Burdock and Friends

Burdock came to my orphanage in the late summer of 2015. When he was released, I was able to track his movements through the winter, and into a society of porcupines—five other porcupines who shared a winter den complex. I observed a number of surprising interactions, and spent an especially wonderful spring in the company of these charming creatures. The following journal entries, photos and videos document these observations:

When Mike Clough at the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum saw a little porcupine on his own several times in one week in late August of 2015, he called me to see it it was old enough to be on its own. Since the date was early for young porcupines to be independent, I suggested that if he saw it again he might herd it into a cage, and I would come and see how it looked. Mike found the little guy again the next morning and here begins Burdock's story:

September 2: Burdock, the orphaned porcupine, arrived very small for this time of year, and too small to be on his own. He weighed 2.25 pounds, about the weight of a 6 week old. I started him on electrolytes and transitioned to goat milk.

A Prickly Situation in which I describe how to win the trust of a shy young porcupine.

September 4: Moved Burdock out to the enclosure after second night inside. He devoured raspberry leaves. Still climbs down trees head first!


September 18...   Gut.   Bar.  Well, that was Burdock starting out this entry. He has become much more attached over the past several days, so is now climbing on my lap and keyboard after his afternoon bottle.

November18: Burdock grew fast and is now a porcupine to be reckoned with. On recent walks he has been turning and charging back to his favorite place in the woods when he figures out we're heading back to the enclosure (or he picks up an olfactory message from Big East, I'm not sure which). He is full of beans on this drippy warmish day. We spent half an hour romping in his favorite place, and I have taken him over to Dandelion's first den. He has been exploring its recesses for about six minutes, and is now waddling off to the west.

Burdock enjoys a biscuit with Luanne.

November 29: Set Burdock free at 1:30. picked up the scent of another porcupine right away, and the message it conveyed seemed to be hostile, since he put up his quills and loped frantically for the familiar cover of his "den." He paused a couple of times to sniff things, hopped and spun around, and then he was off again. Once at his playing rock he felt at home, climbed about and engaged in battles with imagined adversaries and with his friend the puppet.  At about 3:30, Burdock headed off to Dandelion's Den 1. He settled down to explore, and was quite excited, sniffing everything, chewing on things. My assistant Luanne joined us. Burdock loves her.

December 6: Burdock has established himself in Dandelion's Den. I visit twice a day with supplemental food, he is still not eating adequate amounts of good wholesome roughage. Since his porcupine puppet got a bit damp, I brought a beaver puppet down to meet him today. He seems to like the beaver puppet too, unless it asks for a monkey biscuit!

December 10: Burdock has begun eating the hemlock I leave for him!

December 12: Burdock is usually content to stay and eat when I bring him his food, but today is one of the rare days when he doesn't want to be left alone. He refuses his milk, and when he starts eating a biscuit, I try to make my get away. He hops along on three paws, still clutching the biscuit, but then drops it and waddles quickly after me, humming away. When he catches up to me he lunges and clutches my legs. The fellow needs some attention today. I lead him up the hill to the nearest porcupine hemlock, the one near my house where Fretful and Big East once clashed. A porcupine has been feeding in this tree most nights recently, possibly Big East.

After romping with his friend the puppet for half an hour, Burdock decides to climb the hemlock. He nibbles on the needles a bit, and then takes a long nap. When he comes down again, he is ready to head back to his den.

December 28: At last some wintry weather! Burdock was so shocked to see the world transformed by snow that he refused to leave his den for two days. I had to coax and cajole to get him to come close enough to the entrance to find his food. Dandelion reacted in the same way, and I suspect I have been offered a window into how wild porcupettes and other creatures feel when they first meet snow. For many, it in not just an alteration of the visual landscape but the olfactory landscape as well.

December 30: This morning, Burdock was not in his den. The snow surface was a glazed crust, and while I could find a short section of trail where the snow was soft as he left the den, I lost the trail when he headed beneath the shelter of the spruces and the snowpack was solid.

