Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Plot Thickens

Afternoon light
This afternoon I hiked out visit Burdock, suspecting he still needs some supplemental nourishment. When I scrambled up the icy slope,  the warm light of late afternoon shone into the entrance of this spacious den site.

Again there were two porcupines present, but this time both were black—Burdock and a larger animal. The stranger eyed me curiously as I unpacked. Burdock, ignoring the stranger's bristling quills, waddled past him and came over for a visit (and biscuits).

Could the stranger be Dandelion the Dreadful? If so, she wanted nothing to do with me, and hustled up the snowy ramp opposite and out the upper door. With a flashlight, I could see that Dangerous Dan, the pale brown porcupine, was up in the nook he retired to on my visit yesterday. There were three porcupines in this one den! Now I suspect that two nights ago, the two porcupines we found in this den were Dangerous Dan and the black stranger, not Burdie. Where did he spend that night? Was he here with them, just out of sight?

This den site is among the finest I know of, well-sheltered, spacious, yet with a variety of little porcupine rooms that provide opportunities for solitude or better protection. Still, there are several very fine unoccupied dens just a short waddle away. I suspect these three porcupines were drawn to each other rather than to this particular den site. Hmmm . . . peculiar for a generally solitary species.

Burdock was sleepy today. He hummed to me, but was in a mellow mood, and went back to bed after a snack.
A lazy porcupine waking up from his siesta.

The tail end of a porcupine yawn.
Burdock inspects my boot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Burdock's Big Adventure

Burdock, the juvenile porcupine, was not in his den when I went down to bring him his breakfast yesterday. He has been there pretty regularly for the cold weather of the past couple of weeks. You can read about his last expedition in the post from January 11.

I went out to look for him last night. I expected he would go his usual cherry tree, and would appreciate a safe escort back to his den for supper. Not only was the cherry tree empty, but I found no porcupine tracks between his den and the tree. Tracking conditions were tricky, with an icy surface beneath the conifers, but I expected to see clear track in the powdery pockets. Halfway home I picked up a porcupine trail. With much circling and back and forth I managed to trail it back to Burdock's woods, and then up to the vicinity of the cherry tree. With similar efforts, I found porcupine tracks continued beyond the cherry tree. New territory for Burdock. In a little wetland with soft snow, there was much meandering, and by the time I followed the trail out the other side, I was following two sets of porcupine tracks heading in the same direction. The porcupine(s?) came out on HCM trail, and, having been out for two hours at this point, I head home for provisions, and on my return, meet two trackers who had been following the tracker, Matthew and Ashley. The three of us follow the trail up the hillside to the west, and are soon at the den of the porcupine I visited on Saturday. Ashley peeks in first, and announces that there are, in fact, two porcupines at home.
Here they are:
Two porcupines!
I decide, after some scrutiny, that neither one is Burdock, since I can't see his nice skirt of long white quills. I have only one apple with me. Ashley breaks it in half. We leave the two porcupines to eat in peace.

Today, hopeful of finding Burdock before his trail disappears, Zut and I set out to try to find another set of porcupine tracks.  We end up at Big East's house, where we find fresh tracks leading to his watering hole, but no one in his den.
Tracks to the watering hole.
Big East's den. Nobody home.
The freshest tracks away from the den head up the hill to the east, then cross the road and continue up the hill to the west. The intrepid Zoot took a remarkable slip that sent her half way back down the steep icy mountain, but she bounded right back up again. Good goat.

Zoot on the hillside before her descent.
Big East's tracks (or were they?) led straight to the den site of the big pale porcupine that lives in the den above Walter's house. Who was visiting whom? Is there a porcupine social season? I decide to continue on to the dens to the north, where we visited porcupines last night, since I managed to lose the cleats for one of my boots while there and should go find it.

The two porcupines were still there. The original resident, the larger, paler one, was trying to squeeze his way back into the narrow part of the cave, but his way was blocked by the black visitor, the black visitor who was making a large whining fuss about being pushed out of the way. At last the original occupant (shall we call him Dangerous Dan?) turns back toward me and climbs up onto a secluded ledge. I can now see the face of the whiny interloper. Burdock!
Burdock has a biscuit.

Although he tried to play it cool in front of his new pal, Burdock was soon enjoying a biscuit sitting next to me. And then on my lap. And after a good feed he was ready for a wrestling match, as you have seen above.

