Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mink tunnel

Janet followed a mink along Great Brook in Bolton this morning. A few
sets of nice tracks on snow blown over ice, some sliding, then, in 2nd
photo, a tunnel. The hole in the middle of the pic is where it dove in,
then emerged a few feet later, as can be seen at the top of the photo.
How interesting to see how the deep snow affects the movement of these
animals. Mink sliding and tunneling, fisher struggling to stay on top,
and wee beasties taking big risks.

Meandering Microtine?

This one puzzled me. It looks like a vole trot, but I wouldn't think a
vole would travel on the surface for so long, in relatively sparse
cover. There was a bit of a crust under the top dusting, so maybe it
couldn't tunnel. Still, it trotted on and on and on without even trying
to tunnel. A walking mouse? According to Elbroch's Mammal Tracks and
Sign, a white footed mouse walks only under dense cover.

Fisher on Snow Crust

Around the corner from the mink tracks that I just posted, Lars found fisher tracks on the same peninsula of Delaney Pond in Bolton/Harvard/Stow, MA. He was 2x2 bounding in the powder, and when he hit a harder crust on the snow, he switched to a gallop. I followed the trail in both directions. One way led across very thin ice (no, I won't go that way). The other way led to the marking shown in the third photo.

If anyone has tricks to distinguish fisher from otter, it would help extinguish my sense of confusion regarding this matter. I see no webbing in the prints, nor fish scales in the scat.

Mink Hole in the Snow

Yesterday, Lars took these photos of a mink trail, 2x2 bounding through the snow. His path ran along the pond/forest edge of the peninsula in the northern section of Delaney. The mink dove down into the snow, then backed out, turned and jumped over a fallen tree. You can see where he placed his feet to look over the tree before he jumped. Peterson's Guide says that mink dens tunnels are 4 inches in diameter. This snow tunnel looks to be 3 inches in diameter. In powder like this, how can one tell the difference between mink and weasel?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kill site

Lots of "precious bodily fluids" out on the snow yesterday. I could see
the coyote highway from quite a distance, so knew there was something
good to see up yonder. As I approached, I noticed fisher tracks
entering from another direction. The photo was taken prior to my
tampering with the evidence.

I tried unsuccessfully to excavate -- it was too frozen. However, I do
believe this is something buried under the snow, rather than just the
remaining blood stain, because for the few inches I was able to dig, the
stain became denser and denser. Look like the animals keep returning to
see what they can dig up. No other feeding sign on the snow surface.

You, see, I really can find the occasional kill site even without the
dogs, although I must admit that while struggling to excavate, a certain
Jack Russel terrier came to mind...

Could be a good place for a camera.

Fisher scent stations

The fisher never disappoints. I followed a trail yesterday, and in the
span of less than 15 minutes, found two interesting scent stations.
Sorry - photos not very good due to poor lighting.

The one with the tunnel is curious. The animal had been 2-2-ing through
the woods, then for no reason obvious to me, it appears that it dove
into the snow, and left a couple of urine stains near the entrance. One
stain is fairly easy to see, at about 8 o'clock. The other, at 5
o'clock, doesn't show very well. Looks like it might have rolled around
near the mouth, then made its exit, 2-2-ing away.

Although you cannot really tell from the photo, the other scent station
was on a mound, perhaps a tree stump under the snow. This time, the
animal left a tidbit of scat along with the urine stain.

These were in the same area where I found a nice fisher scent station
last winter.

'Tis the season

Janet posts for Bob Z, who yesterday found sign of coyote in heat at the
edge of an apple orchard in Bolton.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Scent Mark or Back Scratcher?

Lars was out at Delaney this morning. Lots of fresh tracks in the inch of new powder. I saw a variety of fox, coyote, rabbit, squirrel, deer, snow tunnels from mice and a long-meandering fisher trail. I still scratch my head over the differences between otter and fisher, but this seemed fisher to me. Following the track through the woods and over the eskers, I found three piles of scat and pee, and lots of nosing into trees and bushes.

These three pictures are the most puzzling. I'll stick with my very first impression as I skied up to it. With an evergreen sprout bent over stuck in the snow, and the body impressions in the surrounding snow, all I could picture was a fisher rolling around over the evergreen scratching his back (or scent marking). It seemed just like my old dog used to do in the grass on a summer day, or in the snow. A final parting gift was left, as you can see in the middle of the second photo. The track leading away is found in the third photo.

