Other things in the woods


I probably ran off a good 150 photos while out with Dan and Raven at the park the other day. I would likely have taken more but for the fact that we were running out of time (constrained by the number of hours of daylight) and I eventually had to exercise some restraint in not stooping down to photograph something every 20 meters. Also in that we didn’t find the bog; if we had, that would’ve been another 50 photos just in itself. I’m beginning to run out of disk space on my computer, and it’s not a particularly small hard drive. That’s what a 10.1 megapixel camera does for you. I should start printing some of my photos up and selling them as posters, to take advantage of those 10.1 megapixels (since there isn’t much other need for them). I wonder if they’d actually sell.

I take lots of them with the intention of sharing their subject matter here on the blog. Of course, often they get buried as I turn to more interesting or more timely subjects and I never come back to them. But other photos are just simply landscape images that I found really eyecatching or said something to me. Many of these sit dormant, buried in the hard drive somewhere. Some I share here. The above (obviously) falls into the latter category. So many of the water bodies we encountered were reflecting the sky in the most gorgeous, rich, deep sapphire blues. I really couldn’t capture it with the camera, at least not the way my eye saw it and not without any fancy filters or equipment. But I thought this one came close.

Ribbon Snake

We came across this snake on the path. It’s an Eastern Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis sauritus, and can be separated from the similar-looking garter snake by the presence of an additional yellow line along the side (that is, the garter snake has a yellow dorsal line and a yellow belly, while the ribbon snake has a yellow dorsal line, a yellow side line, and a yellow belly). It’s also a slimmer, more delicate-looking snake. I actually nearly stepped on it, only noticed it as it rapidly slithered out of my way into the leaves at the side of the trail. I called to Dan to point it out, and he managed to snag it for a photo. It was fierce, and actually struck out a couple times toward the camera (seemed to pay no attention to Dan, interestingly). It also stunk like a sonuvagun. Most snakes produce a very smelly musk from glands in their vent (the combined reproduction and elimination orifice that reptiles, amphibians and birds all have) that serves to discourage predators. Sure discouraged us, more than the open mouth. Dan put it down quickly once the photo was taken.

Garter snake

Not much further along was this Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis. I was rather surprised to encounter one snake on the trail, much less two, given the lateness of the season. However, the weather was nice, nearly 15 C (60 F) and they probably came out for some last filling up before hibernating for the winter. They were sunbathing on the warm leaves when we came across them, and while the ribbon snake scurried off, the garter snake didn’t move at all. Garter and ribbon snakes are closely related, members of the same genus. They’re among the most common snakes, found in suburban gardens and yards as well as the untamed wilds of rural areas.

Pileated Woodpecker excavations

Aside from the two snakes, and a handful of chickadees, Brown Creepers, and a couple other birds, not very many animals were observed. However, they were in evidence from the signs they left behind. This birch stump was at the side of the trail, and looked like it had been freshly worked on within the last couple days. It’s the handiwork (billiwork?) of a Pileated Woodpecker looking for ants or grubs. The size of the excavation, plus the neatness of the edges, identify the species responsible, since other woodpeckers will make smaller excavations without much mess, and larger animals, such as raccoons, will make messier holes. I thought it was neat how the shards of wood cascaded down from the excavation like a waterfall spreading out into a pool at the base of the stump.

Deer browse scraping

Another animal that had left some signs of its presence behind was White-tailed Deer, Odocoileus virginianus. We found a few spots with droppings, but also quite a number of these scrapings in the ground. The leaves had been cleared away from the area as the deer looked for things to eat, and the primary reason I knew it was deer and not something else was the presence of the cleft-hoof tracks in the dirt. Deer are known to eat acorns and beechnuts as part of their fall and winter diet, and since the predominant trees in the area were maple, oak and beech, these were abundant in this forest. I suspect they were clearing the leaves in search of acorns, now that most plants have lost their green vegetation.

Brown bear digging and scat?

And finally, on our way back, as we crossed through a grove of pine trees, we came across a large area of ground that had been dug up as the animal searched for food. In a couple spots, in the middle of the excavation, were some piles of loose gray scat. It’s amazing how much you can tell from scat. It’s often very species-specific in its particular characteristics. In the photo above Dan is poking at it with a stick to examine its consistency and contents, both important in determining from what animal the scat came from. There aren’t too many species that will actually dig up the earth like this, as opposed to just scrape at the surface like the deer did. Two of the possible critters, skunk and raccoon, have tight, compact scat. The other suspect tends to have looser dung, as this was, and a varied diet. This looked like it was full of crushed mussel shells (though we didn’t look too too closely to know definitively). After examining the evidence, we thought this was probably the work of a Black Bear, Ursus americanus. Bears are omnivores, eating a wide variety of foods, from berries, to grubs in the soil, to mussels at the lake shore.

So many things to see! One more post tomorrow from that hike, and then on to other things.