Burdock and I spent a very pleasant hour together, then things deteriorated as things do with children. He started to yawn, became whiny and demanding, tried to sit on my head and eat my hair. . . Fortunately, I could pack up my things, call the goat, and leave him to the mercies of his new friend.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

On the trail of the porcupine

Typical porcupine habitat, den site N1
A wintry expedition today, looking for Dandelion the Dreadful and other residents of these wild woods. I visited the homes of six porcupines in a number of modestly dramatic locations. The porcupines seem to be occupying many more nooks and crannies in the den areas than in previous years. At this site, about five different spots showed signs of fresh porcupine occupancy, though I would be surprised if there are more than two in residence. While I clambered up to check another den site (no one home), a porcupine came out to sample one of the apples I left.

At the next site, a good sized boulder cave, the porcupine was home. I decided to stay for a while to take some notes and to see if the porcupine would come out of her cranny to eat an apple. After about fifteen minutes she did come out, chattering her teeth at me. Not Dandelion.
This porcupine is not Dandelion.

Otter slides on a January brook

I found otter tracks on the brook, such fun to see what the frolicsome beast had been doing—muddy places in the snow, many belly slides. . . The otter led me down to the little pond where Willow and her mate are residing.

The otter's tracks

Last night a small army of us brought a sled-load of poplar out to the stranded beavers. We were able to see that the beavers had retrieved the branches I had shoved under the ice earlier this week. We broke two new holes through the thickening ice and made the delivery. The nearly full moon, clear black ice, planets and stripes of clouds made the night especially fine.
When I arrived at their pond this evening, on the trail of the otter, there were still plenty of poplar branches in the water. The beavers should be well provisioned for a while.

The snow had been collecting tracks all week. Today I saw stories by snowshoe hare, mouse, flying squirrel, coyote, raccoon, grouse, red squirrel, shrew, and mink as well as otter and porcupine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Looking for Dandelion the Dreadful

Dandelion the dreadful
Dandelion the Dreadful, as you may know, had a most unusual first year of life for a porcupine. You can read all about it on the page dedicated to Fretful and Dandelion. I released her last April, a few weeks shy of her first birthday, and had little expectation of finding her during the months that followed. Now that winter is here and the porcupines have denned up, I have a reasonable chance of locating the little rascal if I search the porcupine denning sites.

I also wanted to find some proper porcupine browse for Burdock, and since porcupines are among the world's pickiest eaters, I thought I would gather some branches that had been pruned off by another porcupine—porcupine seal of approval— to entice him to eat his vegetables.

One of the little spots in this picture is a porcupine!
Burdock preparing to leap on the poor puppet.
As I approached the dramatic bowl that houses the closest dens to the north, I saw a porcupine hiking up the steep far side. I asked if she had seen Dandelion, and the porcupine turned and started toward me. How my hope soared, until it became evident that the porcupine was just hustling toward a den site in the rocks that happened to be in my direction. There were many tracks here, and many rocky cavities showed signs of habitation. There may be a couple of porcupines here this year.
I next went to check the big cave under the boulders to the west. Sure enough, a porcupine was in residence there, too, but not the Dreadful One.

I took an assortment of boughs from this porcupine's feeding trees, mostly hemlock, down to Burdock's den. He was very interested in them, and took a few bites before initiating a game. We had a nice long wrestling match in the moonlight. When I finally left, he continued to wrestle with his puppet friend.

Emergency supplies for Willow

Monday and Tuesday were blustery and quite cold. I feared that the ice in Willow's pond would freeze solid and she would no longer be able to get to her food cache. On Monday, Zoot and I set out with loppers and a bow saw. We arrived at the pond at dusk.

Zoot helps decide which trees the beavers would like.
Beavers tend to be pretty fussy about what they cut, and I found myself judging the beech saplings, trying to intuit what a beaver would select. I chose those that seemed most vigorous, though I'm not sure those are the ones the beavers would choose. I was impressed by how far up the steep hillside by the pond those beavers had hoisted themselves in their own logging expeditions.

I used a stout pole to break the thin ice by the dam and shoved the saplings into the pond. Temperatures were in the single digits and I knew the hole I made would freeze over again quickly, but the bark and small twigs on my offering should keep the beavers happy for a few days.

On Tuesday I returned with a sled-load of poplar from Anne's house. The fat moon lit the wintry
stream valley. I brought a splitting maul, and good thing. The ice was so thick I needed it to break a hole. I popped of couple of apples under the ice too. I hope Willow and her beau will enjoy these offerings in the comfort of their burrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Helping the beavers with energency repairs

We discovered a few days ago that Willow's dam had given way, leaving the beavers' high and dry in mid-January.

