the trustees of reservations
On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wildlife Camera update - When "Mooses" Come Walking!

A handsome bull moose with velvety new antlers visited our camera!
An iconic creature of the north - New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Canada, Alaska - moose are not the animal many think of when they picture our Commonwealth.  More and more, however, moose are calling Massachusetts home!  One of our ultimate goals when we acquired several wildlife cameras a year ago was to photograph one of these elusive ungulates.  And it has taken an entire year of placing these cameras on properties near the places where we saw their tracks, scat, and signs of browse (feeding) on favored trees like striped maple.  I'm pretty certain one even made fun of our attempts a few months ago by leaving a pile of scat BEHIND one of our cameras at the vernal pool of bobcat and bear fame, then purposely not walking in front of it.  Another even showed up by our office at the Doyle Community Park and Center to snack on wetland vegetation in the pond last fall, but quickly found his way out of busy Leominster back up to the nearby state forests.  A lucky neighbor shot the photo below.  Last week, we finally captured one on a wildlife camera in the southwestern-most town in the state, Mount Washington, MA (a real town not to be confused with the famous NH mountain, or with plain old Washington, MA), bordering both Connecticut and New York. 

A moose stops by the Doyle Community Park and Center, September 2013.

Many are surprised to learn that moose are here at all, as they luckily don't show up to cause confusion and environmental police roadblocks in greater Boston very often, but prefer the forests of Central and Western Mass.  If you want to see one, your best bet is heading to northern Worcester County, and a little further west in the deep forest surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.  A population also inhabits the Hilltowns and Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.  Moose crossing signs installed in recent years on Route 2 through Central MA warning drivers of the rare but real risk of hitting one in a car in that region!  Over the last few decades, headlines have been made when one wanders in to large Central Mass cities and towns like Fitchburg, Worcester, and one even was sighted in Wellesley in 2012 (click for story).  My high school cross country team once surprised a trio of moose (a bull and two females) on a run in Ashburnham - actually they surprised us, we turned and ran the other way, they didn't seem to care - my most memorable encounter with these giants of the wilderness besides the frightening night-time experience of nearly colliding with one when driving in the Berkshires. 

An alarming moose population decline has emerged in recent years, on which wildlife biologists are hard at work.  Moose populations in New England have recently declined, precipitously, even in New Hampshire and Vermont - nearly half the population has been lost over the last two decades.  The Massachusetts population, growing over the past several decades, has not been as heavily affected and has stabilized at around 1,000 animals.  Some have even wandered south into Connecticut, currently the southern extreme of their range, and there's a good chance our handsome bull made his way down across the border through the deep forests and high ridgelines of the Taconic Range.  Perhaps he even dipped down the mountain to visit Rene at Bartholomew's Cobble along the way. 

An irony of potential changes in climate is that moose are now returning to the great habitats that our heavy forests and wetlands provide, only to be faced with rising temperatures.  Even when the temperature rises merely into the high 60s or into the 70s, moose begin to get hot!  They tend to seek wetlands to feed in and cool off in on summer days.  Like a lot of us, they get overheated and grumpy and just want to lay down in the shade or go swimming when the mercury reaches the 90s and humid.  They already think it's a little too hot down here, so if average temperatures keep rising, they may return to points farther north, making their southern incursion to Massachusetts and Connecticut just a short cameo appearance!  Let's hope they stick around at least a little bit longer so more of us get to see them!   

Moose profile with Dewlap!  What's a Dewlap you ask?  (Click to read up on it!)

Want to look for signs of moose on Trustees' reservations?  Some decent bets are Notchview in Windsor, Tully Lake and a hike on the Tully Trail in Royalston, Bear Swamp in Ashfield, or Brooks Woodland Preserve or Swift River Reservation in Petersham!  Places to look?  They're known to enjoy feeding on wetland shrubs on summer days, and also enjoy the young growth in early successional (recently logged and regenerating) forest habitat.  Then there's the fall mating season, where the bulls begin to roam and may show up where you least expect them!  Boston Common in the near future?  I wouldn't rule it out!  MassWildlife has plenty of information and advice on co-existing peacefully with the majestic moose, so read up, and put on your high beams when possible if traveling Route 2 through Worcester County at night! 

Most importantly, and also speaking of the Berkshires, Arlo Guthrie has made it okay to use "mooses" as the plural of moose, in his children's book "The Mooses Come Walking," so feel free to do that from now on, and he also advises what to do if you find a moose staring in your window at night.  (Psst, you should probably actually heed MassWildlife on this one, particularly if you live in a heavily populated area!)  We'll leave you with the twelve lines of his wise little book -

Mooses come walking up over the hill.
Mooses come walking. They rarely stand still
When mooses come walking, they walk where they will.
And mooses come walking up over the hill.
Mooses look into your window at night.
They look to the left and they look to the right.
The mooses are smiling; they think it’s a zoo.
That’s why the mooses like looking at you.
So, if you see mooses while lying in bed,
It’s best to just stay there, pretending you’re dead.
The mooses will leave, and you’ll get the thrill
Of seeing the mooses go over the hill.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CATerwauling bobcats and "Extra-Vernal" pools!

