Archive for the 'Scat Gallery' Category

Mar 11 2011

Photo Finish for March 11, 2011: An Old Friend Comes to Dinner

March weather is mercurial, so it came as no surprise that Wednesday’s balmy temperatures soon gave way before winter’s renewed onslaught, with rain quickly turning to snow. It was a raw night, indeed—not the kind of weather when you expect a friend whom you haven’t seen since November to come calling. But when I peered out the office window just before bedtime, there he was.

And who was my unexpected visitor? A young skunk, that’s who, one of a pair of siblings who’ve visited me before. He was in fine fettle, I’m happy to say, and I was glad to see that winter hadn’t damped his appetite. It was too dark for me to take his photo—I don’t use a flash on wildlife—but he left his signature in the snow for me to find in the morning:

Young Skunk TracksRight-click on the picture to see an enlarged image in a new window.

 

And that was all he left behind, something that will come as a disappointment to the many folks who visit Outside looking for photos of skunk scat. But don’t give up. I’m sure my friend will be back. Sooner or later he’s bound to oblige.

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Dec 07 2009

The Mysterious Appeal of Skunk Scat

Thirteen months ago I published a short article about wildlife scat, and included a photo of skunk scat. Here’s the photo again:

 

Skunk Scat

 
Beetles, ants, and sunflower seeds were dinner for the skunk who left this calling card. Three skunks live in the area, and I’ve met them all at one time or another. Sometimes all three of them will dine on seed left behind at the bird table outside my office window. Their bright white stripes glow in the moonlight, and each skunk is easily distinguished from the others by the unique shape of the white stripes. I’ve become rather fond of Pepé, Pierre, and Big Momma. I’ve crossed paths with them when taking nighttime strolls onto the hillside to get a breath of air before bed. In all the years I’ve lived close to skunks, none has sprayed me with their formidable deterrent. We all give one another elbow room and treat each other with respect.

So where’s the mystery? It’s only this: Since “Who Passed This Way,” there has been a steady trickle of visitors to Outside Up North looking for information about skunk scat. I can’t figure why this could be. Are there lots of others like me who like skunks? I really have no idea. But for those of you who find Outside Up North through search engine queries for skunk scat, here are some pictures:

 

Skunk Hole

 
This is a hole in the lawn, left by one of the skunks burrowing for grubs. I’ve seen them eating the grub. They’re large, pale, succulent sausages that seem to be to skunks what potato chips are to us—you can’t eat just one. If you go outside one morning and find these inverted cone-shaped holes in the lawn, it’s probably a sign that skunks have been helping to keep your yard free of insect pests.

Here’s a blurry nighttime photo of Big Momma:

 

Big Momma

 
I think this is the mother of the two other skunks. She’s very large and authoritarian over the smaller skunks, who behave just like young kids when she disciplines them. It’s a terrible picture because Big Momma was busy in her search for grubs under a floodlight, moving constantly, so that even with a high ISO on my camera I couldn’t get a clear picture. Big Momma is distinguished by a nearly all-white back and upper part of her tail, in addition to her large size. Here’s Pepé:

 

Pepe

 
I caught him just before dawn, on his way back home into the woods across the road. He has a black tail, except for the white tip. He’s looking back at me, as you can tell by the thin white stripe down the middle of his face. Right after this long shot was snapped, he ran off into the woods. I’ve not been able to get a picture of Pierre, but maybe this calling card is his:

 

Skunk Scat

 
The scat shows signs of sunflower seed husks and bits of vegetation were on the night’s menu.

The nights are below freezing now, and I haven’t seen the skunk family in over a week. They don’t hibernate, but they do have periods of torpor. When they come out of their sleep, I’m sure that they’ll stop by for a visit, and I’ll be happy to greet them. Want to know more about skunks? Then read “Little Stinkers.”

 
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Nov 08 2008

Scat! Who’s Passed This Way?

 
One of the biggest attractions of spending time in wild areas is wildlife, of course. The chance to spot a browsing moose, eagle parents feeding their chicks, a pack of wolves on the hunt across a frozen lake, or a grizzly fishing for salmon draws us along to see what’s around the next bend. More often than not, though, we don’t see the large charismatic megafauna, but the smaller creatures. Take the shrew in the photo below, for instance:

 

Busy hungry shrew

 
I was lucky to catch the thumb-sized mammal with my camera as he shot from the ground in lightning-quick darts to scarf up sunflower seeds that I’d put out for the birds. Shrews are elusive and swift, and I was delighted to get a chance to see him.

More often than not, animal sign is easier to spot than the animals themselves. On an early October bike trip on a remote highway in the northern Adirondack Mountains, it was clear that bears lived in the bordering woods, but they don’t defecate there. Not all the time anyway:

 

Do bears do doo-doo in the woods?

 
This fresh scat—about the size of a salad plate—was left on the road shoulder. Apparently the local bears prefer a latrine with a view:

 

A latrine with a view

 
Bear scat had been left all along the highway margins, almost always where there was a clear view up and down the road, and with pretty scenery to enjoy when doing nature’s business.

Scat isn’t the only sign of animals. On a rainy day hike a week ago, I discovered this den alongside the trail:

 

High and dry den

 
A single paw print in the sand suggested a fox was in residence, and had been since the night before, when the wind had rushed through the river valley and threw oak leaves into the den’s entrance. Later, further down the trail, I found what might be his scat (my cap brim peeks into the picture for scale):

 

Br'er passed this way

 
You don’t have to go far from home to see evidence of wildlife. Here’s skunk scat on the concrete walkway near where the shrew had been eating:

 

What's on the menu?

 
Looks like beetles, ants, and sunflower seeds had been on this guy’s menu.

Water dwellers leave sign of their passage, too. Otter scat is often left on prominent landmarks like exposed river rocks, logs, and tussocks. Frequently their scat sparkles because of the high fish scale content. I don’t have a photo of otter scat, but here are two muskrat scats left on what seems a territorial marking post on a boulder:

 

This is my rock, pilgram

 
By far it’s hardest to find the scat of beavers. Their roundish golf ball-sized scat is always deposited in water, and because it’s largely composed of sawdust, it breaks down easily. On a trip to my favorite wetland last week, I found a mother lode of beaver scat in the shallows:

 

Happy dining

 
Note the characteristic brown Adirondack water. The beaver scat is in the upper right quadrant. If you have trouble seeing it, here’s the same photo with the scat highlighted:

 

A better view

 
I’ll leave it to the beaver to have the last gnaw, er, word, on the subject.

 

Gnaw gnaw