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Lynx Tracks – Exciting First for Us

Lynx Tracks – Exciting First for Us

Lynx Tracks in the Snow

We’re making the most of our backwoods road riding this month while we wait for winter to give up and let spring move in. The roads are still frozen and the frost hasn’t started working its way out of the ground yet. From last weekend to this, the ice has gained rather than lost area at the outlets and along moving water. It’s moving backward. Finding lynx tracks in the snow last weekend was a highlight of winter and a first for me.

lynx tracks, lynx in Maine, tracks,

Talking With the Warden

I talked with our local game warden about our trespasser and the lynx. He’s familiar with the lynx but hadn’t seen signs of him in a couple of  years, and he was happy to hear he’s still around. They’re beautiful cats. I said I was 99.9% sure we’d seen lynx tracks, and he replied that they are “awesome and impressive. If you think you saw lynx tracks that’s what you saw.” On top of a heavy crust and with a little fresh snow on top, the tracks are the size of my palm.

The front foot is in front/on bottom, and the back foot steps on part of the front foot. It’s an easy size and pattern to recognize.

These lynx tracks belong to a cat in Topsfield. There are five sets of tracks near Grand Lake Stream. A few years ago lynx in the area were little more than rumors. We knew they’d move in eventually as these “endangered” (pffft  No they’re not, that’s ridiculous.) animals with a small population continue to reproduce and spread out. If you’re standing on one side of the US/New Brunswick, Canada border they’re endangered. On the other side, in Canada, they are a species with a healthy and growing population. (off the soapbox now)

Hollow Bones

I learned during our conversation that lynx have hollow bones, part of what makes it easier for them to stay on top of the snow. A thick crust, huge round “snowshoe” feet, and hollow bones. How absolutely cool is that. There are two tracks below. The front foot is on the bottom, back foot partially covers the front. The scratch mark is consistent on the left side, and I think it’s the front foot scuffing the snow.

lynx tracks, snow, maine

What Do Lynx Eat?

We know the lynx are around. They’re on two sides of us and have been for at least a few years. They follow the snowshoe hare population, their main diet. The hare population has recovered since the winter of 2014/15 when local hares were all but wiped out. I don’t know that they’d be a threat to the poultry or much of a threat to deer. Now that I’ve learned more, I’m less concerned about increased danger to my poultry. Interesting, the things you learn as a result of riding a backwoods road for an hour.

Backwoods roads were muddy this weekend so went to see elk instead. Elk. In Maine. Tis true. Instead of buying a side of farm-raised beef we’re considering harvesting a farm-raised elk. Thinking about it. I have pictures of course. I’ll share a couple tomorrow.


Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine – Short-tailed Weasel

We have an ermine, called a short-tailed weasel or stoat when from spring through fall when its coat isn’t white. I mentioned it before. It still comes around now and then even though it’s wiped out the mouse problem for us. There’s been some concern by folks who get a glimpse of him about the safety of our ducks and chickens. So far it’s fine. If it’s going into the hen house it isn’t causing a problem. There’s plenty of food so the little guy is well fed. We like to live with the wildlife as much as possible. As long as they mind their manners they’re welcome to stay.

There isn’t a lot I can do to prevent the ermine from getting to the poultry. They can squeeze through a tiny hole to get in and the birds are outside during the day. I’ve read that ermine are nocturnal but we see him almost daily in morning and afternoon, same as every other ermine we’ve had. Relocating is inhumane this time of year. Taking an animal out of its habitat and moving it to a strange place in the dead of winter is likely to cause it a harsh death. I’m not sure we have a live trap small enough to keep it contained anyway.

stoat, short-tailed weasel, weasel, ermine
ermine, mouse,
I suspect the occasional scattering of small bird feathers we find under the bird feeder and around the back porch are signs of his successful hunts. We hope he’ll feast on the three red squirrels. I heard it skittering around the attic yesterday and hope that means he’ll will discourage the red squirrels from moving in when it’s time to build a nest.

Look carefully, there aren’t a lot of details. The ermine is sitting on an old moose antler that Steve found it in the woods last fall while he was hunting. It’s so old moss is growing, and the calcium is breaking down. It’s flaking away a little at a time. For now it’s interesting took look at, and the ermine likes to sit on it. When he’s unaware of my presence he’ll stand up straight and tall on the antler to get a better view of what’s around. This morning he knew I was there so he came and went faster than ermines already move naturally.

moose antler, ermine, stoat, short-tailed weaselErmine’s are small, adorable and somewhat personable predators. I lose track of time watching him and will miss seeing him when winter ends and he returns to the woods.


Beaver Damage in the Woodlot

Beaver Damage in the Woodlot

Beaver Damage

Beaver damage – a problem that creates beauty. Now what do we do?

beaver damage, woodlot
beaver damage, beaver lodge, woodlot
beaver lodge, beaver damage, woodlot, flooding
beaver damage, mud dam
beaver tracks, mud, beaver damage, woodlot

We had a surprise, unwelcome discovery in the woodlot late in the summer. Steve discovered a beaver lodge and bog a few hundred yards from the house. It looks like I need to spend more time poking around in the woodlot to see what’s happening out there. Beaver damage can happen fast and I don’t want the little buggers to get any further ahead of us than they already have.

The beaver lodge is four feet tall and six feet wide. There hasn’t been any recent activity in the area, probably because of the drought conditions. They’ve chosen a poor spot for their home, a seasonal stream that’s four feet wide and a foot deep for a few months of the year. It makes me wonder what they were thinking while scoping out real estate. There’s a nice stream lined with hardwoods and full of brook trout a half mile away, and the beaver damage there is remarkable. Nobody seems to care how much flooding they do there.

Muddy Beaver Dam

The beaver dam is a ring of mud around the low area, pressed firmly into place and stuffed with grasses. They’ve flooded an acre of land and made a huge vernal pool. Unfortunately, stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consequently, I can’t blame the drastic increase entirely on the lack of bats.

Now we have to decide what, if anything, to do about these new neighbors. We don’t have enough information to make an informed decision just yet.

Weighing Pros and Cons

Pro: They aren’t active right now and probably haven’t been this summer because of the lack of rain. It isn’t an area of the woodlot that’s useful to us as far as trees go so we really don’t have a lot to lose. Wood harvesting is heaviest in fall as they prepare for winter so I’m taking a walk each week to look for signs. We’ll know quickly if they return.

Black bear, coyote and bobcats prey on beaver. Coyotes and bobcats have been problems in the past. Better that they have a natural diet than snack on my domestic ducks. Fisher are another beaver predator but haven’t bothered our birds.

Moose and deer have trails passing through and around this area and are there on a regular basis. When there is water in the pool it’s so dirty I doubt animals drink. It would be a good place to set up a tree stand or ground blind for this month’s archery hunt. We’ve never harvested a large game animal from our woodlot.

It’s a pretty spot that I enjoy walking now. I’ve been picking fall mushrooms out there, and this discovery brings me back each week to a place in the woodlot I didn’t visit.

On the con list, we have a long-haired dog that loves water and all things smelly, and another dog that’s half duck toller. She loves to splash around the edge of water. We’re grateful this is outside their territory so they haven’t found the murky mess. In addition to the stench they’d bring home, I’m a little concerned about giardia.

It could be worse

Beaver damage could be worse if we have a wet summer that doesn’t allow the water to drain. In an already damp environment on the edge of a heath, there’s no real need for a bog in our woodlot.

Will they return when the fall rains arrive? The ground is naturally wet with springs that don’t freeze but there’s little water except in with fall rain, snow melt and spring rains.

Considering the tiny size of the stream a deceiver isn’t necessary.  If they become a problem, we can look into asking a trapper to take a look and determine whether this is worth his or her time. For now we’ll wait to see what happens and act on the information we get.


Deer Blowing, Skunk Waddling, No Bear

Deer Blowing, Skunk Waddling, No Bear

Deer Blowing

It was a good day to be seated in a mini chair behind the pile of trees I use as a ground blind. After sitting in the rain at two sites on Wednesday my boots were soaking wet, and I’d forgotten to dry them in the sun and breeze. A middle-aged brain cramp left me sitting in the shade, in a breeze, with cold, wet feet. Cold feet make the rest of me cold. You’d think I’d learn. A deer blowing took my mind off the chill.

Rustling through woods behind me and to the right alerted me to the largest of three skunks on its way in. It always stops at the base of the same tree to potty or mark its territory, I’m not sure which. It stopped, not noticing me as usual, and then went about its merry way. A yellow bellied sapsucker drummed up a racket as it flew tree to tree to tree in search of supper. Red squirrels chased each other in another cops and robbers getaway scene.

The Doe

The doe usually walks through the woods to my left or right in the late afternoon. I waited, listening for her footsteps in the crunchy leaves and the occasional snapping of a twig. A little before 5 pm I heard her. She walks back and forth on the same trail. The ground is bare other than the duff; no grass or even ferns so I can’t imagine why she’s there so often.

I’m getting good practice at sitting stone still with this doe around. I challenge myself to let her get as close as possible before she discovers me by sight or scent or because I move. Yesterday she was 20 feet behind me before she found me. Have you ever heard a deer blowing at you? She startled me again even though I knew it was coming at some point. The combination of blowing and the sound of her hooves trampling the ground as she whirled around to storm out made me jump. I listened to her a few minutes, grinning as I thought about how close she’d gotten this time and how much progress I’ve made in this little game of mine. And then I remembered my phone and turned on the camera. You can’t see her but if you turn up the volume and listen closely you’ll hear a deer blowing.

