On March 7, a group of us known as Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Tuesday Trackers, headed off into the woods at a local reserve in search of what tracks we might find. We’d barely started (and could still see where we’d parked our vehicles, which is always our joke because we’ve been known to spend three hours exploring and only cover a quarter mile) when we happened upon the tracks of a Wild Turkey. It was a fun quiz because the bird had post-holed in the deep snow and we had to pay attention to not only the pattern of the trail it left behind, but also the characteristics of individual prints. Once determining this was a heavy, three-toed critter, we knew the identity of the track maker.
Deer tracks also drew our attention and we looked at the shape as well as the depth and finally found two cloven toes deep in the snow.
But then . . . our job became more difficult. By the size of the stride of the next mammal we followed, our measurements came up with a toe-to-toe length of 14 inches repeatedly. But the print looked like that of a critter with a much longer stride–20 – 22 inches typically. We followed it for a while, and kept looking for a perfect print, which wasn’t easy to find given that Saturday’s storm, followed by melting temperatures and lots of wind since then, created a lot of tree plops (aka ploppage in our group) and melt out so there were nothing clear to read.
At last we found one, and given the size of the print, which measured the same each time at about 2.5 inches, and the symmetry of the toes, plus the X between toes and metacarpal pad, we know were were following an Eastern Coyote.
Eventually we found a track that had a bit of a sashay to the pattern, but at times it looked like the Coyote had walked on top of it. We were a bit confused, until we found a sign that confirmed the sashayer–a piece of a Porcupine’s hide–with belly hairs and short quills.
It doesn’t take much to excite us and this indeed did.
But . . . what happened here?
Our time together was drawing to a close, so rather than pursue more action, we chose to hike out, making a plan for a few of us to return today.
Special thanks to Mark and Sue, who drove all the way from Farmingdale, Maine, to join us, plus some of our regulars: Jessie, Tom and Paula, Dawn, and Sarah.
Bee-lining in on the trail this morning, Pam, Dawn, Sarah and Steve, joined me for the reconnaissance mission. We began by measuring the depth of hole where it appeared a coyote had dug at the spot where we recovered the hide piece yesterday. Total depth, a foot.
A little digging produced nothing else much to our disappointment. We were looking for body parts. Or blood.
Finally, we moved from yesterday’s ending point forward–backtracking the Coyote or so we thought, as we followed the Porcupine’s sashay, that had melted out even more in the last 22 hours. Suddenly, we had trails going in various directions.
Again, we questioned: Was it a Coyote or was it a Bobcat? And then we found this large depression filled with Porcupine hair and quills.
Again, the shovels came out, but we found only ice below the snow.
There was a calling card at the edge of the depression, however, and we knew that one of the predators was indeed a Bobcat, given the segmented scat. And if you think the white in some of the chunks is bone, we believe you would be wrong. It struck us as perhaps being the lining of an organ.
We moved beyond that site and found some tracks that also lead us to solidify the Bobcat ID. But . . . we began to wonder: Did the Bobcat cache the Porcupine and then return to dig it up? Did the Coyotes also come upon this pantry item and take advantage of the Bobcat’s food?
As we considered all of this, suddenly, in the not too far distance, we heard Coyotes calling. Did they have another meal that the Alpha pair were calling the youngsters to visit?
Eventually we made a decision to make our way back to where we’d gone off trail and see what might have happened on the north side. Again, we kept finding what we thought were Coyote, and then some prints that were Bobcat.
The Bobcat prints frequently led to buried rocks or stumps where it could pause and look out on the scene in hopes of finding more prey. The thing is, this has been a tough winter in some places such as Oxford County, Maine, because we’ve been through two summers of a major Spongy Moth outbreak and the trees had all they could do to put out a second set of leaves after the first set had been consumed. That means that there isn’t a lot of fruit in the forms of cones and beech nuts available, thus there aren’t a lot of rodents, a prime source of winter food for predators such as these.
For a while, we split up, each following a different trail, but quite often they came back together again. And so did we. And still. we were seeing the prints of both of our friends. Until, we realized, the Bobcat was traveling in one direction, and the Coyote in the opposite, one using the prints of the other for easier traveling, just like we had been able to beeline in on the tracks we’d made yesterday, saving energy, which is important when the snow is deep and food scarce. The Coyote sunk down more than the Bobcat, and the stride for both made sense.
We were just about done, but knew that our way back to the main trail was not a direct line, because there was a ledge in front of us that our friend the Bobcat had traveled upon and even left a bit of a trough from frequent use.
Instead, we traversed down and around the ledge and discovered what may be the Bobcat’s den.
The round prints led right into it.
And out again. We all took a turn peaking in, but it went deeper than we could see.
We did notice that there were several trails of Bobcat tracks leading up the slippery ledge to the lookout spot above.
At the end of this journey, it became obvious that this was the Tail of Two Days–for we were so happy to have shared the trail with so many others on Tuesday, but grateful to have returned today to check out more. And where we’d found the bigger depression with quills and hair and Bobcat scat, we also found another depression that contained this –the Porcupine’s tail.
How cool is that?