Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gray Fox Sit Site

Had a great hike today in Petersham at the Brooks Woodland Preserve. We came across a huge boulder upon which a gray fox had climbed. Its tracks show that it descended, then sat for a bit on the edge before jumping off. Although I failed to get a photo of the unmistakable prints, I did snap a shot of the sit print. (That's my camera case on the right side, for scale.) Also in evidence were lots and lots of deer sign, and mustelid tracks aplenty, including weasel, mink and fisher. I'm attaching a photo of classic mink-on-the-hunt tracks along the edge of the Swift River.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What a Drag - Part 2

Lars has added photos from the "What a Drag!" site. I privately quizzed Janet with these first two photos included here because I was uncertain regarding the animal. I was struck by the roundish nature of the print and wondered about bobcat. Again, this is in the Heath Hen conservation area on Boxboro Rd/Flagg Hill Pond in Stow. The site of this added track is about 30 feet from the dragging print. The area is newly regrown forest next to an open meadow and a large apple orchard. There were rabbit prints and even more squirrel prints. I had followed the drag track but could not find a kill site. The drag track came from the meadow and orchard.

I'd love people's thoughts to put together this mystery. I like Janet's idea of bobcat dining on bunny or squirrel. See her comments on the previous post. I like spending time on/around Flagg Hill Pond in the winter with my skis on the ice. I see lots of fisher, otter (when I can tell the difference), mink, fox, coyote and deer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What a drag!

Lars was XC skiing in Heath Hen Meadow, Boxboro Rd, Stow today. This track crossed the main path, came from a meadow and went off for a distance into the woods, dragging what? Hmmm. Any ideas?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Delaney Otters!

Dan writes:
One benefit of having a dog along when tracking is that they tend to be
drawn to interesting scents in the woods. So far this month Teddy has
lead me two bird kills (where only a wing remains) that I probably would
have walked past if he hadn't swerved to investigate.

Video of wildlife checking out the first bird kill can be viewed here:
Gray and Red Fox feeding video

In today's photo sequence, a pair of river otter emerge from the river
to relieve themselves on the shore, before continuing their night-time

The next morning when we walked up to check on the camera,
Teddy was photographed with his nose right where the otter had left scat
the night before.

p.s. These photos were taken with the Moultrie game cameras we'll be
using in my camera trapping course in February. I'm pretty impressed
with the image quality and ease-of-use of these cameras!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Curious 'Coon

This little guy couldn't resist checking out the alien camera attached to the stump at the edge of his pond. It was my goal to get a shot or two of the resident muskrats, but they proved more elusive. Stay tuned; I'm still trying.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Who made this scat?

Dan writes:

OK, trackers, here's a scat identification puzzle for you. What animal
made this scat? (Disclaimer: Like with most scat, I can't be 100%
certain of the identification, but we can still discuss what it could
be, and why.)


That's my adult-male-large glove, for scale. My gloved fingers are
about an inch in diameter.

We found several of these hair-filled scats right in the center of the
path, over about 100 feet of trail, at a saddle in the ridge line.

After finding these scats, I spent the rest of the hike looking for
tracks or other sign to confirm my ID. The only fresh tracks I could
find all turned out to be large domestic dog.

There were trailhead signs telling us about this animal (and about feral

This photo was taken on our pre-Thanksgiving hike, above Lake Sonoma in
Healdsburg, California.

Final hint: we saw another mammal in this "family" at Pier 39 in San
Francisco earlier this week.

Happy tracking! We're off to Yosemite next week, so stay tuned for a
"What animal broke into this rental car and stole my Twinkies?" quiz soon!

Friday, November 19, 2010

When Trees Attack...

Dan writes:
I went to check on the group's motion-sensing wildlife camera last
night, and got quite a surprise. As I approached the camera trap
location on the edge of a wetland, something seemed off. It took me a
second to realize that there was a 50 ft white pine trunk where the
camera used to be!