He was not there when I returned around 4. I went back at 10:30 pm, and there was the little Burd, very eager for a feed. This pattern was repeated for the next two days. We finally got a dusting of fresh powder, and so on the morning of. . .

Faint porcupine trail along right side of frame
January 2: I set out to follow Burdock's trail. The fine powder had mostly blown off, but I found
that with some work, I could follow his trail. As he waddled along, the fresh snow was compressed by the warm furless soles of his porcupine feet, and tiny flecks of this compressed snow remained adhered to the crust, despite the wind. He headed north for about a quarter of a mile, trundling right along. I thought he might be heading toward the porcupine hemlocks west of Ho Chi Mihn, or perhaps had picked up the scent of a tasty feeding tree of his own. Instead I found him sitting on a limb high up in a cherry tree—not a preferred winter food tree for local porcupines. On the ground below I saw more than one night's production of porcupine scat, but no sign of feeding.

Burdock blob high up in the cherry tree
Burdock was not interested in visiting with me, but continued his siesta.
I decided to gather some fresh hemlock boughs that had passed inspection by another porcupine, so that afternoon I headed out to the little hemlock grove that is often frequented by the 2N porcupines. I found no fresh nip twigs, so no porcupines have been feeding there this winter. I cut some boughs anyway, and decided to try to find Burdock again. Because I was on the far side of his perch tree, I would have no trail to follow, but managed to find him still up in the cherry. Again, he had no interest in coming down, so I took a short-cut back out to the north again. In the gathering dark I made out a set of tracks I had not noticed on the walk in (maybe they weren't there?)—the tracks of a male fisher, and it was headed in the direction of Burdock's tree. Fishers are the only real predator of healthy porcupines in Vermont.

What to do? I knew that Burdock would be at his most vulnerable when he came down from his tree and embarked on the long journey back to his den, so assuming that was his plan, I went back out to his perch at around 7 pm and asked if he was ready to come down. After a few minutes, I could hear him beginning his descent. Once down, I gave him a couple of biscuits to fuel his trek, and we set off. He hummed continuously the whole way, following on my heels. He was very happy to have a feed when we got back.

January 5: Burdock has been in his den for the past few days. We finally have some cold weather. This morning it was -5°, and Burdock emerged from his den with a halo of frost.This day began with a couple of inches of fresh powder snow, which I enjoyed exploring Sunset Lake.

By the time I got home, temperatures were in the fifties. I was so grumpy about the weather, I headed out to the porcupine dens to see how Burdock was enjoying the unseasonable warmth. Someone might as well enjoy it, and I thought a porcupine might.

Burdock's hike

January 11: 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 (read on to find this assumption challenged), they depend on older porcupines to lead them to the good feeding trees, den sites, and other porcupine resources.

Little Burdock 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 I hypothesize that 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.

January 20: 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.

January 23: 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. 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 tracks 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 the gravel pit trail, and since I had been out for two hours at that point, I headed home for provisions. On my return, I met two trackers who had been following the tracker, Matthew and Ashley. The three of us followed the trail up the hillside to the west, and were 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 bounding out of control 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.

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 another porcupine, a porcupine 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?) turned back toward me and climbed 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.

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.

Jan. 27:
This afternoon I hiked out to 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).

 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.

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.
January 30: Burdock was on his own when I stopped by the cave on the last night in January. I could see by the set of small porcupine tracks sliding down the steep slope outside the den, that he had been out foraging, and saw a place where he had been feeding on hemlocks. Still, he seemed very happy to see me, and happy to sit on my lap and have some biscuits.

Dangerous Dan ignoring me

February 4: When I stopped by The Porcupines' Club to visit Burdock Tuesday evening, no one was in. I hoped that Burdock was up in a tree near the other two porcupines eating the sorts of things porcupines are supposed to eat. On Wednesday, however, when I stopped by the Club to see if anyone was in, Dangerous Dan was down in the nook most recently occupied by Burdock, and the black porcupine was leaving by the second floor exit.

