Mortal Remains

Snow has disappeared, and leaves are barely nascent. The forest is open and the eye catches new details. The hardship of the departing cold season is revealed by the remains of those who succumbed to provide sustenance for others.

These owl pellets contain the skeletons of small mammals like mice and shrews. A barred owl whose voice I've heard for several summers showed itself to me for the first time on a cloudy morning this April. A few days later I discovered a roost in a small hemlock, with eight of these pellets on the ground below.

White tailed deer face significant hardship in winter. The bucks enter the cold season depleted by the challenges of the fall rut and the does must gestate their young though a winter of limited food. These bones, fur and a section of digestive tract are not from the same deer. The three bones are different ages. The oldest bone and the antler show signs of gnawing by rodents, who consume these remains for their mineral content. The freshest bone which still retains red tissue was an object of interest to several coyotes over the winter. The bone appeared in different areas of the forest and the canine's movements were often recorded as prints in the snow.

These startling remains were revealed through the dissection of scats. This rodent paw from a coyote or fox scat brings to mind a tiny hand. Rest your attention on the third image, containing the cat-like claws and you will see the outline of three feline-shaped toe pads. Several days after partially dissecting this scat with the students, I completed the dissection and found another claw and a white, cat-like whisker.