Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Porcupine Day

This morning in the tamarack.

If I had doubts about the porcupine staying overnight in the garage, they are gone now. I pulled into the garage after school this afternoon and upon getting out of the car and turning, which takes a long time because of my knees, I saw a porcupine waddling and hopping towards the woods as quickly as possible. And that ain't very quick!

I can't close the garage door when I leave in the morning because the batteries on the remote are dead. I have the batteries but I can't figure out how to put them into the remote and I can't sync the remotes to the door opener without help. Until that comes, I'm sort of stuck here hosting porcupines in the garage (which is where trash is kept to keep it safe from bears … and now porcupines). 

Leaving the garage after I pulled in this afternoon.

I regret not having the presence of mind to shoot video of the porcupine racing into the woods. It was one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time. It was an exaggerated waddle and roll with hops off of the ground in between. 

If only they would appear on clear, sunny days! It seems to always be hazy and wet when they pop up.  I would give them names except I can't tell them apart unless they appear together. I have noticed that the first thing Lucy does when she leaves the house is check to see if there are porcupines in any of the trees. What a world!


Monday, November 28, 2022

Betsy's Gift

I usually don't post things like this. If you know cats, you know that this moment is to be cherished. But this may be offensive to you. Be warned and leave now. 

As I walked into the bedroom last night, I saw the dead mouse. I dread these times. Many times these occurrences require a change of sheets. I was relieved to see that this would not require that. The mouse was simply dead and not mutilated. I have a very old and ratty quilt on top of all the beautiful bed clothes because of dead mice, mice parts, Lucy's mud, and her occasional trash pickings. This mouse was opposite my side of the king sized bed. This would quickly be resolved.

Betsy and her mouse.

As I prepared to remove the mouse, Betsy jumped on the bed and lay down near her mouse. She began to purr and softly patted the mouse. I praised her and petted her and she rolled over in bliss.

Ages ago, I scolded a cat for a mouse in bed and that cat completely stopped mousing. I'll never do that again. Lucy can discern ideas about where trash and dead mice should go, but a cat can't seem to. 

I took the mouse out of Betsy's sight, flushed it down the toilet, and we all went to bed very happy. I was honored that Betsy gave me her first gift.

PS Meanwhile, Nelly was downstairs trashing the new cat toy area: see photo a day in the side bar.

Awww Monday at
Comedy Plus


Sunday, November 27, 2022

November Almanac

Northern Shrike

Every month, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies publishes what we can expect to find outside in the month ahead. All November I meant to review what I have and have not found outside and finally today I have done so. I have found and documented more than I could find in my archives, though. I'm still reviewing thousands of photos. I've concocting a shoot list of stuff I need to do better or more completely.

Northern Shrikes
The Northern Shrike is a hoot. It is a carnivorous songbird. It is also well known by other birds. Whenever one would appear in the brush near the bird feeders, the chickadees sounded a very recognizable alarm and all the birds would disappear. Then the shrike would sit in the feeder tree and wait. I never saw it kill a bird, thank goodness.

Keystone plants and soft landings
Heather Holm

Soft Landings
I never knew how important this is, even though I know the life cycle of lepidoptera. I don't have any oaks on my land, but I have acres of soft landings!

American Mink

Well, it's not. It's an American Mink, which I see quite often winter and summer. I've only managed to poorly capture one in brown coat, although I have seen it in white more times than in brown. 

Snowshoe hare tracks

Snowshoe Hares
There are no rabbits in northern Vermont. We only have hares. I've seen quite a few, including a few that live with me here. Photos of them? Forget about it!



John cooking up his chanterelles.

John loved these. We went out hunting for them and he would cook them up. I never developed a taste for them and don't understand people's excitement about them. 

Green turkey tails

Blue turkey tails

Orange and brown turkey tails

Blue and brown turkey tails

A tree covered in turkey tails

Turkey Tails
These are very common fungi in the woods that I love to find. You never know what color you'll discover. These are the only colors I have found.

Christmas Fern sori

Christmas Fern
I have no idea why I only took photos of Christmas fern spores, but I definitely have to get out and take photos of this common and beautiful evergreen fern.

Rock Polypody

Rock Polypody
Another lovely common evergreen fern that grows on rocks and hillsides. So that's where I find it: on the cliffs above the house.