The day had been miserably warm and rainy, a good day for porcupines to be holed up. Where was Burdock? The hillside snow was reduced to a mix of solid snow and ice. I was just as glad that not even the porcupines were out to witness my undignified approach across the steep, slick slope. 

Tonight, Thursday, I set off again, this time wearing a very fancy set of jury-rigged ice grippers on my boots, hoping to visit several local dens in my quest for Burdock. Dan and the black porcupine were both napping in The Club, and both pretended to ignore me. I left them apples and acorns and climbed up to the N1 dens, where I found no porcupines, but did notice that the sunset display was especially fine.

I found no sign of porcupines at 2N, but at High scenic I found a porcupine at home in the uppermost den, I think the same porcupine that was in residence there last year. The sunset had peaked at this point and was beginning to fade. Feeling discouraged and worried about Burdock, I resolved to look for him farther afield tomorrow. The easiest descent from High Scenic led to the south end of the ledges, a place where I had seen a porcupine denned up once, so I thought I might as well just check. . . I climbed up to peek in, and heard the humming greeting of a hungry little porcupine. Burdock!

The Burd was alone in this spacious den. Did he leave The Club out of a desire to explore or did the two adults finally tire of his bossy behavior and evict him?

It is now dark. Burdock climbs up on my lap to eat his biscuits. My lantern flashlight creates a fire-like ambiance in the little cave. When the biscuits are done, there is time for some play.

As I set off for home I see Burdock perched on his deck. Where will I find him next?
February 5:
Burdock at the door of his new den
Fresh snow today! I set out in the late afternoon to check on Burdock and the other porcupines. When I arrived at the High Scenic dens, I saw porcupine tracks leading to a den that had been vacant on previous visits this winter. When I sat down by the entrance, I heard Burdock greeting me from inside. This den is more smaller than the one I found him in last night, but has been in regular use by porcupines for years, so I assume it offers better shelter.

Burdock has a biscuit
While Burdock nibbled on biscuits, I went to leave a few acorns at the doorways of the other two occupied dens in this complex. When I scrambled back down to Burdock's new apartment, he came out the upper exit. I was dismayed to see that he still doesn't like walking on snow. I can only assume that he will figure it out eventually, and will become as adept a snow traveler as Fretful.

I left Burdock and went on to check on a few other den sites. The only other porcupine I found at home was Dangerous Dan at the Porcupines' Club. I didn't plan to stay, but only to offer an apple and a few acorns, an offering I hope will make up up for dropping by unannounced. When I pack up to go, I hear him chattering his teeth, a sound I find porcupines often make as a warning when they are preparing to move. Sure enough, when I shone my headlamp into his nook, I found he had turned to face me. I decided to sit for a few minutes to see what he would do. Within a few minutes, he had wandered out into the antechamber where I had left the apple. The apple was large, and porcupines are slow eaters. I got cold before he finished. I got up and clambered out of the cave, right past the contentedly munching porcupine.
Dangerous Dan eats an apple
February 15: I set out to visit Burdock on this Friday night. I haven't been out since Tuesday morning, and with the first real cold temperatures of the winter coming, I am eager to see how he is faring and to make sure he is well nourished going into the night. I arrive at High Scenic with dusk looming. Burdock is at the upper cave. I give him a few biscuits and check the other dens. I see fresh tracks leading into the hemlocks, but find no other porcupines at home.
Burdock, left to his biscuits.
I return for some social time with the little porcupine. He climbs up into my lap and he enjoys biscuits while I enjoy the dusk and the view. Soon we hear the crunching of feet below us. Burdock scrambles off my lap and retreats to the rear of the cave.

Seconds later another porcupine hauls himself up over the ledge and into the cave. The poor fellow is rather startled to find me sitting right there, but does not retreat. Instead he takes a circuitous route to the rear of the den, where he encounters Burdock.

