Friday, February 3, 2023

Winter Fun on "Porcupine Mountain"

It's past 3 o'clock on Friday afternoon as I sit to write this, and the temperature still has not made it up to zero (F), while wind is whipping the trees around.  Brrrr! And those temps will only drop as the hours go by. This sure makes me glad I got out with my friends (l-r) Dana, Sue, and Tom on Wednesday, a cold but bearably so day, especially since it involved an interior-furnace-stoking hike up a Moreau Lake State Park mountainside to search for porcupine activity.   Before we headed up, though, we stopped to enjoy the music of a babbling brook.  

I'm not sure what Tom and Sue are searching the treetops for (did they hear a bird?),  because I was looking down at the creek, enchanted by the sparkling ice and the tumbling rills.

Up and up and up we climbed, finally reaching a height and a hemlock woods where we began to search for Porky's trails.  Aha! Looks like we've found one! Porcupines are really low slung, so their trails reveal the width of their bodies as well as their footprints.

Porcupine trails are easy to identify, even when so packed no individual footprints can be discerned.  The very fact that the trails are so packed is the most significant factor, revealing the porcupine's habit of making a beeline from its den to its chosen feeding tree and returning there day after day.  We often find scat and pee and quills along the trails to confirm our ID.  That's probably what Sue is searching for as she studies this trail.

We followed that trail to where it led to a cave beneath marble moss-covered boulders.  Porky was most likely deep down inside, resting from a night of feeding in surrounding hemlock trees.

I'm glad we didn't see the animal that made these tracks heading down into Porky's den!  For these tracks were made by a Fisher, the only predator capable of killing a quill-armored porcupine.  Somehow these predators and their prey have managed to co-habit these woods without the porcupine population being depleted, but I can't help wondering how.  We often see many Fisher tracks up here near the porcupine dens.  But year after year, we also see no diminishment of well-traveled porcupine trails.

Back down on the shore of Moreau Lake, we pause to take in the bright blue sky as well as the lake, now frozen at last from shore to shore.  With two or three well-below-zero nights and sub-freezing days in the offing, we'll finally be able to head out across the lake without fear of falling through.

On our way to the park's warming hut to enjoy our lunches by the fire, it was fun to see if we could ID the remains of the flowers that bloomed along the shore last summer.  I particularly loved the organdy-sheer pods of Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata).

This array of tuft-circled stems is most likely one of the Lycopus species, either L. uniflorus (Northern Bugleweed) or L. virginicus (Water Horehound), two Mint-Family plants I have difficulty telling apart even when blooming. Neither plant smells very minty, neither in bloom nor as desiccated as these.


The Furry Gnome said...

I've certainly seen porcupine trails, but I've never seen fisher tracks.

Uta Zickfeld said...

Sitting here with a broken Clavicle, I am jealous of your adventures. I would love to be back in Ct. and wander around the lake to make discoveries as you have. I live in East Tenn. now and it takes longer to get to a beautiful snowy place.

rivertoprambles said...

Enjoyed reading & viewing your post, but curious as to why you wouldn't want to see the fisher. I've long enjoyed encountering the reintroduced fisher, tracking it in the snow & even writing of it in my blog, Rivertop Rambles. I look forward to reading more of your posts about the Saratoga country.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Furry,we often see Fisher tracks, actually one of the more common of our woodland predators around here, after Coyote and Red Fox.

Hi Uta! You are blessed with a wonderfully early spring down there in Tennessee, but boy, I would miss the marvels that winter brings, especially the frozen wetlands that allow us access to habitats we can't explore when they're wet and mucky. Or the animal tracks in the snow that alert us to the presence of animals we'd never know lived around here, if not for that evidence. Plus the beauty. Sparkling snow, glittering ice, sky so blue you can see all the way to heaven!

Oh gosh, rivertoprambles, I actually LOVE to find Fisher tracks. I should clarify, though, that I hoped the Fisher's tracks had not led down into the Porcupine caves, where I hoped the porkies were safely asleep. I was wondering, too, why the Fisher DOESN'T take advantage of such clear evidence of the porkies' presence. But then I imagined that it would be hard, in such an enclosed and tight space, for the Fisher to keep circling and harrowing the Porcupine to the point of exhaustion before delivering the coup de grace (which I have read is how the Fisher does manage to kill a prey most other predators would avoid). I certainly accept the need for Fishers to eat Porcupines. And I would LOVE to see a Fisher alive. I've only seen tracks and a corpse of one washed up on the riverbank.

suep said...

When researching for my own FB entry of this wonderful day with you, I learned two important things, correcting two assumptions I have long made:
--Porcupines do not eat ONLY Hemlock, even in winter their cuisine is varied
--Fishers do not eat ONLY Porcupines, able to live off smaller & less prickly prey; their distinction is being able to kill them without getting quilled.

So they are not so mutually dependent (or affected) by each other's presence or absense as perhaps we thought before -- it's good to see signs of both!