Oriental Bittersweet

Oriental Bittersweet
Beware! This is quarantined in Vermont and New Hampshire (the only states I have looked at). It is extremely invasive and chokes trees to death. I should have taken a context photo to show you what this looked like in New Hampshire where I found it. I have only seen it once in Vermont: at a friend's farm! I scolded him roundly for it. He had brought it from Massachusetts because it is "beautiful."  He even gave it away in Christmas wreaths that he made and distributed to people who did not know what it was. I don't know how, or if, you can get rid of it. If you have it, research and destroy it if possible. Plant American bittersweet instead. 

December comes this week. Whew, the year went by quickly. I promise myself to do the December post this week as soon as VTEcostudies publishes their almanac. Donna Long has already published her December almanac for Pennsylvania here.


Sunday Dog Selfies

Lucy awaits her cookie.

Amelia came and constructed my new cat tree yesterday, so I dogsat Lucy and Dori. It was challenging! Even though Amelia was right in the same room, they kept asking for cookies and kept rough-housing. But it was fun. 

So calm!

So crazy!


The new and unused cat playroom.

Sunday Selfies at
The Cat on My Head


Saturday, November 26, 2022

Caturday Art iPhone Fun

A poorly lit portrait of Betsy on iPhone

My iPhone updated to iOS 16.x. This time, I actually took the time to read about the updates and found that I can now remove backgrounds from photos. In a hurry as always, I grabbed the above photo taken at night with bad lighting, removed the background and got this:

Background removed

I knew instantly what images I needed to use to make this successful but just plowed on with this image. I put it into Photoshop Elements 11 and fixed the light as best I could.

That's better.
But I couldn't recover her beautiful eye color.
It's also a bit green.

I could have removed the greenish tint, but I didn't. I wanted to play! I used only Photoshop Elements filters here.

Please don't ask me which filters: I didn't pay attention!

I definitely have a lot more playing to do. I want more and softer colors. 
But now I have a new time-sucking hobby!
(I actually love those.)

👇 Jigsaw 👇

Caturday Art at
Athena Cat Goddess


Pesky Porcupines

Porcupine as seen from backdoor
Barton Mountain ridgeline in the back

What a day today. The roads are so iced that the town plow has chained up while it salts the road. Nothing to do but stay inside and do … something.

I'm still keeping an eye on the porcupines. They don't appear every day. It's more like every third day, so I'm wondering what else they are eating. Luckily, I can see them from the windows in the back mudroom. Unfortunately, my tripod is in the car and it won't be until today that I can get it out. So all of these shots are handheld. I did make a tripod of my elbows on my walker but it wasn't enough for the amount of digital zoom I used.

Digital zoom; eye is visible despite snow and handheld shake

I've learned more about porcupines. Their bellies are not quilled and are very soft and vulnerable. In the photo below, you can see that. When they sleep, their head faces a back wall of the den, and their tail faces the entrance. They swing their tail at predators and the quills release upon contact. So they are pretty invulnerable but they still have a couple predators, predominately the dreaded fisher cat.

Vermont had to reintroduce fishers because they are so reviled that they had been extirpated a hundred or so years ago. But they are back and as vicious as ever. And they love porcupines. The balance of porcupines in the wild is back in check now because of the fishers.

More digital zoom; underbelly and claws visible

Fisher (Pekania pennanti)
(c) Jeff Hullstrung

Lucy loves porcupine days. She wants outside constantly and only comes in for warming. She knows where the den is under the barn and she tracks their movements all day. Porcupines are supposed to be nocturnal, and I know mine are out and about at night, but they are active in the day, also. When they are up a tree, Lucy can even spot them!

Lucy is watching the porcupine shown above in the tree.

Porcupines do not clean the scat out from their den. The scat can become so deep that it spills out of the den. No one knows why. 

Amelia came by on Thanksgiving night to drop off a dinner for me, so I opened the garage doors and turned on the outside light. She turned off the lights and closed the doors when she left. In the morning, Lucy went nuts. She excitedly ranged all over the garage, and even thoroughly scanned the rafters of the garage. That's when I became nervous. She explored the garage without hackles so I knew there was not a danger like bear. Sort of. Lucy's definition of danger and mine differ, so I asked her to come back in before she found an animal. I kept the doors open so that whatever it was could leave. I am very fortunate that Lucy has never once attacked another animal. She simply alerts with deafening barking and shows me where they are.