Burdock squawks a few times, and then turns his back on the newcomer and eats another biscuit. The stranger cowers in the back, unsure what to make of the situation.
The newcomer decides that if Burdock isn't nervous, he shouldn't be either, and comes a bit closer. It is Dangerous Dan! He has moved from the Porcupine's Club to High Scenic, and back in with Burdock.
Burdock turns around and complains

I roll an apple to Dan

Like Fretful, this porcupine peels his apples. A pile of peels and well-cleaned core remain.

While the new arrival eats his apple, Burdock resumes his post on my lap. It takes a porcupine a long time to eat a big apple. Even with a lap warmer, my fingers and toes are getting cold, but I can't leave yet, I must see what will happen next. I have a front row seat for observing porcupine interactions. Oh, make that, I am a front row seat.
Burdock eats. Why are my hands getting cold?

The new porcupine explores the cave

and then settles down to sleep in Burdock's favorite spot
Burdock finally climbs off my lap and waddles back to his napping corner. He is not pleased to find it occupied.

Shortly after this scene, Burdock returned to complain more vociferously, his face right against the backside of the visiting porcupine. I think both porcupines felt obliged to make a bit of a fuss, but there was no need for violence. Burdock ate an apple and I finally headed home.

Feb. 17: After several days of bitter cold, wonderfully wintry weather, we have had a day of very warm temperatures and rain. I set out at dusk expecting to find all of the porcupines at home in the north dens. To my surprise, I found no porcupines and no tracks at the first two sites I checked, suggesting they had been out all day in the rain.

Burdock, however, was home, and greeted me eagerly on his doorstep. Dangerous Dan was home too, sleeping in the back of the cave and paying us no heed.

Dangerous Dan McGrew napping
 When Burdock moved out of the Porcupines' Club last week, I assumed he had been driven out by the other two residents, with whom he was a bit uppity. Now I find that Dangerous Dan has followed Burdock to his new den. This reinforces my notion that, while porcupines like to complain when anyone gets too close, they secretly like company. Sound like anyone you know?

I always carry apples and acorns when I look for porcupines, a small honorarium for their services as teachers. I put some of these out for Dan, who wakes up and waddles over to eat an apple. Burdock eats biscuits.
Dan eats an apple
Once he finishes an apple and an acorn, he approaches cautiously.
Burdock (left) leans off my lap and greets Dan with a hum (friendly) and a squawk (not friendly). 

Dangerous Dan eats a few more acorns, and then retires to a lower level, a room with a view, and goes back to sleep.

Burdock wants to play, so I let him climb around on me for a bit before I head home. As I head out into the rain, Burdock weaves back and forth on his stoop, whining, but will not follow me in this weather!

Nervous porcupine

Eating biscuit, quills raised
Feb. 22: I find the little porcupine alone, and very nervous. He does not greet me, but hides in the far end of the den, rear end toward me and quills raised. I cannot persuade him that he is safe. He comes close enough to sniff my glove and take a biscuit, but then hustles back to his safe zone to eat it. Outside his den I see fresh coyote tracks. This must be what frightened Burdock, though I doubt the coyote posed much of a threat to the well armored porcupine.

Feb. 23: I set out at dusk, hoping to catch the porcupines before they set out on their nocturnal ramblings. As I worked my way across the ice covered hillsides, I could hear porcupine complaint squeals coming from the vicinity of the High Scenic dens. When I arrived, I heard the whining and crunching of a porcupine heading up the hill toward the dens.

Burdock came up over a rise, turned around and squealed. Dangerous Dan came right up behind him, and passed him, heading up a trail away from me. I called to Burdock and settled into the  cave where Burdock and Dan often sleep. Soon Burdock was on my lap and enjoying a snack.
Dan arrives

I was not surprised when, several minutes later, Dangerous Dan clambered up to the cave and wandered in.

Dan enjoyed apples and acorns while Burdock complained halfheartedly.

