Posts Tagged ‘porcupines’

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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The tamaracks that were barely noticeable in the forest all year long now take centre stage. 

small color wheelTheir soft, burnt orange needles provide a bright contrast to the clear blue sky.  Being complementary colours  (set opposite one another on the colour wheel), orange and blue look especially vibrant together in the autumn landscape.

Tamaracks don’t mind wet, boggy soil.  Their Ojibway name, muckigwatig, means ‘swamp tree.’  They thrive in Cow Bay wherever there is little competition for sunshine with other trees.  These deciduous conifers are tolerant of extreme cold.  Their delicate appearance often enhances residential landscapes in northern regions.

tamarack needles in fall

The inner bark of tamaracks is edible and has many medicinal uses among Native Americans, among them, treating burns, wounds, inflammations and headaches.   It’s also a favourite of porcupines. 

Along Bissett Road, which has extensive stands of tamaracks on both sides, it’s no wonder that porcupines are a frequent item on the roadkill café menu.  I’ve crossed paths with them twice in as many weeks, but both times managed to see these slow walkers in time to yield. 

bissett road

It won’t be long before the tamaracks shed their needles for the winter and once again fade into the background of the forest.  But for now, it’s tamarack time.

For more information about tamarack trees, see The Last of Autumn’s Leaves and Needles

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porcupine in apple tree

Although there are many apple trees growing along the Salt Marsh Trail, few people would give them a second glance.  Compared to the fruit available in grocery stores, they are far from perfect.  They’re not quite ripe either, yet many have already fallen on the ground.  How did they get there?  Strong winds might have blown them off the branches, but porcupines are also known to shake them off.

porcupine backI’ve often seen porcupines sitting in apple trees, as many as three in a tree at once.  The apples rather than the  leaves, twigs and bark of the tree are consumed.  Apple seeds are not eaten due to their cyanide content.  Although porcupines prefer nuts and acorns, if these are not available, apples will constitute a large part of their diet during the late summer and autumn.

High in carbohydrates, apples help the porcupine gain the extra weight necessary to help them survive through the winter months.  Due to the higher potassium levels in apples, their consumption will prompt porcupines to seek extra sodium in their diet.  They’ll find the salt in water plants, insects, animal bones, the outer bark of trees and sometimes the soil of river banks and sand bars.

This porcupine was sitting in an apple tree close to the Salt Marsh Trail.  I don’t know how it managed to balance its large bulky form on such a narrow branch.  As you can see, its backside holds a formidable array of quills.  An adult porcupine can have up to 3o,000 of them.  If the branch broke and it fell to the ground, this rodent would be well equipped to defend itself against predators.

porcupine front

Porcupines are more concerned with the pH of an apple’s contents rather than its looks.  They tend to choose ones that are less acidic.  Given the choice of a store-bought apple and a wild one, I wonder which the porcupine would prefer.

Almost all wild apples are handsome. They cannot be too gnarly and crabbed and rusty to look at. The gnarliest will have some redeeming traits even to the eye.

~ Henry David Thoreau

Nutritional reference:  Porcupine Nutrition Standards (pdf)

For more information on our local porcupines, see Porcupines Along Salt Marsh Trail.

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It’s not unusual to see porcupines as roadkill.  I’ve often seen them high up in trees, sometimes a few together.  But this morning, I managed to see a couple very close up along the Salt Marsh Trail.  This male was gazing into the rising sun and didn’t seem too disturbed by my presence.

porcupine back and front

The quills on his back looked sharp and plentiful.  An average adult has about 30,000 of them.  As he turned around I could see his vulnerable underbelly.  Some predators, such as fishers, are adept at flipping porcupines over to reveal this soft spot.  Quills aren’t thrown, but become embedded in a predator’s skin when the porcupine whacks his tail at them.  The warm body temperature of the recipient makes the tiny barbs on the quills expand, lodging them even more securely into their flesh.

My dog, an Alaskan Malamute and wolf cross, would often bite down on porcupines.  Several times he ended up with the quills lodged on his tongue, on the roof of his mouth and down his throat.  An animal left in this condition in the wild would be unable to eat and die of starvation. 

porcupine on the trail

On the walk back, I noticed the porcupine had climbed down from the tree and was walking along the trail.  I guess he didn’t feel up to a second photo op.

Further along the trail back, I heard some strange sounds coming from a spruce tree.  There, barely discernible among the green needles, was a second porcupine resting on top of a spruce bough.  Somehow, the branch was able to handle its weight. 

porcupine on bough

Porcupines are protected in some areas, as they provide an easy source of food to humans lost in the woods.  They can be killed with a quick whack on their nose with a stick.

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