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Posts Tagged ‘Mammals’

young porcupine

One evening this week, a young porcupine was discovered meandering on the lawn in the backyard.  I’ve seen small porcupines on the lawn before, but never so close to the house. At first glance, this little one appeared soft and fluffy, like a cuddly stuffed toy one would pick up to snuggle. Its manner was certainly docile, but appearances can be deceiving. Longer hairs hide the quills on a porcupine’s backside, especially when viewed from the front.

fluffy porcupine

Porcupines are born, only one at a time, in April or May, after a gestational period of about seven months.  Even though it’s able to defend itself once its quills dry, a few hours after birth, the single young porcupine stays close to its mother for the first summer.

porcupine side view

Once it sensed our presence on the back deck, this little one raised its backside and headed towards the woods.

porcupine tail

Its white tail swayed back and forth as it went on its way, likely back to the arms of its awaiting mother.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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porcupine eating maple

Over the past year, chewed tree branches too high for deer to reach indicated a porcupine was likely dining regularly in the backyard.  This week I finally spotted the suspect in action, munching on maple.  Since porcupines are usually active at night, I was surprised to see him late on a bright, sunny morning.

porcupine in sunlightHis black claws and the long hairs of his fur shone in the sunlight.  As soon as he heard me, he froze.  His underbelly appeared soft and vulnerable.  Porcupines are protected by law in some North American locations as they are easy, nutritious prey for humans lost in the woods who may be armed with nothing more than a stick.

When I decided to move closer, his brunch interrupted, he slowly came down from his perch on the tree stump next to the branches, and made his way into the bush.  His quill-covered back was huge but seemed so well camouflaged in its woodland setting.  You wouldn’t want to step on that by mistake.  Another reason to walk, not run, in the woods.

porcupine heading into bush

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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Easter bunny Spring 2014

Local bunnies are quickly changing their winter coats for brown ones these days.  Though they may still be streaked with white above their noses and along their backsides, soon the snowshoe hares will be wearing solid brown.  Make that, solid chocolate brown.

snowshoe hare spring coat

Peter Rabbit on the runActually, it’s more like tawny brown.  But let’s not split hares.

Why you ask?  Well, it’s neither because brown is the new white in the Spring fashion world.  Nor is it because Peter Rabbit wore brown in Beatrix Potter’s children’s books.  Though naughty as he was, he did look quite charming.

They’re not wearing brown because the snow has *finally* disappeared from our neck of the woods and with it, all winter season apparel.

No, the reason why the local hares are wearing brown this week is because the daylight hours are getting longer.   Snowshoe hares have the most sensitive of eyes when it comes to differences in light.  Perhaps this is why they respond so readily with a change in fur color in spring and fall.

Easter bunny in woods

And since Easter takes place in late April this year, I’m sure the Easter Bunny will also be wearing a tawny coat.  However, in years when Easter takes place in March, he may very well be wearing white.  It’s all about camouflage with bunnies, whether they’re keeping a hop ahead of predators or sneaking around to hide Easter eggs.

bunny thinking

Wondering where the best places might be to hide eggs in the yard.

Hoppy Easter to all!

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

 

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snowshoe hare up close

Wild snowshoe hares are frequently seen in the yard.  They’re present year-round, but most visible during the spring and summer months.

Watching a hare through the window

Watching a hare through the window

We often watch them through the window as they munch on the lawn or rest under the trees.

Snowshoe hare resting under fir trees next to driveway

Snowshoe hare resting under fir trees next to driveway

One in particular often lays under some trees next to the driveway. It was looking especially relaxed yesterday afternoon.  If we are quiet as we come up the driveway and walk into the house, it will usually just open its eyes for a moment and then go back to its rest.

Hare with blended coat of brown and white fur in early spring

Hare with blended coat of brown and white fur in early spring

Unlike most rabbits, hares don’t make underground burrows.  When startled, they either freeze or leap out of sight.  Blending into the landscape is made easier by their varying coat color which is white in winter and brown in summer, a change dictated by daylight hours rather than how much snow is on the ground.  Consequently, a lack of snow cover in winter, or snow on the ground in late spring makes them vulnerable to predators.

snowshoe hare next to deck

Lately I’ve been looking for hare nests in the yard.  Unlike rabbits, hares are born with fur and open eyes, making them more alert to their above-ground surroundings.  In the past, I’ve replaced leverets (baby hares) back into their nest as they’ve jumped out after being startled by my lawnmower.  Leverets are left unattended during the day, visited by their mother only at night.

I haven’t found any nests yet this year, but it’s still early in the season.  Unfortunately, I’m not the only one looking…

Trespassing cat on the prowl

Trespassing cat on the prowl

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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porcupine quills

We all know about porcupine quills, but what about this creature’s other parts?  Like humans, there’s a lot more to porcupines than first meets the eye.

Their lovely coat for example…  Due to the odd quill embedded with the fur, bristles and hair, it doesn’t necessarily invite petting, but certainly appears quite thick and warm.  Porcupines don’t hibernate, so this heavy coat would make our cold winters more tolerable.

porcupine coat

Look at those shiny black claws.  They’d come in handy for climbing and digging up roots.  And see that soft underbelly?  This is the tender, vulnerable part of porcupines that predators such as coyotes and fishers try to expose by flipping them over.  No wonder they keep it hidden.

porcupine claws

A quick whack of a porcupine’s tail will embed quills into an unwary predator.  The quills are barbed and a likely death sentence to an animal that gets a mouthful of them and becomes unable to eat.  Yikes!

porcupine tail

Though its orange teeth may leave something to be desired by the whitestrips crowd, this is a winning smile if ever there was one.  Like the beaver, a porcupine’s ever-growing rodent teeth are kept sharp and short by constant chewing on trees.

porcupine smile showing orange teeth

Who knew there was so much more to porcupines than just their quills?  This porcupine was more than generous with its willingness to pose before 6 am, especially while doing chin-ups for its early morning exercise routine.  Oops!  Since porcupines are nocturnal, better make that a late night exercise routine.

porcupine doing chin-ups

For more on porcupines, see:
Bark Nibblers
Porcupines in Apple Trees
Porcupines Along the Salt Marsh Trail

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porcupine ball

Why would a porcupine go so far out on a limb?  Wouldn’t it be safer closer to the trunk?  Although porcupines are quite good at balancing themselves, many fall to their death by venturing out on limbs.  I’ve seen porcupines on trees in the salt marsh before, but they were always clinging to thicker branches or resting on top of large evergreen boughs.

You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.
~ Will Rogers

porcupine head alb
Rogers’ quotation might apply to porcupines in apple trees, but this porcupine wasn’t on a fruit tree.  Porcupines will eat the inner bark of fir trees in winter when other food is more scarce, but although there are many fir trees in the marsh, this wasn’t one of them.  The porcupine was also hanging out on an island that’s a common roost for bald eagles in the marsh.  Eagles, coyotes and bobcats, all marsh residents, are known to prey on porcupines.   

porcupine on a limb

Why is this porcupine so far out on a limb?

This tree looks like a maple and it does appear as though some of its bark has been chewed.  Perhaps, with its acute sense of smell, the porcupine was lured by the scent of tender leaf buds that might be just beginning to emerge at the tips of the branches.  I can only wonder.

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