Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mystery Jelly 2/26

I came upon a small bit of jelly substance in Carlisle yesterday; initial impression was amphibian egg mass, yet I could find no embryos in the mass. Still early for "Big Night" despite the heavy rains this week.

Anyone ever come across such stuff?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lynx Expedition

Janet writes:

Susan and I attended Walnut Hill's 1-day lynx tracking program on the
20th, and then spent a few hours the next morning tracking elsewhere on
our own. We were fortunate to find lynx tracks both days.

This was in central Maine, near Moosehead Lake, in early succession
spruce/fir forest, where there was a lot of snowshoe hare and grouse
activity. Both days, I was struck by how intensively the lynx used a
very small area with a lot of hare activity: Lynx trails criss crossed
through the hare hangouts. This makes sense, since this cat is a hare

(Maybe I don't yet have enough experience to make this generalization,
but it seems to me that bobcats don't have as strong a tendency to
concentrate their efforts in such a small area. They seem to do more
opportunistic wandering, which would make sense, given the more varied
diet of the generalist bobcat.)

Although we saw no clean, crisp lynx tracks, it is easy to determine
lynx even from a poor, partially blown out or snowed over trail. The
first two photos show the typical direct registering walk in deep snow.
Note the huge tracks, wide straddle, and bobcat-like step length. No
other animal fits that picture. A cougar can make tracks that large,
but the stride will be much longer than that of a lynx trail.

The third photo shows tracks of the lynx's favorite prey, the snowshoe
hare. In deep snow, this animal can splay its toes to produce huge,
snowshoe-like tracks, as shown in this picture. When the snowshoe hare
does not splay its toes, the tracks look just like over-sized cottontail

In the 4th photo, you see a pattern of tracks which looks like that of a
lagomorph, and, at first glance, we assumed it was snowshoe hare. But
those tracks were actually produced by a lynx, which bounded several
times in succession as it ascended a hill (and then resumed its
alternating walk). Like its prey, the predator is adapted to deep snow
with long, powerful hind legs, and huge feet, and will occasionally use
those long, strong legs to bound in the same manner as its prey.

The last photo shows a weenie weasel whisking off with dragging prey.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lotta Sign

Last week's light snowfall provided the perfect substrate for tracking at Chelmsford/Carlisle Cranberry Bog Reservation; 1st up was an otter trail emerging from a ridge of pine saplings; a daunting upland passage between wetlands. Likely a bold, roving male. I've only found a run at this ridge once since the early 90's. The tracks soon vanished in a tangle of cattails & thin ice.

Next was a rare find in these woods, gray fox. It held up briefly & left assortment of prints.

Last, a couple of mink pairing up. Their prints were found carousing throughout the Res.

One of the better tracking days this winter...

Otter Obfuscation

Janet writes:

Otters are said to "slide downhill most of the time", and uphill only
"occasionally", so those at Vaughn Hills last week must have taken great
pains to through off trackers.

In fact, on that particular day, they decided to do more uphill than
downhill sliding. One photo shows some uphill sliding - you can see that
the animal had to frequently propel itself forward with its feet in
order to keep moving. There was quite a bit of downhill loping, even on
steep slopes.

On the ice, the otter on the right chose to lope, while the one on the
left slid. (The narrow slides going perpendicular to the otters'
direction of travel were made by the slipping hooves of a deer as it
crossed the frozen stream.) Most of the slides I found that day were
short, and on flat ice.

There was a stretch of 9 consecutive steps of 2-2 bounding, the first
time I've seen an otter use that gait with virtually perfect registration.

One thing that has been fairly consistent, at least in my experience so
far, is the tight grouping of tracks. You can see that discrete
grouping in the photos above. Sometimes the tracks within a group did
spread out, but not often to the point where it was difficult to
distinguish separate groups (which does often happens in fisher trails).

Why did they do so much downhill loping? I don't know, but the tracks
are kind of small for otter, so maybe they were young ones playfully
goofing around, and/or maybe they had been eating well, and did not have
to worry about moving efficiently to conserve energy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fotter Tracks

Janet writes: Would anyone care to hazard a guess as to which are
otter and which are fisher tracks? I know what they are based only on
the behavior of the animals I was tracking. Is it really possible to
determine which it is based only on track appearance?

The tracks in the photo without a ruler measured about 2.5 inches in width.

A tracker's valentine video

Janet was delighted to receive this from her 11 year old son, Steven. It's so clever and cute that I had to share it. The audio is pretty funny, too, but I couldn't figure out how to add that in. Hope the video works!

Porcupine den in fallen tree root ball

Dan went tracking at Quabbin over the weekend with David Brown. We
found red fox, grey fox, bobcat, fisher, otter, porcupine, and weasel
tracks. We also found fresh moose barking, raccoon and otter latrines
(right where Janet would have looked), otter slides, and a hole where
otter were re-entering the beaver pond. One of us (no, not me) learned
the hard way that otter have a knack for finding the weakest spot in the
ice to place their hole. (Walking up to a hole in the ice is a great
way to make a second hole in the ice!)

One highlight of the trip was seeing a porcupine den (complete with
resident porcupine) in the root ball of a fallen tree right at the edge
of a wetland. One side of the root mass had a sheltered opening large
enough for a bear, if you were a bear who liked denning up in porcupine

David Brown has at least one more Quabbin trip planned for this year.
Visit for details.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Raccoons at Water's Edge

Lars took these at Delaney two days ago. Raccoon comes from an Algonquian word meaning “he who scratches his hands.” In Europe it’s a “wash bear” (waschbär in German, vaskebjørn in Danish and Norwegian, tvättbjörn in Swedish and wasbeer in Dutch. The second photo reminds me of dinosaur tracks in Western MA.

Felis Finding

Lars was again out on Delaney 3 days ago after the dusting of snow. These tracks are feline, but small. They measure out in size between that of a house cat and a bobcat. I was quite far out, well away from houses, and the prints came up from a frozen swampy are, up and over the esker. The third photo crosses the trail of a coyote for comparison.

Opinions? Is it Fluffy or L. rufus?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kill Site - A Downed Downy

Here is a kill site found by Lars on the frozen wetland of the northern section of Delaney Complex of Stow/Bolton/Harvard. Two sets of footprints came into the scene. On the above photo, one set of prints (2nd photo) comes in from 8 0'clock. The second set of prints (3rd photo) comes in from 4 o'clock. One of the feathers is 7 cm long. I was able to identify the bird feathers as from a downy woodpecker from this website (4th photo):

U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory's Feather Atlas Website

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bobcat Photo Shoot

Our local bobcat decided to accommodate me as I tested out my new camera. Thanks to the neighborhood hawks, there were a couple of newly-deceased chickens available to lure him in. Though he appears a bit tentative at first, the cat soon decides that the bantam feast is way too appealing to pass up.