Sunday, April 28, 2013

Scavengers Alter Behavior for Spring & Latest Blooms at the Preserve

A Coyote visits a deer carcass that was pulled from a pond
A few weeks ago a dead deer was pulled out of our one of the beaver ponds. The animal had died earlier in the winter and remained frozen in the pond for possibly over a month. Once it was dragged onto shore, resident and migratory scavengers were finally able to get to it.
This particular Coyote acted with confidence around the site
Monitoring the scene with the trail camera allowed us to witness some interesting behavior of the different animals attracted to the site. During the winter, a similar deer carcass was nearly entirely consumed in one 24 hour period, but this carcass lasted much longer. The major difference this time is that the breeding season for many animals is underway. With crows now nesting and acting territorial, the pair that claimed the territory around the first beaver pond successfully kept all other crows away from the feast. A similar dynamic set up with the other resident carnivores.

A single family of crows kept away all others of their kind
Turkey Vultures were the most common day-time carrion feeders at the site
The vultures stretch out their wings to dry them in the morning sun
Turkey Vultures are still migrating through and many of them have been stopping to take a meal. The flocks and family groups have their own pecking order. When a group comes in to feed, certain individuals were kept away from the carcass until the dominant birds have their fill. Still, the enforcement wasn't extreme and no scuffles broke out within any of the flocks.

A Gray Fox claims the site by night - when there are no coyotes around
The Gray Fox pair was seen often, but they rarely fed
Territoriality during the breeding season limited the number of coyotes and foxes that came to the carcass. A single pair of Gray Foxes were seen frequently around the site, though it seemed that they rarely fed on the deer. In fact, more often they came only to mark the territory around the site. Whenever the Gray Foxes showed up on the video footage, they moved around with confidence – acting pretty much like they owned the place.

A Red Fox came by only infrequently - and remained hyper alert 
The Red Fox's dark legs help to distinguish it from the similar sized Gray Fox
By contrast, a Red Fox that showed up one evening looked anything but confident. Likely this was an individual without a territory of its own – or perhaps it was well beyond the bounds of its own territory. It checked out the site – noted the “sign posts” that were left by the Gray Foxes and then departed without even sampling the deer.

A thin and somewhat skittish female Coyote was a  frequent visitor 
She was constantly looking around and would run off at every noise
After dark, one of the most frequent visitors to the site was a lone female coyote. This straggly looking individual fed ravenously – and she looked like she needed to. She was obviously not at home in the territory – she was quite skittish – constantly looking around and running off at the slightest sound. Her thin tail was almost always held down, which is a sign of submission. She definitely acted like she was stealing every bite. Most likely she is a youngster experiencing her first spring without a sibling or parent for support.

In contrast, this female Coyote was very at home at the site
She would usually feed in the early morning hours and even remain after first light
The only other coyote that came to the carcass was a very confident adult female. Her beautiful coat had a golden sheen to it. Her bushy tail was usually kept out-stretched and she seemed to have very little to worry about when she fed. Sometimes she would still be feeding after the sun came up, which is another indication of her great confidence. This was undoubtedly her territory and perhaps, quite soon now she will have her kits in a den in the nearby woods.
(difficult to make out) A Bobcat walks away from the deer carcass
Early in the evening one night, a solitary Bobcat walked through the site. Unfortunately, the video camera didn't trigger until the cat had walked past the dead deer, but the short “bob” tail and the cat-like gate made the identification certain. Bobcats are very uncommon in our region and this was actually the first time one had been confirmed at the nature preserve. Its presence here is yet another indication of a growing predator population, which in turn is a sign of a healthy population of prey species.

"Spring Beauty" continue to bloom in the old woods
This week new forest blooms included Twinleaf, Hepatica, Blue Cohosh, Red Trillium and Trout Lily.
Bloodroot is completely open now
More Bloodroot - the blossom rising from its cupped leaf
Blue Cohosh has very small blossoms
The first Red Trillium begins to open in the old woods
Trout Lily start to bloom in a big way

Sharp-lobed Hepatica -  with both old leaves (red) and new
Hepatica comes into its own

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