Porcupines and other mammals

Porcupine

Porcupine

On Saturday I stopped by Sarsaparilla Trail before heading to Mud Lake.  It was a cool, sunny morning, about 10°C, but I could tell it was going to warm up.  As soon as I got out of my car I heard some Golden-crowned Kinglets calling in the conifers.  I managed to spot one hovering at the end of a branch, as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting among the trees.  Deeper in the woods, I found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and heard another Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing.

On the pond I found lots of Canada Geese and a few mallards swimming around. A Green Heron flew by, and a Belted Kingfisher plunged into the water to catch a fish. I wasn’t surprised to hear both a Swamp Sparrow and a Red-winged Blackbird singing somewhere across the pond, and a few more Swamp Sparrows were chipping in the reeds near the boardwalk.

I did pretty good with the mammals at Sarsaparilla, seeing a total of five species. As usual, American Red Squirrels, Eastern Gray Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks were all busy running around and gathering food for the winter. As I was walking along the inner loop, I heard a strange noise coming from the tree tops. It sounded like a cross between a crow and a Green Heron, and I wasn’t sure what it was or where it was coming from until I saw this porcupine ambling along the forest floor.

Porcupine

Porcupine

The sound was coming from the tree tops, however, and when the porcupine started climbing the tree the calls got louder. When I looked up, I spotted another porcupine half-hidden among the foliage!

Porcupine

Porcupine

I have never heard a porcupine before, so I shot some video. In the background you can hear a flock of chickadees and the constant drone from the construction going on along Old Richmond Road (yes, they were there even at 9:00 on a Saturday morning).

Porcupines are well-known for their tree-climbing abilities, though the amount of time they spend in trees is related to the amount of ground cover that is available. The less ground cover there is – for example, in places where over-abundant deer populations have denuded the vegetation – the less time they spend on the ground. This is because porcupines use ground cover for foraging and for protection against predators. Most porcupine predators (coyotes, wolves, bobcats, mountain lions and lynx) are non-arboreal; thus the higher the density of these predators, the more time porcupines spend in trees.

Different trees are used for resting and for feeding. Hemlocks are valued over other conifers for their superior thermal protection, their dense foliage and higher nutritional value, and porcupines use them for both resting and feeding. In the winter, a porcupine may remain in the same tree for several days at a time!

Porcupines mate in the late summer and fall. Females vocalize to attract mates; males vocalize when competing with each other or defending territories. My guess it that both porcupines were males, and that the porcupine in the tree was telling the one on the ground to “back off”. This is the second time I’ve seen porcupines at Sarsaparilla this fall; before that, I haven’t seen any in a couple of years. It’s good to have them back again!

After the second porcupine ambled off into the woods I spotted not one, but four deer watching me from the opposite side of the trail. This was the fifth mammal species at Sarsaparilla Trail.

From there I drove over to Mud Lake. There were fewer migrants around than usual, but I did see my first White-crowned Sparrows of the fall and heard a couple of White-throated Sparrows and a Chipping Sparrow trying to sing! I ran into Dave and Bev at the point, and they pointed out the adult Sabine’s Gull floating on the river quite a distance away. Chris Lewis joined us a little later, and after getting our fill of the Sabine’s Gull she and I spent some time birding afterward. We didn’t see much; our best finds of the morning were a Northern Water Snake on the ridge and a mink on Cassels Street! It paused in the middle of the road before running toward the lake and disappearing into the vegetation.

It was a great day for mammals….and the Sabine’s Gull was a real treat, too!

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2 thoughts on “Porcupines and other mammals

  1. Glad you got the Sabine’s! Love the porcupine video. I heard something like a bloodcurdling scream at Stony Swamp once, and tracked it to two porcupines up in a tree on the same branch. I researched it and found out that the female porcupine will sometimes scream to tell an amorous male “I’m not ready yet!”

    • Yes, after going all my life without hearing them utter a sound, it’s a bit disconcerting to realize that they actually CAN vocalize! The next time I hear a bloodcurdling scream in the woods, I will know to look UP!

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