Saturday morning of the walk with naturalist/tracker David Brown, was cold and clear, just as a morning in February ought to be. Parking at the appointed (for our walk) entrance to Estabrook Woods is nonexistant, so we parked along the side of the road, and made our way from there. This area is quintessential New England, with stone walls, orchards and barns that belong on postcards.
This was my first time to Estabrook, but anywhere that can manage to be beautiful in February deserves another visit. As we left the pastural landscape, and the trees stretched out overhead we heard a strange vibrating noise above us. One by one we began to look around for the source. There it was, a tiny woodpecker at the utmost reaches of a tree. It's pecking made the whole branch sway, distorting the usually familiar sound. As we made our way over the hilly terrain, our guide, David Brown would stop, take a closer look at something he'd spotted on the ground and wait for us all to circle him. Often we looked blankly at the same spot of ground that had caught his attention, not seeing a thing worthy of notice until he started to explain.
I'd like to share with you the photos I took of those finds and what we learned about them. I did my best to keep accurate notes, but if there are any errors, they are mine and not Brown's.
Until hearing Brown's talk (see part 1), I'd assumed that people were crazy when they claimed fishers were responsible for the disapearance of cats and small dogs in the Boston suburbs. I always picture these tree climbing predators as inhabiting upper Maine or maybe the White Mountains. It turns out that I was only partly right. The disappearance of small pets is more likely related to the increase in urban coyotes, but fishers live here among us too. They prefer to stay away from us and our dogs, so they tend to come out around sunrise and sunset.
On our walk we spotted two examples of fisher scat, both on logs. Brown explained that this is a common fisher behavior. There are several plausible explanations for the prominent location, including marking territory. The scat is full of gray squirrel remains. When fishers moved into this area they discovered a totally niave food source, squirrels. These ubiquitous creatures were used to escaping predators by climbing up trees, but the fishers could climb too. Sometimes's fishers will stash an uneaten portion of a squirrel in a squirrel nest, until it's ready to come back to finish it. How's that for irony?
If you're in the area and would like to see a fisher, Drumlin Farm in Lincoln MA recently took in an injured one that could no longer fend for itself. It's housed on Bird Hill.
Intersting side note, the word "acorn" comes from an Old Norse word that means "Squirrel". Where acorns are ample, squirrels will be too.
This pile of feces was found along a deer trail. Many of New England's roads were originally based on deer paths. It would have been wasteful not to, considering the deer had already found the easiest way through the forest.
A few things you may (or may not) have ever wanted to know about deer feces.
- It is common for deer to relieve themselves while walking, in which case the pellets are more scattered than they are here.
- Rabbit and deer scat look quite similar. You can tell this is deer, because each pellet has a bit of a point (like an acorn) and a cooresponding indent on the other side. The reason for the indent becomes clear if you picture these pointy pellets lined up inside the deer's colon. Of course, you may prefer not to picture that at all.
This walk was taken in early February, before the big blizzard, so scat was much easier to find than animal tracks. It was funny to be out with a group of adults and talking so avidly about defication. The only other time I think I've ever talked and thought so much about poo is while potty training a toddler!
Continuing on the topic of bugs, I've seen these little balls all my life and have never known (until now) where they came from. There's a type of wasp that inserts its egg under the bark of the oak. The oak is irritated by this and creates a pustule (the ball). When the egg has grown into a worm, it eats its way out (thus the hole at one end). Here's what the ball looks like on the inside.
While we're on the subject of trees, this black locust (right center) located not far from a stonewall caught Brown's attention. He explained that this sort of locust is not native to the area. It would have been brought here by a farmer who wanted to take advantage of its nitrogen fixing ability. The farmer wouldn't have gone through all that bother for a hay field, so this land, now covered in trees, must once have been valuable farm land.
Our final stop was along the shores of Mink Pond. There's a lot to be said about this area, so I'll save that for a third post.