Doe Deer Blowing

Catch a Snapping Turtle Using Only Two Tools

Catch a Snapping Turtle Using Only Two Tools

Taylor caught a small snapping turtle in the pond while fishing one early summer day in 2000. She reeled him in but half way up the steep bank, he got away. He was small, maybe 5″ from one end of his shell to the other. We threw lines out for him the entire summer but didn’t see him again until the following year. We wondered how to catch a snapping turtle but didn’t put much effort into the task at first. That was a mistake.

The photos are of the turtle but not our pond. We let it go.
catch a snapping turtle, snapper

Snapping Turtles Can’t Live in Our Pond

We started having problems two years later when the snapping turtle started drowning mature ducks and ducklings. Our trout surfaced with bites out of them and then died a few days later. Eventually the snapping turtle was big enough to bite our 115 pound dog Sebastian’s tail and cause an infection.

Steve built traps the turtle would go into but that weren’t strong enough to hold him. A neighbor baited big hooks with rotting meat, tied them onto Hi-C containers, and tossed them into the pond. That didn’t work. I tried shooting it when it stuck its nose up to breath but couldn’t hit it. We never saw the turtle on land.

How to Catch a Snapping Turtle

So how did I catch a snapping turtle? I used two tools, the first being floating fish food we feed the rainbow trout. Grass in the water moved a few feet away. “Gawd, what happened to that fish,” I wondered. Its face was muddy and disfigured. It settled on the bottom, well hidden by the grass and mud it stirred up. I could barely see it. I wanted it out of the pond because it was big enough to breed (too many hornpout in the pond). I got the second tool, the net, from the boat.

catch a snapping turtle, turtle in a lake, turtleExcept, it wasn’t a fish. I stood sideways on the bank, left foot lower than right, right foot perched on a rock, knee bent, end of the net’s handle resting on my leg, the net out over the water, ready to snag fish. The food pellet floating above his head was tempting. He started to stretch to get it but stopped. We stared at each other. He wanted the food. I wanted him. I needed him to move six inches closer to me to be sure I’d get him. If I lunged forward to reach him I’d surely fall face first from the steep bank into the cold, cloudy water. A mosquito landed on my eyelash, and when I moved to brush it away, Turtle turned his head to the right and took a step. He was leaving.

Eight Years

Eight years of frustration kicked in. I slammed the net into the water, forcing it down until the rim hit Turtle’s shell, pinning him to the bottom. Mud swirled. I couldn’t see him but I could feel him struggling to be free of the rim. Without thinking, I reached out the extra six inches. The rim fell over the shell and landed on solid ground allowing me to brace myself. I thought I had him. I regained my balance and pulled the net across the mud toward me. It came too easily.

Suddenly, the net was heavy. I had him. Three seconds after the net slammed into the water, it was over. He didn’t fight much as I climbed the bank but half way to the house he started hissing and fighting. Expect a bit of a struggle but if your net is strong you’ve got time to get away from the water. If I have to do this again I’ll add a third tool – something to put the turtle in without having to walk 100 yards to the house!

Whistle-Pig, Groundhog, Woodchuck

Whistle-Pig, Groundhog, Woodchuck

Whistle-Pig, Groundhog, Woodchuck

We were driving from on unsuccessful turkey spot to the next when something dark, short, long and flat crossed the road in front of us. “Baby fisher? no… Huge mink? no…” When we were close enough to see it well he accommodated us by crossing the road again. A Whistle-pig (Marmota monax), more commonly known as ground hog and woodchuck! He disappeared into a tall, hollow, dying tree. Of course I got out for photos but had only my phone camera.

Do you know how the whistle-pig got its name?Click To Tweet

“pssst…” And he came out. I took a few pictures before he disappeared, scared by a souped up, over done, owned-only-by-a-teenage boy truck. I was a little scared, too, and hoped he was paying attention to the road rather than the crazy lady taking pictures of a tree. The truck passed, our ears stopped ringing, and I made kissy noises to him. The whistle-pig popped out again. I suspect he’s friendly with the people who live across the street. I think if I’d sat down and waited a few minutes he’d have come to me. Before he got ideas of coming over for a scritch behind the ears, I left. Cute little critters long as he’s not my garden.

whistle-pig, ground hog, groundhog
groundhog, whistle-pig, land beaver, woodchuckWe’ve seen a lot of whistle-pigs on our travels this spring, and I’ve learned that not only do they live in hollow trees, they climb trees. In all my years outdoors I’ve never seen a whistle-pig up a tree, and now I’m looking for one.

When alarmed they give out a high-pitched whistle to warn other whistle-pigs of impending doom. I think Groundhog’s Day should be renamed Whistle-Pig Day. It’s catchy, has a better ring than woodchuck and groundhog. Can’t you picture Bill Murray starring in Whistle-Pig Day? Enough already. My silliness is over. Enjoy the day!