Signs of Life

Tracks aren't the only way to discover what animals have been up to in the woods. Here is a sampling of other signs of life in our section of the woodlands.

Rodent species each have their own distinctive way of opening nuts. The first hickory nuts may have been eaten by a chipmunk, while the second image is more typical of a grey squirrel. 

These early spring greens (skunk cabbage and false hellebore) appear to be bitten by deer. Note the large, evenly sliced planes. Later in the season, tasting a skunk cabbage leaf will leave your tongue feeling bee-stung (believe me!), but in early spring, when everything else is still brown, a bite or two of this pungent plant must be quite satisfying to a deer. The false hellebore, on the right contains a powerful cardiac glycoside. Last spring and summer I watched to see if any additional signs of browsing occurred on this species, but this was a one-time event. 

Under the snow, a relatively warm and safe subnivian world of voles thrives throughout the winter. After a light December snow, the evidence of a tunnel network is clear in the picture on the left. In April, deeps snows have melted to reveal feeding on the bark of an autumn olive sapling.

Look closely at the first image and you may be able to make out the area of compressed fall leaves where a deer rested. The deer lay in the second photo is much easier to see, as the warm body melted the snow beneath. This lay was one of seven, high on a wooded hillside, just above a spring where a group of deer rested together. Below, in the stream bed, there were many nibbled skunk cabbage shoots.