I spend an hour with the two porcupines. When Burdock finishes his biscuits, he wants to play and I indulge him.

And finally, a momentous event! Burdock eats his first acorns!

Feb. 29: On the final evening of February, I arrive at the High Scenic dens at sunset . . .
and find Dangerous Dan dozing at the mouth of the den, leaning against the sun-warmed rock.
I find Burdock down in one of the other rock dens. He enjoys an apple.
I stop by to check on Dangerous Dan as dusk arrives, he is eating an apple too.

March 3: Dangerous Dan Hums

 I climbed up to visit the porcupines at dusk. I found Burdock in one of the lower rubble dens at High Scenic. He climbed up onto my lap and began noisily crunching biscuits. I soon heard the rustling of leaves as another porcupine approached from the woods. Just before it came into view, I heard the humming noise that is a porcupine's friendly greeting! Dangerous Dan is greeting me?! While Burdock and Dandelion, my orphaned porcupines, greet me in this way, I have not heard this noise from an adult porcupine since the reign of Fretful!  Looking at the color of Dan's quills, the obvious finally strikes me—Dangerous Dan is very likely to be related to Fretful, and might even be his son.

March 20: Burdock behaves Badly
Burdock and I enjoy a picnic on a high rock in the middle of the High Scenic den complex. He is feeling social and silly today.

I see only one other porcupine, or rather, the rear end of one, that has been in the same den every day for the past week.

On this day, however, just before sunset, the occupant emerges, and to my surprise is very interested in getting up onto the rock where Burdock and I are. This porcupine is the same size as Burdock, so likely also a juvenile. To my surprise, Burdock does not tolerate the approach of this youngster, but intimidates her (I do not know the sex of these porcupines, but this one looks feminine) into going back into her den by approaching her and squealing. I wonder that she felt so bold as to approach if this is how Burdock usually treats her. Was he behaving differently because I was there? (I return to this journal entry after den season to note that I observed few interactions between Burdock and Little Fuzzy during the rest of the spring, and he never bullied her again. I suspect she is female, and I suspect the adults are males. They seem interested in her. Perhaps Burdock is still too young to be interested in the opposite sex.)

March 25, Introducing Little Fuzzy: Burdock crawled out of a new cave this afternoon, and sat there like a little Buddha chattering his teeth for quite a while. At last he started humming and wandered down to greet me.

He settled down for a snack on this clear-sky day.

Inspired by Burdock and the sunshine, Little Fuzzy, the young porcupine Burdock chased away on my last visit, emerges from her den nearby. 

She has become quite bold already, and is very happy to discover an acorn:
When she finishes, she comes over for a closer look at the strange animal that has been visiting so often.
Notice her long white guard hairs. She also has a distinctive long nose.

Burdock, Little Fuzzy and I enjoy the golden sunset, and so does the red-backed vole.
 Look at the apple-handling equipment here:
When the sun drops, so does the temperature, and as I pack up to head home, Dangerous Dan arrives, so I stay a little longer.

March 26, A Spectacular Five Porcupine Night
Now that the ice is finally gone, I have begun to see more of the other residents of High Scenic, notably, the red-backed voles. To better observe them, I have started bringing sunflower seeds which I leave in small piles near possible rocky retreats. These seed are often discovered within minutes. The voles are shy and nervous if they notice me nearby, but seem to quickly deduce that I am not a threat.

Red-backed voles are the forest dwelling cousins of meadow voles. These little mouse-sized animals have smaller ears and eyes than mice, and shorter tails, and unlike mice, they are diurnal. Red-backed voles have a pretty chestnut color on their backs and sides. Voles are the main food source for many of the predators of our region. The voles of High Scenic enjoy the security afforded by the numerous rocky shelters where they are safe from foxes, coyotes, and hawks, though they must still venture out to find food.This vole is daintily shelling and eating a sunflower seed.

Once she is full, she takes a few at a time into her rocky shelter.

