Sunday, February 24, 2013

More Wild Night Life and Flying Foxes

A coyote is actively leaving tracks in the early morning hours

This year the nature preserve is alive with predators that are active primarily at night. Much of what I know about their behavior comes from the copious amount of footprints that they leave behind in the snow. Yesterday morning’s fresh snowfall told of a particularly lively night life for our foxes and coyotes. Tracks were laid down around all of our bird feeding stations as well as on the foot-trails.
A pair of Coyotes examine fresh rabbit tracks
Some of the footprints revealed interesting aspects of animal behavior; such as a coyote doubling back on its own track in order to reexamine the path of a rabbit that had intersected the trail. Of course, it’s not just footprints that are left behind – scat and urine marks are left as well. One impressive scat of the coyote contained a large amount of hair – mostly rabbit hair, and no, I didn't actually pull it apart in my hands.
A mink checks out some "sign" left by another animal
 Fisher and Mink tracks were also found yesterday. I followed a fisher for about a hundred yards in order to get an idea about what he was up to. His tracks described a straight line through open country, but upon entering the woods, they exhibited the animal’s more investigative skill set. He went out of his way to cross several old logs – possibly in order to stir up any small rodents that may be lurking beneath.
The fisher's tracks divert into the woods
As I continued following the fisher tracks, I got excited – it looked like he was going to pass right by my trail camera, which had been set up alongside a creek in order to catch video footage of raccoons and mink. Indeed, the fisher went through there, and even stopped to rub his long body on a mossy, snow covered log, which was quite close to the camera!

The fisher rubs his body on a snow covered log - making for an awkward looking posture
The camera data told me that the fisher came through just before dawn – and only a couple of hours before I came through myself. Unfortunately, the camera didn't trigger properly and I didn't get that much footage of the creature, but what I have is interesting enough. The fisher is indeed seen rubbing himself on the log – obviously marking territory.
2 raccoons travel together down the creek
The population of small rodents is up this winter and that helps to explain the heightened amount of predator activity at the nature preserve. The fact that we've had only shallow snow depth for many weeks has made the hunting easier, since the mice, shrews and voles must come out in the open to travel and find food. 
A raccoon checks the signs left by the mink and the fisher 
Raccoon and mink regularly travel up and down the creek. The camera caught the activities of a pair of raccoons over the course of several nights. They would move together up the stream – but each one would make their own diversions onto shore to root around near a promising brush pile or rotten tree trunk. One of the raccoons had an injured leg, but seemed to be able to keep pace with its comrade.
Most of the footprints left around the preserve are made by deer
 The mink by contrast was solitary and could be seen galloping up the stream bed at decent clip. Besides their specialized ability to pursue prey into the most narrow borough or crevice, they seem to like to use the element of surprise as well. Imagine one crashing into a mouse’s family reunion – suddenly it’s a Mink!
At the prospect of meeting me on the trail, this Gray Fox takes flight - literally
The other day I had apparently made a fox fly without even knowing it. I was coming up one of the foot trails toward the area where the camera had been mounted and unbeknownst to me, a Gray Fox was just ahead of me around the bend. The fox apparently saw or heard me, and this made her spin around and blast off in the other direction. The camera caught the fox’s lightning-fast reaction and several frames of the footage show the animal with all 4 feet off of the ground. I appear in the footage seconds later, but at the time, I was completely unaware my near close encounter with the flying fox kind.  

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