Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Trail of the Porcupine

I guess Sue and I didn't get our fill of freezing our faces off yesterday. Who cares if this morning dawned well below zero? We had a date to go porcupine tracking together today, and the sun was shining, so off we went. Our quest took us up a mountain ridge, where we left a well-trodden trail to bushwhack up, up, up (pant! pant!) to where porcupines have been known to live and eat.

Sure enough, we found much evidence of their presence: a packed, pee-piddled trough of a trail leading from rocky dens to a stand of hemlocks, where the snow beneath lay littered with stripped twigs and nipped-off branchlets.

Once a porky finds a good spot to eat, he returns there daily, not bothering to wander all over the snowy woods, wasting energy. So we thought we might find him enjoying his lunch up there in those hemlocks, somewhere. But we didn't. Maybe he was smarter than we were and stayed snuggled home in his den. So we looked for shed quills along the packed trough, and we struck out once again. But we did find many hairs.

We found lots of other critter trails, too: deer bounding all over the mountaintop, red squirrels dashing from tree to tree, foxes with their dainty pawprints precisely laid down in straight lines, and many, many mouse trails, including this one that runs from the stump to where the mouse tunneled beneath the snow.

We found a squirrel's nicely sheltered dining hall.

When I saw this stump, I had to look twice, since at first it looked like an owl's wing.

And this ice sure looked like the backbone of a fish.

Sue pointed out these dangling maple keys, remarking on the warmth of their color and wondering if they might be Mountain Maple. Hmmm. When Mountain Maple blooms, its flower clusters point straight up, they don't dangle down like other maples' do.

I don't believe I have ever seen a Mountain Maple's seed cluster. Maybe they do end up dangling. Or maybe this is Striped Maple. Anybody know?


squirrel said...

Both your Sat and Sun. adventures looked like fun. I thought I had some mouse trails around the yard and after seeing your photos now I am sure. I am hoping you get a photo of a porky soon.

Pablo said...

Despite the cold, I wish I could have joined you on that walk. I especially like that tree trunk that looks like feathers.

Jackie C said...

Beautiful shots. I love the 'owl wing' stump and the 'fish bone' ice!
You certainly are courageous to brave those temperatures. I feel so lazy!
Next weekend, I promise!

Ellen Rathbone said...

I almost invited myself along on your porcupine hunt! But, I just didn't want to drive down that way again this week - lazy me.

However, looking through my tree ID book, I can tell you it isn't a mountain maple. The keys for them are a) small, and b) very straight (no blobs on the end). They look like sugar maple keys. Striped maple has more of an oblique angle between the keys; sugar maple is more blocky in between. Does this help?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you Squirrel, Pablo, Jackie, Anon., and Ellen for stopping by with nice comments.

And thank you Ellen for the maple seed info. I thought it might be one of the understory maples because the tree the seeds dangled from was so small and kind of floppy. But the woods there is almost solid Sugar Maple -- bright gold in the fall. Do baby Sugar Maples have seeds?

Bird said...

Hunting the fiendish porcupine through snow and forest... could be a bestseller! What a day, you saw lots of beautiful things aside from porky pee tracks, I'm with Jackie Callahan about the owl wing stump and fish bone ice.

Jennifer said...

fun day of tracking... I don't know anything about mountain maple. but here is a picture of some striped maple seeds I took: