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10 February 2010 @ 11:30 pm
Tracking mammals at the Old Quarry Trail  

Saturday was beautiful and sunny when I got up, so I left early in order to find some new species to add to my February birding list, which stood at a meagre ten species. First stop: Maple Grove Road, where the Gray Partridges eluded me yet again. Deb and I are beginning to think they don't exist, although I found plenty of tracks in the snow which I suspect were made by the partridges. These tracks led from tree to tree all across the lawn, and as they appeared to be quite fresh I tried to see if I could follow them to the birds' present location. I had no luck in finding the partridges, although I came across several other tracks which appeared to belong to various squirrels, foxes, and voles. If I get around to identifying them all, I may dedicate a blog entry to animal tracks in the winter since I find them so fascinating. With so many different tracks around, it's hard to believe how rarely we actually come across the mammals that leave them!

White-tailed Deer

I should note, however, that I did have some luck before I had even left my subdivision on my way over to the maintenance yard. Activity in one of the large shrubs at the Emerald Road entrance caught my attention. I pulled over and got out to have a look, and found the resident House Finches eating the berries. They made such a wonderful sight in the warm golden morning light against the yellow berries that I couldn't resist taking several photos.

House Finch

Although they aren't new for my February list, I was still happy to see them. Like most finches, they are quite vocal and chipped and chirped away as they went about foraging for breakfast.

House Finch

As mentioned above, I struck out yet again on finding the partridges along Maple Grove Road, making me wonder how many times one can strike out and still remain in the game? However, a couple of Snow Buntings (no. 11 on my February list) flying overhead made the stop somewhat productive.

Since it wasn't too cold I decided I would go for a walk along the Old Quarry Trail on Eagleson. I had only been there once, in the late summer a few years ago, and hadn't found it intriguing enough to return since some of my favourite Stony Swamp trails, such as Jack Pine, are much closer. However, after reading one of soul_diaspora's journal entries on a porcupine she found there, and knowing that this is one of the best places to find tame White-tailed Deer, I thought I would check it out to see whether I could find some mammals and some typical woodland birds to add to my February list.

Mammals were less difficult to find than birds, for a change. Not far along the path I saw a porcupine up in a Jack Pine tree, sleeping. There were too many branches in the way to photograph him from the trail, so I circled around for a better view.

Porcupine #1

As I was taking pictures of porcupine #1, I realized that a second porcupine was sleeping in another tree close by! I have never seen more than one porcupine in the same area, nor more than one at once, so this was a treat. This one appeared much darker in colour.

Porcupine #2

After photographing the porcupines I left the area, searching for more signs of life. There were tracks everywhere in the snow - mostly deer, squirrel, and some which looked like rabbit tracks - but the trail was empty. There weren't many birds around, either, although a couple of crows flew over and I could hear a raven calling in the distance. It took several minutes of walking before I even found a small flock of chickadees.

Along the trail I came across a man carrying an orange bucket. He appeared to be photographing some fungi, so I stopped and said hello, then asked if there was anything much around. He said he had just dumped his bucket full of corn for some deer further along the trail, and that a buck and a couple of does were just "past the ridge". I thanked him and went on my way, feeling hopeful that I would see another mammal which I had come to this trail specifically to see.

Before I got to the ridge, however, I caught sight of what looked like a porcupine on the ground several feet away from the trail. I cautiously moved closer to the animal, and sure enough it was a porcupine, and it appeared to be sleeping. I was able to get quite close to him...so close, in fact, that I began to suspect that he wasn't sleeping but dead. He didn't stir even though I was making quite a bit of noise, and I couldn't see any clouds of breath steaming in the cold air or melted snow beneath his nose, which one would expect if he had been exhaling warm air.

Porcupine #3

There was, however, a pile of droppings behind him, suggesting that he had spent a lot of time in the area. But what had happened? Had he had fallen out of the tree? Did he perhaps break a leg and was therefore unable to climb the tree or find a safe place to rest? His demise - if in fact he was dead - would have to remain a mystery. I returned to the main trail, puzzled and just a little disturbed.

Shortly after leaving the porcupine, I came to a side trail and decided to follow it for a bit. I heard chickadees and a White-breasted Nuthatch in the trees above me, so I pulled out some seed to feed them. The nuthatch (bird #12) wasn't very interested, but the chickadees were, so I stood there a few moments to feed them. Then I realized that two does were standing on a small rise further back. They didn't run off immediately, so I tossed some seed on the ground where they could see it.

White-tailed Doe

Close-up of Doe

The two deer were very interested, and looked right at me as though to assess whether I posed any threat to them. Then they walked up to the path and began lapping up the bird seed. I saw at least three other deer behind the small rise, but they seemed content where they were, perhaps feeding on the corn left by the gentleman I had spoken with earlier.

A family of about six people came along the trail behind me, but stayed well back and spoke softly so as not to disturb the deer. Indeed, the does left only when they had eaten all of the seed, so I returned to the main trail.

I think the deer must have been heading in the same direction I was, for I spotted one only a few moments after walking down the main trail. There was no formal trail where she stood among the trees, but a well-used deer path indicated that they - as well as other people, from the footprints in the snow - frequently used this trail to get to the clearing I could see beyond the trees. I attempted to get closer to her, hoping to take some photographs of the deer out in the open, but she walked off without showing any interest in me.

The detour was well worth the stop, for I saw my fourth porcupine of the day sleeping in a tree above me.

Porcupine #4

As I was photographing him, a few chickadees found me so I tossed some seeds on the ground. They were joined by three Red-breasted Nuthatches (two males and a female, bird species #13), and while I was watching the birds a robin (bird #14) flew in and landed in a shrub about twelve-fifteen feet away!

Then I noticed four deer walking up the main trail. They saw the birds feeding, turned onto the small deer path and walked up to where I stood. These does seemed very tame, for they began feeding only a few feet from where I stood.

Two Does

One doe in particular was very bold. I had pulled my baggie out of my pocket so I could give them the rest of the seed, but she didn't seem to want to wait and began sniffing at the baggie! So I thought, why not just leave the seed in my hand and see if she will take it? I was amazed and elated when she did, and took a few quick pictures with my free hand:


I fed her the rest of the seeds from my baggie, and even when they were gone, if I put my hand out she would continue to lick my glove. While it makes me just a little uneasy to see these deer so trusting and so accustomed to humans, I felt mostly awed and privileged by the experience. I can now claim to have fed the following species from my hand: Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Gray Jay, Eastern Chipmunk, Eastern Gray Squirrel and now White-tailed Deer.

The Old Quarry Trail was much more interesting than I remembered, and I was in fact able to add a few new species to my February list. There are lots of cedars and Jack Pines, several interesting ridges and rock formations which partially give this trail its names, and a large marsh with a boardwalk. I'd love to return in the summer to see what species of dragonflies and butterflies I can find here, particularly as the trails connect to the Rideau Trail to the south and east. It was definitely a nice walk in the winter, and I hope to return again soon!

Xray Is As Xray Does: furriesxraytheenforcer on February 12th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
OK, I squeeeeeed at the deer. Stop looking at me like that. Porcupines are surly little bastards, though.
Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on February 12th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
Great pictures. I'm glad my postings piqued your interest in OQT :-) Keep an eye out for Ruffed Grouse too--they're there, but they camouflage well and are skittish. (Speaking of whom, I have to get back to Jack Pine Trail someday. I found a *really* tame grouse there once. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me at the time.)

In summer, Black-and-White Warblers breed in the woods. Swamp Sparrows in the marsh, Common Yellowthroats in various meadowy areas. And I once saw a Virginia Rail in the marsh at dusk.

I hope the porcupine wasn't the one we saw :-( He did fall--albeit into soft snow, and not a huge distance--and I did wonder at the time if he'd been hurt by the fall.
(Anonymous) on February 14th, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
Your gallery
Hi Gillian, Top notch photos as always, though these seem to be even better than ever. Love your deer shots! And the house finches, which are simply beautiful. The poor porcupine.... I expect if not dead, he may have been so injured that he wasn't able to move and may have died later. Someone did a study once on porcupines (specimens) and found that almost every porcupine he examined had broken bones, sometimes many broken bones, as they apparently fall from trees with regularity. Sometimes the last fall is the final straw, and if this one hit branches on the way down.... Very sad.

(Deleted comment)
Gillian: Magnolia Warblergillianm on February 18th, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
Re: cooool
Thanks Belannaa! My first Russian comment! :)

(Rough translation for those of you who don't read Russian: "very interesting though at the end I did not understand")