In my most recent column for the White Mountain Shopper I recounted my recent adventures scrambling around rock outcrops. Here is what I wrote:
During my regular wanderings in woods and wetlands in search of wildlife and to assess their habitats, I bushwhack up slopes, step over fallen trees, and slog through dense underbrush. I listen for bird songs, search muddy trails for mammal tracks, peer into trees with hawk nests, and turn over logs and rocks to find salamanders. In New Hampshire, most every property that I visit has rocky areas to explore. Some are small enough to walk around, others require some scrambling up steep slopes and hiking among large rock outcrops.
I look for crevices in the rocks, places where a porcupine might live. Most people recognize porcupines for their quills – 30,000 in all on their head, back, and tail. Quill encounters are often the result of a curious dog getting too close to a porcupine. The quills are released only on contact, usually around and in a dog’s mouth. With such a great defense against predators, porcupines can afford to be slow. Regrettably this results in many getting killed by vehicles as they waddle with a hunched back slowly across a road at night.
A porcupine shows his large, orange incisors, body of quills, and hunched back
I recently surveyed a property with expansive rock outcrops that were far from roads and other disturbance. Every crevice in the rock outcrop had been used by a porcupine in the past or was an active den site. I could tell because porcupines use the entrance to their den as a latrine. Openings to porcupine den sites can accumulate quite a large pile of droppings or scat. This makes it easy for the parents to train a newborn, called a pup or a porcupette, since they don’t have to travel far to the outhouse.
The entrance to a porcupine den; note the large pile of droppings
A turkey vulture nest in an old porcupine den;
the two eggs are nestled on a bed of porcupine scat
Another animal that I look for in large expansive rock outcrops is the bobcat. They too are expanding their range, their population increasing in New Hampshire. Bobcat prey mostly on small mammals -- snowshoe hare, squirrels, mice and voles – and sometimes birds. They prefer to den in rock crevices. I saw no sign of bobcat on this visit, but winter is a better time to note their presence in rocky places.
At first glance a rock outcrop may seem an unlikely place for wildlife, but a closer look may reveal much more in any season.