Yesterday morning I went out to the garage and found a lot of scat lined across the garage doors … well it was actually everywhere but most prominent in front of the doors. I found a footprint, too. Neither has been identified but because of the porcupine activity, I strongly suspect that I had inadvertently trapped on in the garage overnight. The scat has the cashew-shape of porcupine. The print is the right size for porcupine but is ill-defined. I have perennial problems with red squirrels trying to move into the attic every winter, so the scat could be theirs, also. Red squirrels are not nocturnal, though.

I had my measuring tape with me, but it  did not work!

The scat was everywhere.

One poor print.

We had a wonderfully odd Thanksgiving. I hope you did, also.

Saturday's Critters at
Viewing Nature with Eileen


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

My Porcupine Clarity

Snow showers today. I caught one earlier and because it is such a quiet baking day, I played with the shots.

The two surviving cottonwoods at
the edge of the bog and orchard.

Flakes of snow.

I've spent some time reading to see how much damage the porcupines are going to create on the tamaracks. Foresters say they are awful pests. Naturalists note that the tamarack inner bark is a favorite of porkies. From "Tamarack Time" at Flandrum Hill:
The inner bark of tamaracks is edible and has many medicinal uses among Native Americans, among them, treating burns, wounds, inflammations and headaches. It’s also a favourite of porcupines. 

From another "Tamarack Time" article (pdf), author unknown, from the US Forestry Service:

Tamarack habitats are used by a variety of wildlife species. It provides cover from summer heat for bear, deer and moose, but is browsed by relatively few species. Snowshoe hares feed on twigs and bark, and porcupines feed on the inner bark. Spruce grouse and sharp-tailed grouse eat the needles and buds. Ospreys nest in the dead trees. Red squirrels cut and store the cones. Mice and voles eat large numbers of the seeds off the ground.

I checked all of my archives for photos I may have captured of all of the "pests" of tamarack. I have not found one. But I did possibly find the cocoon of Hyalophora columbia, a rare silkmoth that loves tamaracks. I brought the cocoon inside to raise, but it never developed. But my daughter, Amelia, did find an adult in nearby Brownington at school. That was such an exciting day for both of us! It was also an extremely frustrating day since I have been searching for these for 20 years and she found one in her first bug hunting year.

Columbia Silkmoth (Hyalophora columbia)

I have also documented the Larch Tolype (Tolype laricis), whose host is tamarack. It's a beautiful fuzzy gray moth with a brillo-type haircut. It was my husband's favorite moth each season.

Larch Tolype - Hodges#7673 (Tolype laricis)

Larch Tolype - Hodges#7673 (Tolype laricis)

I know that if I called Vermont Fish & Wildlife there would be no advice. It is illegal to move any wildlife to anywhere at all (even skunks). It is illegal to harass wildlife in any way (and who would want to?). And while it may be legal for me to shoot them, I won't.

My conclusion is that I will leave the porkies alone. I will stop resenting them. I will learn to appreciate their place in my biosphere. If they kill one or two tamaracks (they are chewing on two that I know of), I'll get over it. I will hope to see an osprey nest in a dead tamarack here. I will think of the grouse, deer, moose, mice and voles, and snowshoe hares that use the tamaracks. My snowshoe hare tracks, in fact, are always in the same area near them. I will keep track of the progression of tree gnawing. I have an entire new research project.

How high will a porcupine go?

They love the main stem inner bark the most.

I still don't know how they got out on
 those small branches on the left.
I read that many die from falling off trees.

I learned today that the two porcupines that I see are most likely denning together for the winter under the barn. I remembered that they love salt. I remembered when my foot slipped into an underground den of theirs up above the house in the cliffs and came out covered in porcupine poo. 

I'm going to ask Amelia to get me a tamarack shoot so that we can plant it indoors as the USFS author did.

Tamaracks can live up to 400 years. My attitude towards porcupines is irrelevant, trivial, compared to that.

Here is a YouTube video of a porcupine eating tamarack inner bark. 
Knowledge creates empathy.