A sure sign of spring is the emergence of woodchucks, the largest members of the Squirrel family in New England, after a long winter’s sleep. Their arousal is easily noted, for when the males wake up, they do some excavating of their tunnel, scattering dirt all around it which is easily spotted on the snow (if there is still any snow left). Equally obvious is the muddy trail they leave when in search of a female. Mating takes place in March and April, and the resulting litters of 2 to 6 young are born a month later.
If the increased yelping of eastern coyotes hasn’t caught your attention, you may not be aware that this is the peak of their breeding season. Female coyotes come into estrus once a year, for a period of about 10 days. For the past two or three months, working up to this, male and female coyotes have been increasing their scent marking. Occasionally you can find where a female has marked with urine, leaving behind a spot of blood (see photograph). Eventually she attracts one or more sexually active males, and mating ensues. Something I’ve never witnessed, but would love to, is the howling duet of a pair of coyotes prior to mating.
Like their cousins the otters, mink will slide down snowy inclines on their bellies, as the slide in this photograph illustrates. They are excellent swimmers and can swim underwater to a depth of 18 feet or for a distance of 100 yards. Look for tracks and slides along streams, in cattail marshes and in swamps, where they forage for crayfish, frogs, fish, small mammals and invertebrates. One of its largest prey is the muskrat. A male mink (larger and stronger than a female mink) captures one by wrapping its body around the muskrat and then biting its neck. Mink make the most of their meals, recycling what they can – the winter nest of one mink consisted almost entirely of the fur of muskrats.