A few friends, Deneen and I had a great day out in the woods and by the water recently. It was cold, clear and the snow was pretty good for tracking, revealing some obvious stories and some quite challenging mysteries to us.
I’ll start with the more obvious stories. In several spots we saw Ruffed Grouse tracks,
big Eastern Coyote tracks,
and a lot of otter tracks and sign (tracks above, slide below with their proud discoverer). More on the otters later.
These Indian Pipe Skeletons (Monotropa uniflora or similar) when shook, dropped this very fine material (magnified below). We never did figure out if the longer fibers are the seed or the larger black object is. Only a few of those fell out and many of the fibers creating a fine dust in the hand.
By the water we admired the ice and open water on the northern edge, warmed by the southern sun. Sitting in the sun ourselves we snacked on the wild cranberries freed from the snow by this amazing micro-climate. They had a very very strong flavor that puckered my mouth. Great thing to find in a frozen place.
Back to the otters sign. It was in abundance, tracks and scat in many places, particularly where there was open water, even just a little along the edge like the photo above.
The image above shows a nice example of the roundness of the toe pads.
The most intriguing mystery came in the contents of the otter scats. One of which, pictured above contained these globs pictured magnified below (sorry no scale). They were frozen so we could not determine their consistency. Otter do secrete a yellowish white mucus-like substance for scent marking which could be what this is. I have seen that before and it was not so chunky as this.
Even weirder, though with some help we were able to determine what the are, were these hard, somewhat hemispherical objects found in a different Otter scat. There were several of them, some different sizes and we spent quite a while trying to figure it out, trading hypotheses from fish eyes, to a strangely adapted fish scale or seed shell and many other ideas. It was fun and challenging and one of my favorite aspects of tracking.
Above and below are both sides of same object.
Turns out they are gastroliths, a deposit of calcium carbonate in crayfish that they build up in order to get a jump on growing a new exoskeleton once they molt. Another tracker Connor O’Malley let us in on this secret. Apparently they are common in Otter scat though I had not noticed them before.
And a final tracking blessing, Grey Fox tracks; a rare treat. Some of the group had never seen Grey Fox tracks before. They only showed up in one spot where the snow was just right. Round, symmetrical, small metatarsal and metacarpal pads (heel) and no nails showing, it ghosted in and out like they so often do. I have had the great honor of spending a little time with a juvenile and it was friendly and gentle, always moving, darting about curiously.
Our day was filled with other experiences too. We listened to our echos on the lake, slid on the ice, rested in the sun, watched birds and talked to ravens. On the way home we stopped to eat in the city, had to walk through a mall. It was intense, nothing subtle, no delicate mystery, just bustle and noise. At the restaurant the food was great the the company better.
Still, the best part of the day was standing huddled over a pile of shit wondering what was inside.
Went out tracking today. The snow was good, a layer of powder several inches deep on a layer of crust, then more loose snow. Forgot my snowshoes so it was a bit of work to get around. In the end I walked several miles. Here’s what I saw.
Trailed this deer and the others with it. Not far from the road where I picked up the trail I found them but not before they found me.
I spooked them out of there day beds and watched the last one leave. It moved away slowly, stopping and looking back before bounding away. I did not have the camera out so no picture. It wouldnt have looked like much anyway. The deer were bedded in the laurel on a flat bit of ground on a hillside. As I approached I knew it could be a bedding area and even thought to crawl but felt that if I crawled over every rise I would never see anything. Hard to be patient.
Beaver Brook Pond, sunny and beautiful.
Little mammal tracks. Some others showed a fairly short tail. They are small enough to consider shrew or the smallest mice. They were on the swamp ice. I went through several times and retreated.
Upstream on Beaver Brook a Mink slide. It was the only sign of Mink all day.
On the way out found these older Otter slides. They went on for a couple hundred yards.
Above is where they eventually went into Beaver Brook. Below is as far as I went in the other direction, about 200 yards. I ran out of steam and headed home. The next body of water in that direction is the Farmington River more than half a mile away.