There are, of course, lots of birds around at Innis Point. That’s the whole reason we’re there, after all: to monitor the birds. What I wasn’t expecting there to be lots of was porcupines. Spring is their season, the time of year when they’re most likely to be encountered, although I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, since they’re active year round. Even still, prior to this year I’d only ever seen the odd one here or there, and most of them tended to be in the form of roadkill, sadly. I spotted one in our own woods while out with Raven last week (fortunately, she hadn’t seen it yet and I steered her the other way before she had a chance to; Dan came across one with her a couple days later and wasn’t so lucky with the timing, though he was still able to call her away before she actually made contact with it), but have just seen the one. Out at Innis we’ve seen them every day. One day there were as many as four of them spotted around the site. One of them was especially laid-back, allowing me to approach within a couple dozen feet while it calmly continued foraging. I guess it has a lot of confidence in its protection.
They’ve mostly been up in the big, gnarly oak trees. They clamber along the thick, sturdy limbs, reaching out to the little twigs to snip the tender green buds off. Their hands seem to be remarkably dexterous, reminding me a lot of the fingered feet of raccoons.
They reach out with their broad paws to snag the twigs and bend them back to where they can easily reach the buds. Check out the long, thick claws. They and the rough pads would be useful in gripping the tree as the animal clambers about. Also for hauling that huge bulk straight up the trunk. On my way back from the washroom one morning I heard a rustling in the underbrush and spotted a porc approaching in my direction. It hadn’t seen me, so I stopped and watched it for a few minutes. It wandered to a small line of young trees, approaching the base of each and giving each a good sniff as it decided whether it was worth climbing. It passed by two trees in favour of the third, which was of a different species. I found it fascinating that it could apparently tell the difference just by smelling the trunk.
Porcupines are rodents, and one of the obvious features that they share with members of the group is the evergrowing, sharp orange teeth; they’re not dissimilar from beaver teeth. Since part of their diet, especially in winter, consists of the inner bark of tree trunks (which requires chewing through the outer bark to get at), these teeth come in especially handy.
When the twigs were too long for simply bending the branch to bring the buds within reach, the porcupine put its teeth to good use. It would bend the twig down…
…and then chew through the twig to remove it from the tree. Then it would manipulate it with its hands and snip off the buds before finally dropping the denuded twig.