This was found in one of my favorite spots, a wooded wetland just off the trailhead on Finns Rd cutting through the middle of Delaney. It's a place that I've found what I think are Dan's boot prints, too. Size 11? So, for the panel of experts - Fisher? What on earth is he doing?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Mystery Track

Lars came upon these 5 days ago on Heath Hen Meadow Brook in Stow. The second photo shows a couple of nice belly slides. In the third photo, the wing span is 20 inches, which I managed to measure before my skis cracked through the ice. Why was I standing on the ice of a running brook? To get the shot.... What's your guess as to who left these tracks? I'll give it a day and then answer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fisher using alternating walking pattern in deep powdery snow?

Dan writes:
I spent a number of hours tracking over the last weekend, and I'm
puzzled by something I observed in two different locations. We were
following what I decided were fisher tracks, but the trail pattern was a
bounding offset 2x2 weasel pattern about 10% of the time, and the
remainder of the time was an alternating step pattern, very similar to
gray fox. This was in about a foot of powdery snow, and it was
pretty-much impossible to count toes or determine much from the actual

In some places there was belly drag, but in others, just an alternating
pattern of leg holes.

It's possible that we were switching between the tracks of two different
animals, as the entire area on day two was criss-crossed with dozens of
deer trails. Or, perhaps this was a gray fox that liked to bound like a
fisher on occasion.

If you've ever come across an alternating fisher walk pattern, I'd like
to hear about it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mystery tracks

Found these tracks along a suburban driveway in Carlisle, leading up to
a shrubbery. Numerous cervid tracks found fleeing the area, including
bounding over a fence and across the homeowner's swimming pool!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Aye, there's the rub

Janet took these photos about 2 months ago while doing a tree inventory on a 15 acre plot within the lime kiln / rattlesnake hill area in Bolton.

This 8-10 inch diameter hemlock, one of only 3 hemlocks within the 15 acres of oak/pignut/pine forest, is evidently used for antler rubbing year after year. As you can see, there is evidence of both fresh rubbing and old scarring, and it went 360 degrees around the trunk.

Bucks usually choose small trees of 1-4 inches in diameter (this is the 2nd largest tree used for antler rubbing that I've ever come across), so why is this tree so well used, and is it the same buck year after year, or a number of different bucks?

No clue about the latter question, but as for the former, I wondered if bucks have a preference for whatever tree species are less common in the area.  Choosing such a tree would have greater visual and olfactory impact.  This hemlock certainly stood out visually within the predominately deciduous forest, and the rub was noticeable from far away.  To deer, the scent probably stands out, too.  I did a quick lit search and found a 1988 study which showed that bucks actually do prefer the less common trees for rubbing!  Never read this in a tracking book, but it's there in the scientific literature.

Hunter's lore has it that bucks with bigger antlers choose larger trees for rubbing...But I haven't been able to find any studies supporting that.

Leafy Tracks

While checking out a local beaver wetland yesterday, I came across this interesting trail of tracks. You can see where two animals (coyotes perhaps) walked on the ice when it was watery on top. Leaves later blew across the surface as the water re-froze and ended up embedded in the tracks.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Triple Header at Phillips

A handful of the Nashaway Trackers took a look around the Phillips Conservation Area today. Though conditions were far from perfect, we saw some interesting stuff. It's clear that deer are abundant there, and though we were disappointed not to find any porcupine sign, we lucked out when we happened upon some decent bobcat tracks. Most interestingly though, we found a deer kill site where the young buck was partially consumed, with much of his body frozen in the ice at the edge of a small pond. Only half of his head was exposed, showing one antler and an empty eye socket. We later came across a large rodent-type skull (more on that after a little research is done), as well as the wing and head of a great blue heron. For your viewing pleasure, attached is a photo of the aforementioned heads.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tree Snacks

This midden of pine cone debris made me (Lars) think of Native American shell middens that can be found in coastal areas and waterways. One midden of freshwater mussels was found on the Sudbury River in the area that is now Emerson Hospital in Concord MA. The one above was made by a red squirrel, chipmunk? This photo is from Marble Hill Conservation, Stow, MA in a area of mixed deciduous and pine trees.

And here are some deer grazing tracks under a canopy of oaks in Heath Hen Conservation, Stow MA. The close up shows half-eaten acorns. The last photo shows the outline of a deer taking a postprandial nap. The ruler is 8 inches.

Phillip Phillips - Fall 2010