If you ever think you work hard for the food you eat, try tracking a fisher! I would estimate that I followed a fisher’s tracks for at least three miles today and other than stopping to mark its territory once, and investigate a log or two, there was not a sign of its finding a thing to eat. Fishers travel widely in search of prey — one was recorded travelling 56 miles in three days. The fisher I followed traveled through prime snowshoe hare (their most common prey item) habitat, as well as areas where porcupines have been known to den. A fisher’s food requirements are about one snowshoe hare per week, a squirrel or two per week, or 2 – 22 mice per day. A porcupine will feed a fisher for a month or so. (Note snowshoe hare tracks on bottom left of photograph, and fisher tracks running diagonally across the image, where the fisher left its mark.)
Can you identify these tracks? They stumped me until the track maker revealed itself. I was in mixed deciduous/coniferous woods, following fisher tracks, when I saw these unusual-looking tracks. It’s hard to believe I’ve never noticed them before today, as the maker of the tracks is quite common. These mystery tracks will be identified tomorrow (1/30/12). Meanwhile, guesses are welcome! (Track pattern is about 5 inches wide.)
Given the right lighting, it’s very easy to see how red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) got their common name (although the tail of juvenile red-tailed hawks is brown for their first two years). Central Vermont and New Hampshire is at the northern end of the red-tailed hawk’s year-round range – if they live much further north, they usually migrate south for the winter. This common bird of prey typically inhabits open areas interspersed with trees. It is usually observed soaring in wide circles over a field, or perched high in a tree, where it sits and waits, keeping an eye out for prey such as mice, voles, rabbits and hares. Once it spots a small mammal, as the red-tail in this photograph just had, it quickly takes off and uses its talons to capture its next meal.
Typically, male porcupines spend days at a time up in eastern hemlocks, eating the tender buds and leaves of branches, while females tend to spend the day in a den, and head for nearby food at night. In the photograph, a porcupine den tree is on the left, with scat from the den having fallen on the snow below. The trail you see was made by the porcupine, as she went from her den tree to a nearby feeding tree. Usually a den is chosen within a short distance of food, as was this one. If you look closely at the uppermost quarter of the photograph, you will see a sign that indicates recent porcupine activity – nipped hemlock branches in the snow, that have been discarded by a porcupine, who’s feeding in the branches up above them. It’s much safer to remain on a large limb and pull the desired tip of a branch in to you than it is to attempt to climb out on a thin branch. Once the porcupine nips the tip of the branch off and eats the tender buds and leaves, it drops the branch to the ground below.
Hard to believe as it may be, red foxes spend most nights curled up in the open air — winter, summer, fall and spring–regardless of the temperature. Often they sleep in open fields, in an elevated area, where they can keep an eye out for approaching danger. When making a bed, they curl up in a ball and wrap their bushy tail around themselves, covering their faces. According to Leonard Lee Rue, when foxes sleep in the open, they usually doze for 15 to 25 seconds and then wake up, look around carefully, and nap again. Only when a fox sleeps in dense cover does it go into a heavy sleep, waking every hour or so. If you look closely, you can see two fox beds in this photograph — one at about one o’clock and one at about seven o’clock. Each is about a foot in diameter.