Snake Sheds Turned into Mouse’s House


mouse nest materials

Deneen found this in the wood pile.  A mouse, or possible vole’s nest made almost entirely of snake skins.  I have never seen this before.  Certain birds will use a snake skin or two in their nests and I would not have been surprised to see a few snake skins in a mouse nest, this many is something else.  The wood piles here do tend to be full of snake sheds in the summer so even though the wood pile was surrounded by a field full of other materials, these must have been the most convenient.

Please let me know if you have ever seen this before.  Pictures are welcome.




Cold Snake

Northern Water Snake in stream in Winter

Sometimes one is surprised by what can be found out in the woods.  While stepping over this stream I spotted something out of place in a winter world.  It had been warm enough on the previous days for the streams fast moving water to melt.  In the water was this snake, its beautiful pattern jumping out at me.

Nerodia sipedon

Turned out to be a Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon.  As the name implies they live in the water, sometimes getting quite large, one I saw in the past basking in the middle of the road looked similar to a Timber Rattler in size, shape and pattern.  This similarity to rattlesnakes and its presence in the water similar to water moccasins (also called cottonmouth) leads to people killing them after misidentification.  Personally if I came across a rattlesnake or cottonmouth that was not in or very close to my home I would not kill them anyway.

How and why this one died is a mystery to me.  There was not a mark on it, it looked unblemished by death and was even flexible.  The water we found it in was probably 35 degrees or less (the air temp was 25 or so).  I have read that they hibernate in rock crevices and such the way most snaked do.  Is is possible it was hibernating close to the water level and when it rose due to snow melt on some of the warmer days was washed out?

I thought about taking it home and eating it.  Deneen talked me out of it in case it could somehow survive such an ordeal and come to in the spring.  Amphibians are known to be able to freeze and thaw with no ill effects.  I have not heard of reptiles being capable of that.  People don’t know everything and I was not in any great need of food so I put it back in the water.  Wonder what will become of it.

Northern Water Snake

Tufted Titmouse Treasure

Mantis Egg Case

Deneen and I were out on a snowshoe in the amazing deep snow we have here in southern New England and came upon this little titmouse in a blueberry bush. Titmice usually are shy around us.  This one, on contrast, stayed put even though we were pretty close when we noticed it.  The titmouse was intent on getting into an enlarged part of the stem of a blueberry plant.  It went at the spot with a great physicality bordering on violence, not something I think of when I see a titmouse. We watched it for more than ten minutes, my shutter clicking away (that usually scares off animals when that close).  It finally dropped to the ground after tearing apart whatever was attached to the stem, and pecked at something we could not see in the snow, then flew off.

Foamy insect egg case

After it left we took a look at what it was so determined to get into.  Below you can see the hole it made.  We had to look it up in Eiseman and Charney’s Tracks and Sign of Insects.  According to them this is the egg casing (called a ootheca) of a Chinese Mantis.  We have a few different kinds of mantis in the eastern US.  Each has a ootheca different enough to tell the species apart.  Mantis eggs overwinter in the ootheca, their parents having died when the weather gets cold.  They will emerge and instantly look for food in the spring.

The little bird got a good meal out of the hundreds of mantis eggs inside.  It was a hungry creature, calories are hard to come by this time of year and it takes a lot of them to get an animal weighing less than an ounce through a 2 degree night.

frothy insect sign

Often having a camera with me can disconnect me with the natural world a little.  And sometime, like this time, as I took pictures of the bird it slowed me down long enough to become determined to stay and see what the titmouse was doing and why.  Doing so gave us a cool mystery to solve when we got home.  Thanks Tufted Titmouse.


Maine Primitive Gathering 2013


This year at the Maine Primitive Gathering I only took a few pictures.  The Gathering has come to be so important to me, a chance to see so many special people and feel part of a community that shares a common interest.  My time there this year was abbreviated so I was not able to connect with as many of those special people as I wanted to.

The images here do not begin to do justice to the scope and dynamic nature of the Gathering.  I was too busy enjoying myself to take pictures that might express this better.  Dozens of instructors taught workshops about archery, bow and arrow making, friction fire of all types, tracking, survival skills, health and healing, and many other primitive and wilderness skills.  Many families attended, I saw a lot of little babies on their mothers hips and kids running everywhere.  What follows are a few examples of what went on.


Primitive Skills Experts

Some oldtimers and whippersnappers Mike, Al, Nick, Red and Bob, all experts in one field or another, there to share the knowledge.




Maine Primitive Gathering

One of many workshops.

Hide Tanning

Hide tanning.


Garlic Hawkers

Garlic Hawkers Rich, Gabby and Maple

Boys at the campfire

Some of the boys hanging out around the fire.

