When Pam and I stepped into the woods this morning, I don’t think either one of us understood the enormity of the task before us. You see, our job was to gather all the pieces of the forest through which we’d pass.
And so we began by collecting a recent beaver masterpiece with fresh wood chips below.
There was a beaver sculpture as well, those tooth grooves deep and distinctive.
And their tracks, which all emerged from a recently frozen-over hole. The tracks were a few days old, but we added them to our findings just the same.
Because we were in beaver territory, to our delight we found otter tracks and slides galore–many of them fresh.
There was even an otter hole that we wondered if the beavers had used as well. We decided we might as well throw it in to our bag.
And we couldn’t resist our favorite otter activity of all–the spot where the infamous slider slid.
Following the trail to a different part of the forest, we spotted a diptera pupa that gave us pause for quite a while as we admired its structure and the perfectly formed circle where the fly had chewed its way out. We were so in awe that it seemed only obvious we would want to include it in the collection.
Further on, we reached a brook and spied a muskrat, that dark body in the center. As it turned out, it was a stone muskrat and we left it behind as we chuckled about our mistaken ID.
By the brook, we did, however, find mink prints in the dust of snow that had settled upon thin ice. Those were certainly worth capturing.
We also gathered more otter slides, and then stumbled upon an apparent otter roll, an area where the playful critter made a lot of fuss and left behind some urine and tarry-looking scat. We were sure we’d hit the jackpot.
Because we were beside running water, the icy baubles were not to be ignored.
Nor was the snow depth, which we determined to be close to four feet deep.
And then we marched onto a wetland, where we were stumped for quite a while about some mystery tracks. Should we take them or leave them, we wondered. The pattern indicated a perfect walker, as in a candid or feline, but the depth was deep and the toes threw us off.
The curious thing was that those tracks and others left behind by a mink and a fox led to a deep hole beside a tree.
I thought the frozen fluid within was blood, but Pam leaned more toward urine. One thing we knew for sure, if it was a kill site, there were no remains. Had the mammals been on the hunt to no avail? Take it or leave it–we put it in the same category as the mystery prints.
The mystery tracks also led to a beaver lodge and it appeared that the mystery track maker had tried to locate another meal. Given that there was no air vent at the top of the lodge, we doubted anyone was at home at the time of its visit, and so we left the lodge behind.
After standing in the middle of the wetland and eating our own lunches, we discovered a set of perfect red fox prints that we just had to include in our collection. The top print in this photo is actually the hind foot and the lower print is the front. Can you see the chevron in the foot pad?
There was another lodge we considered grabbing because the top of it appeared to possibly have a vent, but like the fox, we took a closer look and discovered that it, too, was abandoned so we left it behind.
Instead, we made our way off the wetland and back into the woods where a debarked hemlock tree stopped us in our tracks. Nuthatches and woodpeckers are known to scale trees–removing the outer bark to get at the insects underneath. Can you see the insect holes? And the cinnamon color of the inner bark? This one was a keeper, for sure.
Especially since a section where the inner bark had been removed revealed a polished layer like one might find on a table top.
There was also a huge snow-capped burl to pick.
And a small cross-section of the liverwort Frullania juxtaposed beside script lichen. Everyone should have a sample of those two.
Two old heron nests were well worth adding into the mix. They’d been used in the past until two years ago. If the herons do return to the rookery, we suspect they’ll build new structures so we didn’t feel so bad gathering these.
And then there was a pileated woodpecker hole that would have to represent all woodpecker holes in these woods. Before tossing it into the bag, Pam made sure that no other critter had set up housekeeping within.
Our final finding was one that made us think back to the mystery tracks. The more we studied these and later met the mystery tracks again and followed them for a while, the more we understood that not only did beavers, otters, foxes, deer, mink, and snowshoe hare romp in these woods, but so did coyotes.
The best thing about this coyote was that it made a coyote angel in the snow! We most definitely scooped that up.
For you see, our mission was to put it all together–in a glass jar. Haven’t you always wondered about the magic involved with placing a ship in a bottle? Well, today, we spent six hours amassing various items in the woods and then assembled them–creating a forest in a bottle. Can you see it?