due at least in part to porcupine feeding.
See photo above of one such tree.

Heading straight back to gate 37 from the gorge, I had to bushwhack
through dense young pines...not too pleasant. But even more challenging
was crossing the West Branch of Fever Brook. Susan, I thought of you
throughout this ordeal, imagining you hippity hopping from stone to
stone, gaily chattering, "Oh, it's easy, really." I got wet. Very wet.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bobcat numbers appear to be on the rise in MA

Many members of the Nashaway tracking team attended a talk about bobcats
by Massachusetts Fish and Game biologist Laura Hajduk. Here's a
follow-up article from the Nashua Telegraph:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tracking quiz

Flip through all of your tracking books and find the Latin name of the
animal which made these marks in the snow at Mohawk Trail State Forest,
at the edge of a meadow.

Mohawk Trail State Forest 4/1/09

Susan and I (Janet) enjoyed an exhilarating hike amongst towering white
pines, majestic hemlocks, and various hardwoods of awe inspiring girth,
which grace the old growth of Mohawk Trail State Forest. The spongy
moss covered forest floor with its pits and mounds and lovely nurse logs
whispered memories of precolonial splendor beneath our feet.

A week or 2 behind Central MA, the Mohawk woods still wear a few patches
of snow and ice, though not many tracks were distinct. We focused
instead on other sign. along the Deerfield River, the remains of a deer
carcass recall the harshness of winter (photo shows deer hair, scapula,
and woody stomach contents). Nearby, the oozing black birch of beaver
artistry harbingers the freshness of spring.

Some 6-8 inch diameter striped maples (large for this species) bear
puzzling sign (see photo). These marks, rather old, began 1-2 ft off
the ground, and were as high as about 5 ft. While striped maple is a
favorite of moose, I have never seen moose barking as low as 2 ft, nor
did we find any clear evidence of moose (no scat, tracks, or
walkovers). Perhaps this was old deer barking or deer rubs, with the
higher marks made by deer on snow pack? Other ideas?

On the trails were various carnivore droppings; most were probably
coyote. The most eye catching was a foxy looking scat carefully placed
on a small pine twig. The fox;s skill and consistency in depositing its
scat in the most noticeable locations never ceases to amaze me.

We ascended a steep hillside of boulders, Susan with enviable ease and
precision. On this slope, but not within the cliffy refugia, was a
segmented, untwisted, blunt-ended scat of fur and small bone fragments.

Perhpas the most curious in terms of animal sign, was what we did not
see. No porcupine scat, fresh or old, within the many suitable den
sites around the boulders. Nor could we find any evidence of porcpine
feeding on the hemlocks. In a patch of snow, we did find a few tracks
that might have been porcupine, but that was all. This is habitat is
similar to that at Quabbbin, where porcupines are abundant. Are
porcupines controlled in State Forests, I wonder, because of the
"damage" they do to trees?

Another notable absence was black bear sign. these are reportedly
present (even common) in that area. Yet, we found no climbing marks on
any of those huge, beautiful beeches, no bite marks or claw marks on the
white birches or red pines. Puzzling. Maybe there are just too many
picnic baskets to raid, and campsites to mark.

Tracking Coyotes at Horseneck Beach State Park

Lydia and Dan spent a cold, overcast day tracking in the dunes along
Horseneck Beach, near the MA/RI border. Coyote tracks were everywhere
in the dunes and along the edges of the parking lots. At one of the
summer parking areas, we found a large puddle ringed with wet sand,
which had recorded perfect deer and coyote tracks. Dan made some
plaster casts of the front and hind feet of coyote.

We followed an old dirt road, on which we discovered domestic cat
prints as well as skunk, and then bushwhacked back toward the beach.
Following a deer path through the woods, we came across a disturbed
area on the side of a small hill, where sand had been flung out of the
hillside and coated a nearby tree. We initially thought we were
looking at a coyote den, but the digging stopped a foot or two into
the hill - there was no actual den cavity. Perhaps the coyote was
trying to dig out another animal, or perhaps this WAS a den
excavation, but the coyote changed his mind upon encountering some
obstacle. Whatever it was, there was sand flung out all over the
place, reaching five feet up the tree and scattered down the slope.

The hole itself measured about 15 inches across and extended down at a
sharp angle into the hill.
Here's a link to another coyote den on Cape Cod:

We had expected to see red fox tracks, but didn't find a single one
today. What we did find was a complete red fox carcass, decomposing
in the dunes just a few feet away from one of the parking areas. Its
mouth was slightly open, and we were surprised at how good its teeth
looked - white and shiny with no wear or plaque.

On another part of the dunes we stumbled into bunny heaven, startling
a rabbit that zig-zagged off at high speed. We spent some time
studying the tracks it left in its escape. We literally watched the
tracks age - grains of sand fell back into the track and within five
minutes the track had lost a surprising amount of detail.

Rabbits had been browsing on beach plum, nipping each branch at 45
degrees. (We would have been happy had the temperatures reached 45
degrees!) We found several places where rabbits had hopped along a
dune path, and then turned and sat to nibble, leaving clear prints of
their hind legs in the sand. Dan got to see individual toe
impressions in some of the tracks, and could have easily mistaken a
single rabbit foot print as canine or feline without the distinctive
2-1-1 trail pattern. (That fleeing bunny, by the way, left serious
nail marks in the sand as he motored up the hill away from us).

We ventured out into the wind at the end of the trip to track
shorebirds and seagulls, and to compare the various gaits used by
dogs running free on wet beach sand.

So what didn't we see at Horseneck? No raccoon and no red fox
(although we found raccoon scat and probably fox scat). No opossum.
Only one set of skunk tracks. We suspect that as it gets warmer we'll
start seeing additional animals using the dunes.