Two weeks ago I traveled the trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Long Meadow Brook with several friends and much of our wonder was captured by intermingling lines.
All felt quite magical on that crisp January day as the encrusted twigs and buds offered a brilliant display.
It was made even more special because two of the three with whom I tramped were snowbirds who experienced the awe of our winter world. Despite all their layers, they felt like royalty living in an ice castle, glass slippers and all. (Don’t be fooled into thinking those are snowshoes strapped to their boots or winter hats rather than crowns.)
We made our way to the dam by the brook as the sun shifted lower and shadows lengthened. It didn’t matter for the sky was clear and we celebrated exploring the winter world of Lovell.
And then we backtracked a bit before crossing a property under conservation easement with the land trust and visited a porcupine condominium located in a large stump dump. The porkys didn’t let us down and we found prints leading into and out of seven or eight entry ways, along with downed hemlock twigs and scat. All perfect porcupine sign.
Since then, we’ve experienced a variety of mixed winter weather, but this past weekend a couple of inches of snow fell, making for great tracking conditions, such as this group made by a red squirrel, the two smaller feet being its front feet, which landed first, before the larger hind feet swung around and landed in front–the typical pattern left behind by a hopper or leaper. Its toes pointed toward my ruler, thus indicating the direction of travel.
Because it had been warm over the weekend, chipmunks made a brief appearance–rather than being true hibernators, they are light sleepers and will move about in the chambers within their tunnels. Occasionally, during a thaw, they’ll even venture out to forage for fresh seeds.
Notice how the straddle is about two inches, while the red squirrel above exhibited a straddle of about three inches. Straddle being the measurement from the outside of the left hind foot to the outside of the right hind foot. In case you are wondering, the measurement for gray squirrels is about four inches.
And then I came upon tracks so fresh that I was certain I might spy the two coyotes who traveled before me, but as is most often the case, I didn’t see them.
Following the snow, we had another downpour and everything changed. But then the temperature dipped again.
And so today when the GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers took to the trail at Long Meadow Brook Reserve, we were sure we’d find a plethora of well-made tracks. Only two problems. One: by the time Kathy, Dick, Mary, Russ, and I arrived, it was snowing lightly. And two: not too many mammals had been on the move in the last day or so. At least not in that neck of the woods.
We beelined (sort of, for we did stop to look at deer tracks) down to the old beaver dam hoping for otter sign or that of other weasels. Nada. Instead, we took in the view to the north.
And then to the south.
And headed toward the porcupine condo. But along the way, a couple of other things caught our attention, including a beech tree getting a head start on the next season.
And a pitch pine that was the gnarliest any of us had ever seen. Pitch pine needles, in bundles of three, grow on the branches but may also sprout on the trunk–a unique feature making for easy identification among the evergreens. But so many? On branches?
At last we reached a field where we welcomed sunshine to warm us up and noticed a few feathered friends. More than one junco scratched some bare ground in search of seeds.
As we crossed the field we rejoiced to have the track pattern of a gray squirrel to admire. Small things made us happy.
And then, at the top of one of the stump dumps we stood in awe of the Lorax tree. Only several branches had small fans of needles left; all the rest having been devoured by the local residents living below.
As we made our way into the hemlock grove to take a closer look, we spied what we believed to be a bobcat track based on straddle and stride, the latter being the distance from the toes of one print to the toes of the next print in the zigzag line. The overall impressions were a bit diluted indicating they were a few days old, but we’ve seen the same in this area before and the measurements led us to that conclusion. We also spotted downed hemlock twigs featuring the characteristic 45˚angled cut made by a porcupine.
By this time, our group had increased by two when Alice and Saranne joined us for the trip into the porcupine haven.
We peeked into holes, but suspected the homemakers had entered inner chambers.
We did find telltale tracks filled with the morning’s flurries, but still demonstrating their pigeon-toed pattern. And we saw that the bobcat had checked the holes as well before it moved on.
We decided to move on as well, climbing up onto the stump dump, but with a word of caution to watch out for steam holes. Hoar frost surrounded the holes and gave us further reason to believe that indeed the condo was occupied.
The very branch under which we saw one hole had fallen from a white pine. All around it were more porcupine prints.
As for the white pine’s needles–think of them as dinner. The same was true of a bent red oak branch and its buds. A little variety in the diet.
We too were ready to eat and so we headed out.
Another three hour tour and our curiosity was satiated at Long Meadow Brook Reserve and the adjacent property. A couple of benches await at Long Meadow Brook should you want to pause and take in the wonders yourself.