Snowshoe Adventure (Part 1)

My feet on the left in modern-style snowshoes, Leanna's on the right in traditional snowshoes she wove and lacquered herself.
My feet on the left in modern-style snowshoes, Leanna’s on the right in traditional snowshoes she wove and lacquered herself.

This afternoon I talked my friend Leanna into snowshoeing back out to Inkpot Lake with me – some students had told me they’d seen signs of Black-backed Woodpecker activity out there, and I was skeptical but I wanted to check it out. We took snowshoes instead of skis this time to make bushwhacking around on the boggy lakeshore easier.

Being a pair of naturalist nerds, we spent the whole hike out stopping to examine the tracks and scat we found along the trail. (Click any image to bring up a slideshow with captions.)

Did we find any signs of Black-backed Woodpeckers? Did we have any other interesting wildlife encounters at the lake? Come back Friday to find out. (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.)

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.

Ramble

This is a tough time of year to find new things to blog about. The autumn color is all but gone, the woods are basically asleep, but we don’t have any snow yet – it’s a gray, in-between sort of time. Here are three cool things I found on this afternoon’s ramble in the woods, none of which is really enough for a whole blog post of its own.

1. The world’s biggest shelf fungus. It had just fallen off of a dead yellow birch. Note the size comparison with my feet. (Yup, another photo with my feet randomly stuck in it for scale. I do this a lot.)

2. A giant hollow maple tree with evidence of habitation. Note the pile of porcupine scat in the second photo.

3. A really impressive patch of orange jelly fungus. At first I thought this was a slime mold, but apparently it’s a fungus, Dacrymyces palmatus. In any case, this is just about the biggest, best blob of it I’ve yet to see. (This was growing on a dead hemlock log, which apparently is a pretty typical substrate for this species. Witch’s butter looks very similar but usually grows on live trees.)

Stay safe if you’re in the path of Sandy, Eid Mubarak if you’re celebrating, and have a good weekend regardless.