 The next to show up is a red squirrel. This is the third time we have met, and she already suspects that I am a benevolent visitor to these ledges. After scampering in a wide circle around me, coming in for a closer look at a few points, she sits down at a pile of seeds eight feet away.

This is a beautiful time of year at High Scenic. With no leaves out, the golden evening sun lights this west facing slope spectacularly.

In half an hour, I hear the chattering of teeth coming from a cavity in the rocks behind me. Soon Little Fuzzy appears at the opening in the rock, and then crawls out to feel the warm sun.

Little Fuzzy eats for about an hour, and then crawls back into her nook to digest and doze. An eager humming sound comes from the woods below, and soon Burdock is hustling over for a visit.

The dark porcupine in the prime real estate comes out onto his porch to soak up the warmth. You can see him at the entrance to the cave on the high ledges:
And here is a close up. This porcupine is quite dark, with white pantaloons. I think he could be Big East.

He soon climbs across the cliff face, tail down as a brace and gripping the top of the ledge with his long claws, and then wanders down to see if there are any acorns around. I am surprised that he is so bold. I suspect that Burdock's comfort with me reassures the other porcupines. He and Burdock ignore each other.

The sun has set and the warmth fades with the light. I am getting cold, but as I start to pack up, another porcupine arrives, a large porcupine that I have not seen outside of its den before. Big East retreated into Little Fuzzy's small cave at the sound of the new porcupine's approach, and I can hear LF complaining about it. The new porcupine sits down to eat an acorn at the entrance to this den.

Soon Big comes out and the two whine and squawk at each other.
The new porcupine makes room for Big (who is a bit smaller).

The two bark and whine and growl at each other. I am sitting just several feet away, and am beginning to wonder what it would be like to have fighting porcupines in my lap. I suspect that all of this bluster is highly ritualized and is not likely to result in actual violence. After all, these porcupines have been neighbors all winter and must have figured out how to get along. Soon, the biggest porcupine abandons his claim on the acorns on that level, comes down to where I am sitting, and proceeds to make himself comfortable.
Did I mention that I have not officially met this porcupine before? Did I mention that it is cold? Did I mention that I am already late for a commitment elsewhere? 
How am I supposed to pack up?

The answer is, of course, just start packing up, and the porcupine will move away, which is what I did and what he did. As I was leaving High Scenic, another porcupine crawled out of a den at the south end, Dangerous Dan. A five porcupine night!

March 28, The Littlest Porcupine
It is a cool, drippy evening when I arrive at High Scenic. As I unpack, I hear teeth chattering coming from a rock cranny in front of me, one that I have not seen used as a den before. The chattering reminds me of a rattlesnake's rattle, and I wonder if it serves the same purpose—dangerous animal here, watch your step or move away. Porcupines seem to use it when they are nervous, but also to announce that they are about to start moving. As with rattlesnakes, the sound is not warning of an imminent attack, but just suggesting that anyone within hearing range pay attention to avoid mishap.
Dangerous Dan soon appears and has a snack, and then a scratch.

I hear the chattering of teeth again, and soon LF crawls out of her den, yawns and stretches and admires the evening.

A third porcupine can be seen climbing in a hemlock tree nearby. It climbs down, waddles over, and goes to sleep under a rock. Dangerous Dan has finished his apple, and decides to come over and inspect my belongings, one of the first times a wild porcupine other than Fretful has indulged his curiosity.

As it grows dark, the porcupine under the rock comes out, a tiny little porcupine! He (she?) is not much bigger than Burdock was when he arrived at my orphanage in the fall— about the size Dandelion was when she was two months old. Here is the fuzzy photo I managed to take before my camera battery died. He is climbing on the rock above Dan.

March 29: A gorgeous cool evening at High Scenic. Dangerous Dan, Burdock, and Little Fuzzy were all out in the sun when I arrived.
Dangerous Dan

Dan has an itch
Little Fuzzy dozes

 A new red squirrel joins our gathering, this one a male. He and the little female chatter at each other a bit.
 Some friends arrive to enjoy the evening.

