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.