While out walking Raven this afternoon, I came across this tree, whose lower trunk had been shredded. It was basically in the middle of the woods, right at the edge of a small clearing. The clearing had a handful of young (maybe 20 years) White Pines along its edge, and two White Spruce of roughly the same age. The photos are of one of the spruces, but the other also had been damaged, less recently. This one looked like it might have been within the last week, perhaps two. There were no signs of tracks in the snow or ground around the base of the tree, no scat, no evidence that anyone or anything had been there at all, aside from the damage to the tree.
The damaged area was only two to three feet (less than a meter) above the ground. At that point the lowest branches started, and there was no access to higher up the trunk. The bark had been absolutely shredded. I might not be surprised at this if it was soft cedar bark or some other soft wood, but the outer layer of the spruce is tough, and the loose bits that hung away from the trunk were stiff. In areas where the bark hadn’t been shredded there was evidence of deep grooves, perhaps as much as two to three millimeters (1/8″ ish) deep. There were a few grooves in the softer wood layer under the shredded area, as well.
What could have done this? My first thought was that it was a buck rubbing his antlers on the trunk of the tree. I might have settled on that and gone on my way if these were cedars, but when I touched the strips of bark and felt how tough and resilient they were, I ruled out deer. They have tough antlers, but they’re not that sharp. I don’t think they would have made the deep, narrow gouges, either. My second thought was bear. There is certainly the odd bear around here, even if I haven’t personally seen one. But bear markings are usually high up the tree, at least at my eye level, if not above. This being less than three feet off the ground, that just didn’t match up either.
My only other thought is possibly bobcat. There are bobcats in the area, as well, though I don’t think they’re very common. Our neighbour up the lake indicated they’d seen feline prints and urine while out hiking in the park once, but the park superintendent couldn’t confirm or deny the presence of the cats.
Bobcats are little, only about twice the size of a housecat, standing 14 to 15 inches (36-38 cm) at the shoulder. They mark their territories in a variety of ways, including conspicuous feces deposits, urine spraying, and clawing prominent trees. Their home ranges can vary considerably in size, depending in part on the quality of the habitat and the number of other cats in the area, but even the smallest ranges are often on the order of dozens of square kilometers (upward of a dozen square miles). This, combined with their secretive habits and tendency to only be out at dawn and dusk, would probably explain why they’re so rarely seen. Also why I’ve never seen one.
The shredded tree trunk seems like a pretty good match for bobcat. The only reason I’m at all hesitant to call it that, besides the fact that I’ve never seen a bobcat, around here or otherwise, and so they exist in the realm of fantastic creatures like unicorns and centaurs, is that I would’ve expected claw marks inflicted by something with a paw to have multiple grooves all parallel to one another, the result of three or four claws being dragged down the trunk together. Instead, the marks here seem to be individual and random. Could it be just that sometimes only one claw pierced the tough bark? On the other hand, this website describes the scratches as being parallel to the tree trunk and two to three feet above the ground – which fits these marks perfectly.
How cool would that be, territory markings of a bobcat? Certainly the closest I’ve ever come to one, even if he is long since gone.