About a week ago, before we got all that snow (as you can see from the photos), I was hunting for a ball I’d thrown for Raven that had disappeared into the woods and she seemed unable to find. I circled wider and wider, completely puzzled about what happened to the ball (it took a funny bounce, it later turned out, and ended up on the other side of the driveway yards away from where we were looking). Eventually my circles brought me to a track in the forest, barely more than a tree-less gap, that ran between the natural forest and the artificially-planted pines at the foot of the drive.
Out in the middle of this, I spotted some poop. It looked like hawk or owl poop. I remember reading on Julie Zickefoose’s blog some time ago about the difference between hawk and owl poops, in that one (I think owl) drops it straight down from their perch, while the other (hawk) expels it at an angle. The first ends up as a blob on the leaf litter, while the latter results in more of a streak. These ones looked definitely blob-ish, so I suspect owl, and a good-sized one at that given the amount of poop. Perhaps the Great Horned that we’ve heard from time to time and whose pellet Dan found under the maple in the front yard.
Looking closer, I noticed there was a pile of bones beside the poop. They were completely cleaned off. I couldn’t tell how long they (or the poop) had been there – possibly even since that first pellet was found in early October. Although we tend to think of bird poop washing away quickly, if it had been a dry spell, the poop might have hardened making it harder to wash off the leaves. My suspicion is that these bones used to be in a pellet, but that rain that we’ve had since (and quite a bit of it at times in November) combined with the work of scavenging beetles and other invertebrates, have decomposed and washed away the hair that used to be matted up with it.
I can’t tell what they used to belong to. Most of the bones were broken or fragmented, and the only skull bone I could pick out was a portion of a lower jaw bone, below. I didn’t think owls broke the bones when they were digesting their prey and forming the pellet, and I briefly toyed with the idea that this might be a snake poop, but aside from the broken bones there was nothing else to conclusively support that. I saw a few vertebrae in the pile, but the rest were generic long bones, or at least looked that way. The jaw bone was tiny, and quite long relative to its size. Shrew, perhaps?