Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Coyote in Death Valley, California. Photo by Manfred Werner via Wikimedia Commons.

On Monday of last week, I posed a question on Twitter: “Hey everyone, do you pronounce the word ‘coyote’ with two syllables or three?” I’ve been in the habit of saying all three syllables – “coy-yo-tee.” But a lot of people generally only give it two, “coy-yote,” and I wondered which was more common. Of course, a lot of the answers were less straightforward than I expected. Continue reading “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”

Snowshoe Adventure (Part 3)

(I swear this is not an April Fool’s Day post. I tried and failed to think of something clever for April Fool’s Day. This is just the continuation of Part 1 and Part 2 of last week’s snowshoe adventure.)

Okay, so we maybe, possibly found evidence that there have been Black-backed Woodpeckers hanging around Inkpot Lake this winter. Did we see anything else worth mentioning? Yes. Yes we did.

In February I wrote about a previous expedition to Inkpot Lake and included a photo of a tunnel in the snow that, judging by the tracks leading to it, had been made by an otter. This time we found the edges of the lake heavily crisscrossed with more otter tracks and belly slides. Clearly this is a popular spot for them.

Snowshoe hare tracks on the left, otter belly slide on the right.
Snowshoe hare tracks on the left, otter belly slide on the right.

So, as we left the boggy area behind and worked our way back around the canoe launch, I kept pausing to examine every dark dot on the far side of the lake with my binoculars. I found a lot of stumps and bushes, but finally I found a dark dot that moved. Ready for a really terrible photo of an otter?


Actually we counted three otters total, frolicking around on the opposite side of the lake from us. It was pretty great. After I commented “Wow, it’s a whole pile of otters,” Leanna wondered what the collective noun for otters really is, so I looked it up and according to Wikipedia one word that gets used is “romp.” A romp of otters! Perfect!

We declared this adventure to be a huge success.

Beaver Lodge Update

I wrote a couple previous posts about a beaver lodge being constructed on a lake near my house. Unfortunately, the beaver seems to have abandoned the site; I haven’t seen it around in ages, and no more progress has been made on the lodge. Today I climbed down the bank to take a closer look at what it had done before it left.

I’m disappointed that I won’t get to see it completed and coated in an insulating layer of mud for the winter, but oh well. Here’s my interesting fact about beavers for the day: you almost never find their scat. Why? Because they poop right in the water.

Anyway, I’m camping in the Porcupine Mountains again for the next two nights, but unlike last time when I was leading a wilderness trip for teenagers, I’m going with a couple friends and we’re staying in a yurt and bringing chocolate chip cookies and a board game. Yay mini-vacation!

Carnivore Sign, Herbivore Sign

After consulting my copy of Tracking and the Art of Seeing, I’ve concluded that this is probably coyote scat, based on its size and shape. It was a lot softer and wetter than a lot of carnivore scat I’ve found (sometimes it’s nothing but compressed hair!) and contained grass as well as hair. According to the book, dark, wet scat means the animal has probably been eating organs from a fresh kill.

Further along, the edges of the trail were littered with the evidence of a foraging red squirrel. To efficiently harvest black spruce cones, a squirrel had been snipping off the ends of its branches, which it can then collect off the ground. Porcupines do this too, but they have (much) bigger teeth, so you’d probably be able to see the gnaw marks on the chewed-off end more clearly.

Beaver Behavior

I went for a walk around one of the lakes early this morning, along a trail that follows the top of a steep bank at the lake’s edge. At one point I stopped to watch the Hairy Woodpeckers working the dead snags above me, and while I was standing there I realized there were soft bubbling and splashing noises in the water below. Glancing down, I saw a pile of large sticks on the shore I was sure hadn’t been there a couple weeks ago… and a beaver, swimming slowly back and forth.

I’ve seen beavers a number of times before, but usually when I do they’re swimming away at top speed or slapping their tails on the water to express their irritation at being disturbed. This was the first time I’d had a good vantage point to watch one without scaring it off, so I crouched down at the side of the trail and spent about twenty minutes observing its behavior.

After completing several lazy figure eights, it wound up next to a fallen birch tree that was partially submerged in the water. As I watched, it dove repeatedly, for about ten seconds at a time. Each time its head would disappear, its tail and butt would waggle around on the surface (it’s hard to get a sense of what a big animal a beaver is when you just see its face sticking out of the water, but its big butt gives you a better idea), and I would hear a deep gnawing sound. Then it would pop its head up to scan the surface before going under again.

Eventually it came up towing one end of a large birch limb in its mouth. Maybe it saw me at that point, but if so, it wasn’t overly concerned – it placed the stick near the edge of the pile that was already there and then took off at a sedate speed for another part of the lake.

If you’re looking for the beaver in the photo above, it isn’t there, I took that picture of the spot after it swam away – I didn’t get a good one of the beaver itself. But it was a good way to start my Wednesday.

Thirteen-Lined Cutie

Especially now that the weather’s warmed up, the feeders at work attract as many mammals as they do bird. The red squirrels were there all winter, and now the chipmunks have come out of hibernation and joined them, and there’s one big fat gray squirrel that sticks out like a sore thumb among its small hyperactive cousins. And best of all, there are a couple of these:

Not the greatest photo in the world – these guys are pretty shy, so I had to take this photo through a window and then crop the heck out of it. But this is a thirteen-lined ground squirrel, Ictidomys tridecemlineatus. The only place I remember seeing them before this spring was in Saskatchewan, and I find their pattern of polka dots and stripes incredibly cute. Some people consider them pests for their habit of digging holes in yards and gardens and fields, but too bad. I think they’re adorable!