Apparently that tremendous wind storm that followed the latest rain
system snapped off the top 50 feet of a huge white pine, and sent it
crashing down across my camera setup. Amazingly, the trunk only grazed
the stump that I had attached the camera to, angling it slightly
downward. After I cleared off a branch and righted the camera, it
dutifully took my picture.

This is actually the second bullet this little camera has dodged
recently. I got a call last week from someone who stumbled upon the
camera in the woods and called the number on the little card I always
leave explaining the project. Thankfully he called, rather than walking
off with the camera.

Hunters talk of cameras being mauled by inquisitive bears, and I've had
two camera housings destroyed by fisher over the years. Floodwaters
take out cameras each year in the South. Elephants stomp them in the
East. This may be the first documented evidence of a tree attacking a
wildlife camera, however.

I can't decide whether this camera is lucky or cursed. In any case, the
little guy has used up two of his nine lives.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Red-Tailed Hawk returns for Gray Squirrel

Dan writes:
A week ago I was walking through the pine forest in the north part of
the Delaney Project when I saw a red-tailed hawk being chased by a crow.
The hawk wasn't too happy to be chased, but he wasn't too eager to
leave the area, either. He'd fly to the next tall pine and perch
momentarily, before being driven off again.

A few hundred feet further down my path, I found a freshly-killed gray
squirrel. The squirrel was still warm to the touch, with fresh blood
around a fatal neck wound.

I moved off a ways and waited to see if the hawk would return to claim
his abandoned meal. But the forest was quiet, and the hawk and crow had
moved on. I hiked back to the other side of Delaney, picked up a remote
camera trap, and returned to the squirrel kill an hour later,
half-expecting it to be gone. But the squirrel lay exactly where I'd
left it, and so I quickly set up the camera and left the area.

When I returned a week later, the squirrel was gone, and not a trace of
the incident remained. A single image on the camera showed the
red-tailed hawk swooping down to fly off with the squirrel. The hawk
got his meal that same afternoon, about five hours after his initial
attempt was thwarted by the crow and the hiker.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Do otters like to play in piles of leaves?

Dan writes:
I've been resisting the temptation to jump in the huge piles of leaves
my neighbors have been raking up this past week. Do otters also have
these same urges? A recent walk at Delaney WMA suggests this might be
the case.

I was checking out some fresh deer scrapes on evergreen trees at the top
of a very steep slope that led down into the Delaney wetlands. Around
the base of a marked tree, there were these tunnels through the leaves,
which then plunged over the edge and went right into the water next to
an old beaver scent mound. It's hard to see in these photos, but they
were perfectly round trenches through the leaves, nearly identical to
what otters would leave behind if they were sliding through the snow.

I tried to rule out other causes - I didn't find any hoof or nail marks
from an animal slipping or sliding down the hill. I did a fair amount
of unintentional sliding myself. :) I looked for fresh-cut beaver
logs, thinking perhaps a beaver had dragged something down the hill. I
checked for otter scat near the water, and back up at the tree. Nothing.

My best explanation is that a buck came through, and worked over the
tree. An otter coincidentally used the tree as the starting gate for
his pre-winter bobsled practice, taking advantage of the steep slope
covered in dry leaves. Any other ideas?

As I walked further down the trail, noting fresh scrapes on the young
hemlocks, I realized that the sharp-needled tree I originally looked at
wasn't a hemlock. I went back and took a closer look. Sharp needles.
No lines beneath. Needles in two flat rows. Pleasant smell when
crushed. This keys out as Balsam Fir in my books, which would place me
in southern Maine, and not central Massachusetts. There are a number of
these trees, all about 8-15 ft high, in the north part of Delaney. What
are they?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Autumn Action at Beaver Bank Lodge