Late this afternoon, Matthew, Zoot, and I set out to see if we could assist Willow with her dam predicament. The beavers had started a new dam just downstream from their lodge and food cache. We thought we might help raise the water level by providing them with some building materials for repairs. Once at the pond, I set off downstream with the sled and loaded it with debris from the broken dam while M jammed debris and a log in the biggest leak. He also observed that much grass had been used in the construction of that section of dam, and when he tried it himself, it proved quite efficacious.
Matthew saws a log to plug the adjacent dam leak.

I decided to head upstream to confirm that these dam repairs were necessary. There the beavers had built a dam during the summer, and a nice little pond had formed. The banks there were higher—better for a bank lodge—and the water was deeper. This pond would provide much better shelter than any that might arise behind the puny dam we were working on. Unfortunately, their winter food supply was downstream in the area where the new dam might help. If the beavers were, in fact, in residence upstream, moving their food supply to the upper pond would be much more helpful than trying to raise the water level downstream.

Dusk settled—time for the beavers to become active. I could see a few openings in the ice above the intact dam, and from one of these a slippery slide led into a plunge hole in the ice at the base. Sure enough, a beaver's head appeared in the water above the dam. I said hello to Willow. She climbed on top of the dam and slid down its face, pausing briefly before disappearing into the beaver-sized hole at the base.
She reappeared downstream at the old food cache and came up through the ice for an apple. I guess I'll be moving food to the other pond on my next visit.

Time to head home. Zoot did much better on bridge crossings tonight than she did on her last trip out here—not as frightened of the scary trolls.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A tough break for the beavers

Admiring a gray fox track (the small print) as dusk descends
A wonderful day for tracking! I went out this afternoon with Matthew, Ashley, and Zoot the goat. The snow is still just a couple of inches of frozen, crusty stuff, but a lovely layer of powder has provided a wonderful substrate for tracks for the past few days. We found tracks of flying squirrels, red squirrels, snowshoe hare, gray fox, coyote, mink, fisher, long-tailed weasel, shrew and mouse. I hoped to visit a porcupine den or two, and to check on the beavers on the way.

I was especially interested to know how the aged beaver, Willow was faring. She is the beaver I first became acquainted with eight years ago. In November I was optimistic that she was in better shape going into the winter than she had been the previous year.
Willow's lodge in late November

Read more about a trip to the pond on a cold autumn night here:
 Beaver Moon in which we visit Willow on the night of November's full moon and check on preparations for winter.

I last checked on Willow and her new mate in late November. Their lodge was small and still needed more mud, but their food cache was a good size and they had plenty of warm weather and open water in December to finish sealing things up. I was optimistic when we headed that way today that we would find the beavers secure in their lodge. Instead, Dead Duck dam, the dam that had created their pond, had been breached and the pond was drained. The entrance to their lodge was above water and most of their food cache was likewise above the water.
Dead Duck dam breached.
 A new small dam had been constructed below their lodge, but the water level had not risen enough to help the beavers.

Food cache high and dry
On our way back downstream in the growing dusk, Matthew spotted a beaver near the food cache. Willow! She clambered up onto the icy shelf by the food cache and enjoyed an apple.
Willow has an apple by the food cache

She and her mate must be sheltering in a bank burrow. With the pond gone, they will  be much more vulnerable to predators as they work to make repairs and gather more food. They are also in danger from restricted access to food should the ice grow too thick on the brook or at the entrance to their burrow.
Lodge entrance exposed

Looking upstream at the empty pond

Monday, January 11, 2016

Burdock's hike

Burdock, the young porcupine, was not in his den this morning when I went to bring him a snack and check on him. This is the first time in a week he was not home. I went to look for him at dusk. I headed to the cherry tree where I found him last week. The tree is on a wooded hill about a quarter mile away, a pretty good hike for such a short-legged critter. Sure enough, there he was, a porcupine ball out on a branch near the top.

While waiting for him to come down, I noticed some large porcupine droppings mixed with the small ones beneath the tree. This supports my theory that young porcupines seek out other porcupines when they disperse. Though they are unlikely to socialize, they depend on older porcupines to lead them to the good feeding trees, den sites, and other porcupine resources.

Little Burd followed me eagerly back to his den, his feet thumping noisily along on the shallow, frozen snow.

Once at his den, he wanted to keep following me up to the house. As usual, when he reached the places where the adult male porcupine, Big East, had scent-marked, Burdock puffed up his quills, spun in circles, and galloped back toward his den—a porcupine invisible fence.