April 3, Burdock the Bold
For much of the winter, I noticed that Burdock did not like getting his paws snowy, and he tended to be reluctant to come out of his den if there was fresh snow. Yet on April 3, when wintry weather returned, I spent a lonely evening in the cold wind waiting for Little Fuzzy, Dangerous Dan, and Big East to come out of their dens. After twenty minutes, little Burdock came bustling down a trail from the woods to the south. He climbed up on my lap and ate some biscuits, and then, all business, climbed back down and hiked up the steep trail, up and over the ledges and returned to the forest. Though I waited another hour, the other porcupines remained hunkered in their dens. Hurray for Burdock of the north!

When we got snow a couple of days later, again, Burdock was out in it to greet me. He is now clearly comfortable moving in snow:

Here is the video from a February snowstorm. I lured him out of his den, but he would go no farther:

April 5: After the deepest snowfall of the winter, maybe seven inches, I made it up to High Scenic just in time for sunset. Burdock was there to greet me and have a few snowy portraits taken.
Here you see his distinctive skirt of long white quills against his fuzzy blackness.
Notice his porcupine perch here.
He then went into his den to nap and digest, as porcupines will do after a feed. Little Fuzzy came out and ate on the upper level. I then heard what sounded like humming coming from inside the rock in front of me, and thought that Burdock had a corridor from his lower den up to this place. When Dangerous Dan came up around the corner from behind the rock, I realized that he was the one who had been humming, a charming porcupine greeting.

Little Fuzzy retreated to her den when Dan approached, but soon came out, and started inching toward Dan, nose extended.
The two were soon nose to nose, making not very serious squawks. When they heard the footsteps of a human crunching quickly past on the trail in the valley, both porcupines retreated to their dens in alarm. I was pleased to see that my presence here has not made them less wary of possible danger.
Dan soon came out again, and this time came over to eat the acorns in front of me. He was soon joined by Big East, and the two were reasonably companionable.
Big on left, Dan on right

April 13: With cold nights and mild days, the porcupines have been staying near their dens, but emerge for late afternoon sun. This site offers good internet connection, so I bring my hotspot and computer and set up my office. When I arrived, Little Fuzzy was just peering from a nook in the rocks, but Big had emerged from the throne room and was sunning himself. I went up to take a portrait.
Little Fuzzy's lair

Porcupine in the sun
When I returned to my seat, I found Quirinus had arrived and, as is the way of porcupines, found the most precarious seat in the house:
Sitting on my hotspot, which is balanced on my iPod, which is sitting on Julia's book. Note: the opening in the rocks behind the big Q is a steep drop-off that ends somewhere in Middle Earth,

and that is where my hotspot went when Quirinus reached for his next apple. Dang! Good thing I have a LifeProof case for my iPod?

Fortunately, with the aid of a long stick and some bad language I was able to retrieve it.

April 15: I hadn't seen Burdock at High Scenic in 12 days. When I arrive tonight, I find Burdock and three others out enjoying the late afternoon sun-warmed rocks:

Dangerous Dan
Little Fuzzy
Red Squirrel
Burdock was very independent. It was a cold evening, so I thought a porcupine lap warmer would be a nice thing, but he would have none of it. He ate just a few biscuits and then waddled off to amuse himself:

Dangerous Dan came over and took a nap nearby:

As darkness grew, Dan fell asleep on a rock facing me, while Burdock waddled off into the woods and climbed up a little hemlock. 
Half an hour later I heard a porcupine's humming greeting coming from the darkness, and hoped that maybe Wee was arriving. The humming continued, and I realized it was coming from Burdock. Dan got up and wandered in the direction of the greeting hums, and I heard Burdock climb out of the tree. I went over to see which of us, Dan or me, the greeting (summons?) was intended for. Burdock waddled over to Dan! They really are friends.

