Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Neature is neat!

Have you ever seen Lenny Peppercorn videos? It’s hysterical. A satire on all nature show hosts, and a poke at all nature nerds. I love it! Check him out below…

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself this weekend as I was hiking with my dog and a friend. We kept coming across all sorts of *neat* things, and I kept exclaiming, “This is so neat!”… Am I a Lenny Peppercorn?

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Tyler and I have spring fever. It’s now March, and STILL bitter cold with a lot of snow on the ground. Our spring break from courses at SUNY Cobleskill is in 12 days (who’s counting?) and we are tired of being cooped up in the house. He and decided to take my VERY energetic and young golden retriever out for an adventure. The temps here in Schoharie County on Saturday were mid-30s, a heat wave by all accounts of recent ambient temperatures, and it was sunny… perfect day for some outside time.

We have a few state forests around us within easy driving distance (Mallet Pond, Patria, and Petersburg State Forests) that we’ve explored for field labs during various courses, and we decided to try and get as far into the state land as possible. This was a challenge though, because many of the roads within are seasonally maintained, and this is not the season they are maintained.

We first tried to get to Rossman-Fly Pond (which is within Mallet Pond State Forest), a beautiful pond with access to launch a motorless boat. I like to think it’s a hidden gem, but I know others have to know about it. I really want to get up and check the ice out, but unfortunately the plow had stopped a mile or two from the turn off to the pond. We got out and hiked a bit with the dog in the snow, but I’ve been experiencing a flare up from an old ankle injury, and didn’t want to push it.

LUCKILY though, we observed something really neat from the side of the unplowed road. Lots of field sign that a porcupine or several, had been foraging in the hemlocks!

Have you ever seen this? I know it looks kind of unassuming, just some twigs on the ground, but with all the snow we’ve had, it’s not dead stuff that’s fallen over time. All of that would be covered over with snow. THESE twigs, are the sloppy leftovers of our largest arborial rodent.

Here’s the proximal end of a hemlock twig 
that’s been neatly nipped off by the sharp
 incisors of a porcupine.
Porcupines eat soft vegetation like leaves, shoots, and needles. And in the winter they have the advantage over others with similar diets, to be able to climb up trees, and nibble twigs and branches.

Porcupines are a solid critter, not as chunky as a beaver (but close), and not as light as a squirrel. So, they’ll eat their way along a sturdy branch, moving farther and farther from the tree. They are sloppy, and often drop as much as they eat. They nip a twig off, and it falls to the forest floor.

I’ve read (somewhere) that porcupines are often relied on by other forest-dwelling herbivores who can’t reach up into the canopy to eat. Deer, rabbits, hares, moose have all been documented eating porcupine “nip twigs” from the forest floor.

Here’s a porcupine I got to observe quite up close while living in Alaska. You can see her orange inciscors poking out. That orange color is enamel that covers the teeth of many rodents, especially those who eat or gnaw hard woody materials.
We wandered around the feeding grounds for a few minutes, checking out the carnage, when we noticed a well-packed trail in the snow. Porcupines, due to their short stubby legs, don’t often leave a very well defined set of tracks, but more of a trench where they’ve plowed through the snow. It’s hard to see in this picture below, but what I want to share is that we noticed it leading right to the mouth of a drainage culvert pipe alongside the roadway.

Porcupine trail through the snow, to a den in a culvert pipe.

We were intrigued. Could we possibly actually catch a glimpse of the porcupine?

Addie and Tyler trying to decided whether or not sticking your face into a hole in the ground, which might contain a porcupine, is such a good idea…

I did NOT want my dog to get a face full of quills. Tyler, well he was on his own, but I didn’t want Addie to get quilled. So we pulled her back, and I sacrificed myself to get down in there and investigate.
My first observation, was the overwhelming stench of ammonia. It reminded me of my pet rabbits cage. Porcupines are nasty animals, in the way that they defecate when and where they want. Many animals attempt to keep their dens clean of fecal matter, but not the porcupine. Check out this entry from last winter when I found a den, and the amount of built up porky poop outside:

A look inside the “den”. What a cozy place to live, right? Hemlocks in your front yard, and totally protected from the elements. You can see on the left side of the picture, the fecal matter scattered along. Just out of view above this picture, along the top rim of the pipe, were ice crystals. This led me to believe that the porcupine(s) were generating enough heat to melt ice and snow around the entrance which had frozen back over. Unfortunately, or fortunately, no one was visible. I have no idea how far back this tunnel went, but it was freaking cool!

So that’s one of my *neat* finds from this past Saturday. I have another really cool story, but I’m saving that for another entry. I’ve been reading for hours, and just thought I’d take a break to share this cool story. Hae a great Monday!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you do so know what to look for, and when something that to the unskilled might look ordinary, like twigs, you know how they got there. Quills? I would so stay clear of that den. Maybe your spring is coming soon, yesterday we had "winter" today is back to autumn. Cool mornings, warmish days, grey skies, and almost a touch of frost. Cheers, Jean.


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