Fire Workshop

A  fire workshop on group friction fire.  Here they are teaming up on a giant hand drill.

Someone saw me looking around for my daughter and our friends and asked “Looking for your tribe?” and I thought, yeah I am, my tribe within a tribe.  In this place I am a member of the the Gathering Tribe, the Fire Clan, the Deneen, Andy, Gabby, Jace, Evan, Dena, Maple Tribe (my “extended” family) and the Long Time Instructor Society.

Pardon my sentimental words.  To be part of something meaningful is a great feeling and a tough thing to explain.

Painted Turtles Laying Eggs

Painted Turtle in a sand trap

Durring WMCC’s BioBlitz Deneen and I were focused on mammals though not so focused that we didn’t stop to notice all the turtle tracks, sign and living turtles that seemed to be everywhere we went.  Especially on the golf course whose property is part of the White Memorial Foundation.  Above and below is a painted turtle covering up the eggs she just laid.

Painted Turtle laying eggs

Turtle Tracks

Turtle tracks were in many of the muddy and sandy places we checked.  The image above shows just the claw marks.  The claws of the front foot leaves an angled crecent of holes on the left side of each group while the hind foot leaves a row of holes perpendicular to the trail.  

turtle tracks on golf course

Turtle trails in golf course sand pits.  

Turtle Tracks in sand trap


Painted Turtle

A Painted Turtle hiding from us.  

At the end of the day we returned to the turtles nest.  I had seen snapping turtle eggs several times before but never these elongated painted turtle eggs.  They where buried quite deeper than we had expected and were large compared to the little turtle that laid them.  They must have taken up a lot of room in that shell.  

Painted Turtle Eggs

Some Big Trees

Deneen and Big Oak Tree

Deneen and I share a great love of trees.  This Oak tree (above and below), is at White Memorial Conservation Center on one of the more popular trails.  I did not go the extra mile to determine the exact species but probably a White Oak.  WMCC property is full of big beautiful trees.

Deneen and Big Oak Tree Big Tree Chewed by Beavers

Above is another big oak that some beavers did some work on in the past.  Enough of the cambium stayed intact that it was able to live.

Willow Tree in the Swamp

This willow is not the largest on the property, those along the board walk are much bigger.  The draw for this one was finding it out in the swamp far from the regularly used trails.

Deneen in the Tree Big Black Cherry

Above and below a Black Cherry, with the largest trunk I have seen yet.

Big Black Cherry

Porcupine Under the Garage

porcupine in trail camera

Deneen and her nephew Jace put our camera trap behind her parents house in Maine where we had seen tracks going in and out from under the neighbors garage.  While they were out they saw the culprit in person trudging through the snow.  The porky was well known to her family, its trails are visible year round as well as the damage it caused the trees as it feeds.

camera trap

The camera did good work and captured many more pictures than I put here.  The animal seemed to come and go from its den under the garage multiple times a night.

porcupine near barn porcupine in camera trap

A couple winters ago we saw Grey Fox tracks going under the garage as well as the Porcupine.  I don’t know if they were sharing winter quarters (Grey Fox, unlike other canines, will use dens year round to sleep in) or if the fox merely  went under there several times looking for mice.  No sign of grey fox yet this winter.

Porcupine in back yard

Tracking in Maine

I had the pleasure of going tracking while visiting some dear friends in southern Maine this weekend.

My girlfriend Deneen and I went to look at a spot she had seen deer bedded down in earlier in the day and we (by that I mean I, Deneen is much less clumsy) startled seven deer up out of their beds but not before getting a good look at a couple of them 30 or 40 yards away. They were so graceful as they bounded off.

Here is Deneen alongside one of the many beds we found. I did not count but there was more than a dozen.
Here is the most beautiful bed we saw. It is easy to see how the animal lay there and quickly rose at our disturbance.

In another area we found what I am pretty sure was a Ruffed Grouse landing and take-off. the Tail is clear in the landing and delicate wing marks are to either side of the take-off along with the body prints.

More pictures to come.


Maine Primitive Gathering

I participated in the Maine Primitive Gathering three weeks ago in Bowdoin Maine. This is the big event of the year for me and well worth the seven hour drive. My friend Chris and I had a great time and learned a lot. Below Bob Berg of Thunderbird Atlatl is teaching us primitive fishing techniques. Later I took an atlatl making workshop with him and came home with three finished darts, three blanks and a finished atlatl. I have had a lot of fun throwing them.

Here we are straitening our atlatl dart shafts.

I also took a debri tracking workshop with Mike Douglas of MPSS which showed me how much more dirt time I need in that department.
I got reacquainted with many old friends and made some new ones. Most special of which is Deneen B. Special things are always found in the woods.