April 16: While I celebrated Burdock's demonstration of independence last night, I did feel a pang of loss. On this beautiful evening, I found Wee(!) the only porcupine at home, but soon heard humming, and there was Burdock, waddling eagerly down from the northeast. He paused to say hello to Wee, but then came right over, climbed in my lap, and ate a few more biscuits than he deserved.

So what is with this fickle behavior? Giving me the brush-off last night and running off with a friend, only to come back for a cuddle tonight? Ah, adolescents.

April 17: Another beautiful sunlit evening at High Scenic. Little Fuzzy sprawled on a flat rock, and didn't stir when I arrived.

Spring arrived all of a sudden this week. At High Scenic at sunset I found elderberry flower buds about to burst and Canada mayflower leaves unfurling from the earth. A pair of hermit thrushes claimed High Scenic and took a great interest in my sing-song conversations with them. The evening air resonated with drumming woodpeckers and chattering chickadees. Geese honked in the valley, and the spring peepers warmed up for the night's performance. On my last few visits I had seen only two porcupines each time, so expected, when I headed up on this golden evening, that I might be alone.

But no! Dangerous Dan, Little Fuzzy and Wee were all there. 
Dangerous Dan

A handsome fellow

Little Fuzzy thinking about getting up

Up, but not quite at 'em

And then Wee crawled out of his den:
 Poor little Wee! He has finally figured out that acorns are edible, but has not developed much skill in acorn handling yet. When he went over to get some advice from Dangerous Dan, he was rebuffed. Little Fuzzy gave him much the same treatment.

Little Fuzzy, Wee and Dan in the sunset light
Wee wandered off to amuse himself, and Dangerous Dan came over to visit me. He was not interested in the acorns on the ground, so I held out a handful. He snuffled them, then settled back on his haunches, placed his paw beneath my hand to support it, and picked up an acorn in his teeth, the first time a porcupine has done this since the days of Fretful.

As the light faded, Quirinus arrived from the woods to the north. He settled down near me for a snack.
Wee came over to inspect Quirinus' activities. The big porcupine ignored him, but Wee did not press his luck. Instead, he wandered over to me, and on a whim I held out a biscuit to him. Aha! A crunchy little biscuit. Wee took it and munched triumphantly! I cut him off at four, but he was eager for more. 

At last, in the gloaming, I heard a familiar humming—Burdock approaching from the northeast. I shone my headlamp and saw that Wee followed on his tail. When Burdock was almost to my seat, he turned to find Wee. As Burdock reared over him, I expected the little fellow to be repelled once again. To my astonishment, the rear turned into a lunge, and the two were engaged in porcupine play! The play was mostly silent, with just a few little whines. How I wished it were light enough to get some film footage, for whether or not porcupettes play with each other is a question that has interested me. Certainly, baby porcupines are very playful, but as solitary babies, do they have opportunities to play with other porcupines? Do they wrestle with their mothers?

Wee and Burdock romped and tumbled up and down the hillside and up and down a little hemlock tree. After fifteen minutes things deteriorated into squawks of complaint, as usually happens when kids play rough. I found them both in the hemlock tree, and Burdock was ready to climb down and come over for some biscuits.

This video of Burdock wrestling with his puppet friend will give some idea of what happened between Wee and Burdock on that dark night:

It was after 9 by then, so I packed up to head home. As I did, I saw a big porcupine ambling across the ledge above me—Big East. My first six porcupine night! This was an evening of many firsts, but would also prove to be the last porcupine night of the 2016 season. The next night, Little Fuzzy, whom I expect is the sole female of the group, had moved out. Dangerous Dan was there. The next night, no porcupines were there at all, though Quirinus wandered over later to see if I had any acorns for him. Now the High Scenic porcupines will spend the growing seasons out foraging in the forest, and I will see them only by lucky chance. I hope that they all return in the late fall for another winter at High Scenic.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love your stories and the beautiful precious animals of our New England area.. You are so lucky to get to know these animals in such a personal way!