Tree Bark, Yum!

While I was staring dreamily at a foraging Downy Woodpecker this afternoon (only in the silent, snowy woods of winter could a Downy Winter hold me in rapt attention for so long), a splash of color caught my eye.

Something had been gnawing at the bases of several nearby trees.

A porcupine?

You tell me.

6 thoughts on “Tree Bark, Yum!”

    1. But wouldn’t the beavers be iced into their lodges for the winter? Even though they don’t really hibernate, it’s been at least a month since the beavers should have been out and about, I thought.

      1. Without seeing tracks I can’t tell for sure, but I have followed beaver tracks for miles in the dead of winter a couple of times. I have no idea what they were up to or why they were travelling during winter, but they do. Their tracks are unmistakeable, as they normally drag their tail across the top of the snow behind them. Otters make very similar tracks, but they slide more often, and don’t have a 5 inch wide tail leaving a path in the snow.

  1. Your posts are always intriguing, but this one really piqued my interest. Some salient facts I gleaned from Paul Rezende’s “Tracking and the Art of Seeing” (best tracking book I’ve ever found…do you have it?): Beaver incisor marks are generally about 1/4″ wide, porcupines somewhat narrower. Porcupine feeding marks are usually in a cross-hatch pattern; your photos show mostly parallel marks.

    How far were these trees from a body of water? Beavers normally feed from their stored food supply during the winter, so if these are signs of fairly recent feeding (which they appear to be) I would think that it indicates an emergency behavior….perhaps its supply was inadequate or somehow became inaccessible. Your point about being “iced in” I think is valid. If there’s no pond or lake within a quarter mile or so, I doubt a beaver would expend the energy to travel so far for an “emergency” meal. There must be trees closer to its lodge.

    Which brings us back to porcupines. These guys leave very distinctive tracks in the snow. It looks like someone dragged a bowling ball along. Have you seen tracks like this in the area?

    Anecdotally, the porcupines in my woods show a distinct preference for feeding on hemlocks in winter. My woods are typical birch/beech/maple with just scattered stands of hemlock, but this is where I most frequently find sign.

    I love a good mystery.

    1. No tracks at all around the trees – we’d gotten significant snow a day or so before I saw these. There is a lake nearby but it’s on the other side of a steep ridge. Interesting about the hemlock, though!

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