I set up my camera at a nearby beaver pond for a few days. Besides a couple of pictures of a neighborhood cat, I got several shots of a handsome buck, one of an inquisitive coyote, and a good number of the hard-working beaver himself. I've posted the more interesting ones ... showing him with a muddy mouth, positioning some rotten-looking vegetation on the lodge and finally, mooning the camera (such a rare tail shot, I couldn't resist).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spike Buck working a scrape at Delaney

Dan set out the group's camera to take night video at a deer scrape at
the Delaney Wildlife Management Area in Stow. A young buck visited the
scrape each night, freshening and sniffing the scraped earth, checking
for does, and leaving his scent on the overhanging branch above the
scrape. At one point he notices the red glow from the IR LEDs on the
camera, and stamps the ground, frightening himself in the process.

A few hours later he returns, and while he's at the scrape a second set
of eyes appear in the woods. A doe? He rushes off to investigate!

Here's a direct link to the video on YouTube, if the embedded video
below doesn't work:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tracking Bears in Western Virginia

Dan writes:

I spent Labor Day weekend camping with friends at a PATC cabin outside
Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia. The cabin logbook had
many reports of black bear sightings on the roads and trails around the
area. I spent some time exploring the trails around the cabin, and was
able to photograph several types of bear sign. Once I figured out the
food preferences of the local bears, and their marking habits, it became
fairly easy to predict where to look for sign.

All apple trees showed climbing scars and broken branches. I never
found a classic "bear nest", but did find apple and black cherry trees
with broken limbs that had been bent back toward the center of the crown.

Cedars along the trail were usually swiped and showed diagonal claw marks.

Bear scat consisted of black cherry seeds, or a smaller seed from a
fruit I was not able to identify.

Painted wooden sign posts on trails away from the cabins were massively
scarred with significant bite marks - I found cheek hair on several of
these posts. In one photo, I've placed sticks into the dot-dash pattern
caused by the bear's canine teeth (thanks, Sue Morse!)

Smaller diameter trees (3-5" diameter) with painted blazes usually
showed an old bite mark directly on the painted blaze. It took a while
to notice this pattern, but once I started looking for it, EVERY blazed
tree of a certain diameter had an old bite scar right on the blaze.

I examined many mature beech trees, and never found climb marks. I
found one old black cherry that had been climbed, and a mature maple
that showed clear climb marks all the way up the trunk.

Based on the sign I observed, I'll concentrate my future bear tracking
on fruit trees (apple and cherry), on easily-markable cedar, and on
human markings (sign posts and blazed saplings) along the trail.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tropical Track

...For anyone who cares to do a bit of research and take a stab at what
this is.

A Threever of Beaver or a Romp of Otter?

Dan writes:
We recently learned that three raccoons is called a gaze or nursery. So
what do you call three beaver? I propose that this be called a threever
of beaver.

My initial reaction when I saw this photo on my camera's screen was that
I was seeing otter. The animal in the rear has that sleek otter form.
But the heads look more like beaver, and the lead tail looks flat and

I've never seen beaver slinking along all flattened down like this. It
looks like #2 went under the log, while his friend decided to go over
the top. In the second photo, you can see a new wet spot on the log -
was there a fourth member of the party?

I didn't notice it until now, but the second photo (taken 50 seconds
later) also shows two glistening piles (one in dead center, the other by
the pinecone in lower left). What's up with that?

Sadly, I had another camera aimed at this spot, but it triggered off the
water (to the right of these photos) and filled its card by the second day.

Let's hear some opinions. What's going on in these photos?

Raccoons emerging from Elizabeth Brook, Stow, Delaney WMA

Dan's camera trap captured these raccoons foraging along the bank of
Elizabeth Brook at the Delaney WMA in Stow, MA. This is the same
"Beaver Crossing" location where I photographed beaver and otter last

Raccoons made appearances every four nights, always between 9PM and

Monday, August 23, 2010


Saw this critter on my back door the other day and took a few photos. Check out its head; it looks like blades of grass. And its butt ... what's that all about? Even after some research, I'm not sure exactly what kind of walkingstick this is. Anyone?