This morning after I dropped Beth off at school I went home by a circuitous route through the back roads of Canterbury. I had solved a geocache puzzle some time ago (maybe a year ago) and decided it was high time I picked it up.

Before I got there, a white tailed deer sprung out from the woods and crossed the road in front of me. Since this was a country road with no traffic whatsoever, I stopped and looked at the deer for a minute. She had another deer with her, and I expect it was last year’s fawn. They were too far off in the woods to even think about photography, so I left my camera in the bag.

Then I went off to collect the geocache. It was in a guardrail next to this pretty little stream.

A stream in Canterbury, NH

A stream in Canterbury, NH

Having found the cache, I got back in the car and looked for a place to turn around. Not finding one, the road took me to a farm (Hackleboro Apple Orchard), so I turned around there. I don’t like turning around where a road ends basically in someone’s driveway, but sometimes, that’s what happens.

As I made my way back through Canterbury, I saw a very large cat bound across the road in front of me. It was a bobcat! I had never seen one in the wild before, so this was a first for me. It stopped about 100 yards into the forest, turned around and looked back at me. I didn’t have a clear view, so I back up ten or twelve feet, thinking I might be able to go for a photo. But the bobcat thought otherwise. As soon as I began backing up, it took off running again and was gone in less than two seconds. Sigh.

I drove slowly trying to remember exactly where it crossed the road so I could look at its tracks, but I didn’t find them. Instead, I saw a pair of farm dogs galloping down the fence row on the side of the road from whence the bobcat had come. Maybe that’s what it was running from.

I am almost ready for warmer weather now, not because I don’t like winter (I do very much), but because I need some temperatures more conducive to canoe repair. I can’t use epoxy until the temp is at least 60, and 70 would be much, much better. I thought I might be able to heat the garage up some with a space heater if it was 40 outside, so I brought one home from church and plugged it in. It only raised the temperature to about 50 in the garage – not nearly warm enough. So I returned the space heater on Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, while I was at church, one of the kids in my Sabbath School class noticed a bird outside our classroom window and wanted to know what it was. I took a quick glance and erroneously pronounced it a mourning dove. Upon further inspection, I knew that it was most certainly not a mourning dove. I had no idea what it was. We observed the bird through the window for about five minutes from less than 10 feet away. It had a very long bill and would use it to probe holes in the ground, presumably for snacks of the invertebrate variety. It would bob up and down rather comically. What a day for me to have decided to leave the camera at home! I always take my camera to church with me, but when I saw it that morning, I inexplicably decided… nah. :-/

When I left the room it was still out there. I sought out one of our church members who is a wildlife biologist. He has done some birding, but even though that was not his expertise, he came down straight away. He thought it might be an American Woodcock, but wasn’t sure. When I got home I looked that up, and I have to say, he nailed it.

So three rare (for me) wildlife sightings in as many days, and exactly zero photos of them. Still, just seeing them was a treat for me, and perhaps not being able to take pictures made me observe them more carefully in person.

I’ve been seeing a lot of animal tracks by our catchment pond over the past couple of weeks. The mud we have there right now is particularly good at capturing them. I think the bobcat whose tracks I saw last winter is still hanging around. It seems to visit every couple of days.

I have been meaning to set up my camera out there unattended. I recently downloaded the Canon Hacker’s Development Kit, which is a collection of open source software I can load onto my camera to do things like motion detection (i.e., take a picture when the scene changes). Dunno how well it would work in the dark though, and I’m not 100% comfortable leaving my camera unattended that close to the road.

That aside, I went out there again tonight to look at tracks. I found no bobcat tracks, but there were plenty of dog tracks. Also chipmunk (surprise!) and a caterpillar of some sort:

Worm Tracks

Worm Tracks

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the caterpillar was green. I’ve been seeing tracks like this around the pond a lot, and was pretty sure they were made by some kind of worm. And now I’ve seen what’s doing it.