Our favorite ridgetop vernal pool does not in fact remain "vernal" most years - it usually holds water year-round, serving as an important water source for resident and transient wildlife - it seems almost appropriate to rename it our "extra-vernal" pool since it doesn't typically go away after spring or even summer.  Although it is not a "certified" vernal pool by the state Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), the obligate species' egg masses of wood frogs and salamanders that we observed during last year's exploration indicate that it is "certifiable", meeting other criteria too like having no flowing outlet and no fish population.  While winter is holding on tenaciously this year, soon it will melt down, the "quacks" of wood frogs will fill the warm spring air, and salamanders will congress soon to lay their eggs during a warm and rainy "Big Night!"

The pool is quite full in the springtime during our 2013 Vernal Pool Exploration workshop!
So what happens when you have an "extra-vernal" pool tucked into a low spot along the high ridge of a forested hill, rich with food sources too like mature mast-producing trees including beech and red oak?  Our wildlife cameras were set up to find out, and show many mammals of this forest predictably coming by for a drink and perhaps some beech nuts, but also for some unpredictable frolicking!  Our past post linked here will show you some videos of bears who came for a drink and stayed to play! 

Our vernal pool, quiet in winter except for a photo-bombing squirrel and some porcupine-chewed hemlock twigs!
Late winter is a quiet time at our pool - the surface is frozen solid, the highbush blueberry bushes stand bare and the winterberry holly shrubs are, too, stripped of their bright red late-fruiting berries by hungry birds.  At this time of year, the pool is not much of a water or a food source.  On an early February visit, we did not see signs of much action in the fresh coating of snow as we circled the pool.  One deer had ambled by and bedded just east of the pool for a cold night on the ridgetop.  We found a set of porcupine tracks coming up from the eastern face of the ridge, leading towards its favorite trees to climb - a couple hemlocks and a red maple surrounding the pond.  As we approached what appeared to be the porcupine's favored hemlock, tell-tale twigs littering the ground, another set of tracks intersected hers out of the mountain laurel - small and delicate, with clear indentations of four toe pads, a three-lobed plantar (heel) pad behind it, and no claw marks.  

Perfectly-defined bobcat tracks by the vernal pool!
Bill Lattrell was with us that day, a tracker and ecologist and friend of the CR Program (and fellow blogger! take a read by clicking!), who was helping us to scout the area for an upcoming wildlife tracking workshop, and to place a couple wildlife cameras in new places.  He confirmed that these were bobcat tracks, and some of the best he had ever seen!  If it excited Bill, we knew that we were witnessing something special.  We followed the tracks out of the mountain laurel thicket and over towards the pool - the set of tracks took a sudden bound, looking like the cat pounced toward a hemlock, perhaps after a mouse, pivoting itself back off the trunk in the direction it had come, and sliding to a stop!  Just past the tree, we realized something even more interesting was afoot- a second set of bobcat tracks joined the first!

A second set of tracks (top right!) SLIDES in to ambush the first set!
Known as solitary animals, there were only a few things this could mean.  Bill quickly hazarded a guess, as the two sets of tracks went out on the ice, danced over a log in the middle of the pool, and slid playfully out toward the middle!  The tracks doubled back towards the log, and evidence of an animal laying down and depressing the snow was visible. His guess?  That we were probably seeing the courtship dance of two bobcats about to mate!   Known for pursuing and ambushing one another, and sometimes even becoming aggressive to each other before mating, the sliding and rolling of the two bobcats, observed on the frozen pond and by the log, suggested that this was the answer!  It was early in their breeding season (most common in February through March in southern New England), but not too early - plus we were near likely resident bobcat habitat with south-easterly facing slopes with steep rock ledges and overhangs.  We decided to put the camera facing right out towards the playful felines' spot, then waited patiently for a few weeks before returning to check.  Bill even recommended camping near the pool, to hear the unearthly "Caterwauling" yowls that bobcats make - we never got around to it, but sometimes it's just better to give the wild a break from our presence.

The kitties came back!  Click for the full-size photograph.

This one in a million photograph of two bobcats was the amazing result of our previous scouting!  

We plan to leave the bobcats alone for a couple more weeks, until Saturday April 12th.  We're guessing they've moved on anyways, expecting kittens!  Please join us that day (and on the evening of Thursday April 10 for an introductory presentation on vernal pools!) for our second annual CR Program vernal pool exploration in partnership with Hilltown Land Trust.  The pool will be (hopefully) thawed and the wood frogs and salamander eggs freshly laid.  We'll be joined by Bill Lattrell to guide us in what we find.  See flyer below, and you must RSVP to register.