I also noticed that the beggar ticks have bloomed. These are nasty plants whose seeds are a painful achene which will instantly attach to your socks or pants, and they are very difficult to extract. I’d pull them up, but there are a lot of them. Maybe I should try anyhow, I dunno.

Yesterday while I was out with Penny, I came across two sets of tracks that have me a little excited and also a bit confused. Here’s the first track:

Cat track

Cat track

It is most definitely a feline track rather than canine. Dogs cannot retract their claws, so they print in almost every track. This was a fairly long trail, and I didn’t see a claw mark in even one print. I found the beginning of the trail in the side woods, but couldn’t trace it back too far because Penny had spoiled all the tracks. I traced them in the other direction to the edge of the property, where this cat jumped up onto a stone wall along my south border. That’s where I took this photo. The cat walked along the stone wall for about three feet, then hopped down on the other side and trailed off into the woods. I didn’t follow off my property. OK, boring cat tracks? Well – maybe. But these tracks were about two inches across. That is huge for a house cat, which makes me think that maybe – just maybe – these are from a larger cat. Bobcat? Lynx? Or maybe just a huge house cat. But I like to think it was not domestic.

I also found this trail:

Unknown animal tracks

Unknown animal tracks

I haven’t been able to figure out what kind of tracks these are across the middle of the photo. In the upper left are some squirrel tracks, and there are more of the same along the bottom. But I think whatever walked across the middle there was dragging a tail. I know rats and muskrats both do that, but the foot prints don’t say either of those. Maybe it was a squirrel dragging something other than a tail (they hold their tails up when they scamper about).

I posted my question on an animal tracking forum, but I don’t expect an answer any time soon. It’s a low traffic site.

This morning was the first day back to work/school. Beth and I got in the car, and headed out a couple minutes later than I like to. I needed to refill my water bottles, but didn’t think I had time, so I drove right past the spring in Canterbury. But one minute later and off to the right, I saw a beautiful red fox standing in a field. So I stopped the car and backed up. I fished my camera out of my laptop bag, but remembered that it didn’t have any batteries. They had died yesterday, so I plucked them out and put them in the charger last night. But do not despair! This morning I grabbed the charger and stuffed it into my bag as well. I quickly fished it out as Beth kept an eye on the fox. I loaded the batteries, turned off the CD player, and rolled down the salt-encrusted window. The fox ignored us. I think it was hunting rats or muskrats. Or mice. I zoomed in and snapped this shot:

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Then I remembered I could zoom in even more (first I get the optical zoom – then the digital). I zoomed some more, but when you go in that far, it’s really hard to hold the camera still enough to get a decent shot. I really needed a tripod, but I know that if I had gotten out, it would be fox-b-gone time. I snapped two more shots as steadily as I could, but there are not really all that post-worthy. Closer? Yes. Clearer? Not so much.

This evening I got the inkling that the cat tracks may have been a bobcat, so I put on a headlamp and headed out in the dark. I found the tracks easily enough, but we’ve received another half inch of snow since yesterday, so they are much less well-defined. But I was able to verify the size. They are about two inches across.

I thought about getting out of the car to cast the fox tracks, but three things stopped me. First, we were running a few minutes late (I got them to school right at 8:00). Second, this field was right next to a huge, expensive house with a four-car garage and a horse barn across the street. In my experience, people with those types of houses don’t cotton to strangers tramping through their fields. I don’t blame them. Of course I’m stereotyping, but hey – sue me? Third, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t have any plaster in the car. Boo. Also, it’s very difficult to cast tracks in the snow with plaster. Plaster heats up when you mix it with water, and hot plaster tends to melt snow. I recently read some tips on casting in the snow, but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. Basically, you’re supposed to spritz the print with a mist from a water bottle first. Then let that freeze (it was about 20 degrees, so that would not have been a problem). Then you sift dry plaster over the track. After that, mix the plaster with water, using some snow to cool it down. Plaster’s temperature rises, but if it rises from a cold temp, maybe… maybe it won’t melt the snow? I’ll hafta try that on a Penny track before I try it on a fox.