Jack ThumbnailBy Jack McShane

It might be that our hunting season is over, but it is not over for the critters trying to make it in the “wild” and through a very harsh winter. Considering this, I think of four critters in particular which, through multiple anthropocentric lenses, including my own, have been tagged with somewhat familiar human names: Sassafrasser, Bucky, Sugar and Porky. Sassafrasser, a seven point deer was hanging out behind my son Kris’s home and that of his neighbor who also fed him. He was considered by both to be something of a pet. He had been wounded in the front leg during hunting season, but managed to survive. A couple of days after the season, Kris noticed that he had shed one of his antlers. He began a methodical search for it, but, sadly, in a couple of days spotted an antler protruding through the snow and below it found Sassafrasser dead. Sassafrasser will now in turn feed the many local and lucky scavengers including my son who took the remaining antler.

On the other hand Bucky, a local antlered deer that also survived the hunting season, but with an injured hind leg, is presently doing quite well supported by a daily breakfast of apples supplied by a good neighbor. Bucky, who has been watched and apparently cheered on since his early fawnhood, now has caused this good neighbor and his girlfriend to pass on a planned trip to the Caribbean so that Bucky won’t miss an apple.

Sugar, OK who is Sugar? Or, better yet, what is Sugar? Sugar, believe it or not, is a female coyote that was orphaned as a very young pup when the mother was shot. Raised by another very good neighbor under conditions that kept her relatively wild, Sugar is surviving well in the wild with adept mousing skills. She will often join and play with this neighbor’s dogs when out on a hike. I was very happy to hear that Sugar made it through hunting season in that many hunters see the coyote as a competitor and shoot them on sight.

Porky, a young porcupine whose picture you may have seen in last month’s Gazette happily munching on an apple, is now apparently finding a lair in my pole barn. He makes almost daily treks to his favorite apple tree which continues to hold fruit. He has given much opportunity for photo ops, even sitting quietly holding his apple as Nancy swatted down other apples for the deer to access.

Last month I mentioned our local forest inhabitant the fisher, a critter sometimes called Fisher Cat which is neither a fish eater nor a cat, but in general is a deep forest dweller in the weasel family. Larger than a mink, it is one of only two predators known to kill and feed on porcupines, the other being the bobcat. I mentioned this critter last month and have been asked by one of our intrepid editors of this newspaper to explain how the predation is accomplished without its being severely quilled.

Here goes! The porcupine is usually tracked by its scent, and if located by the fisher, will suffer a rather tortuous demise. If discovered in a tree, where they usually hang out, the fisher, an extremely agile beast, will attack the porcupine directly in the face. If on the ground, the porcupine often attempts to put its face against a log or tree, its quilled back and tail toward the fisher. Sometimes a harassed porcupine on the ground will head up a tree, but the agile fisher will get above its prey and continue the attack at the face. The attack continues until the porcupine is so debilitated that it either goes into shock or dies. The fisher can then flip it over and begin the disembowelment of the unquilled belly. Pretending that ugly things don’t exist in the natural world is a bit delusional. So ain’t nature lovely? Fishers have been noted numerous times on Dingle Hill by a friend who even saw one take out a cottontail right on the road. Now, as to how the bobcats kill porcupines, I wouldn’t have a clue since they don’t climb trees after prey. Considering that fishers and bobcats abound, I do wish the local porky good luck unless, of course, after all the apples are gone he starts to work on the structure of my pole barn.

Some memorable and recent sightings on my local level have been the following: that beautiful male cardinal making an appearance on New Year’s Day, this possibly an omen for a great year; spotting a cottontail racing from the old garage to take cover under some Norway spruce and on another day one racing from the spruce to an apparent den under the pole barn. (I do wish this guy or these guys luck, relatively easy prey as they are, through a perilous and long winter.) Four Mallard ducks, three drakes and one hen, paddling and diving in the little open, unfrozen water on one of the small ponds at the end of the first week of January, unusual for this time of year, although before the very deep freeze at the end of that week. I caught the arrival of a team of four mourning doves on the porch rail right opposite the kitchen window preening and checking out the territory on a bright sunny day. One of the more exciting was the spotting of two slides in the snow down to Ollie the Otter’s favorite pond when he was out and about. Of course, these could have been made by a mink, but since their width did suggest Ollie I maintain great hope that it was he. The Wildlife Notebook issued by Cornell Cooperative Extension states that “River Otters are ‘special’ probably because sighting one is a rare and almost an unexpected occurrence. Typically they appear without warning and often leave just as suddenly.” Considering their joyful antics and the possibility that I get lucky and have another sighting, I will sit back and enjoy the show.

I wind up with a relevant quote, Howard Norman writing in Northern Woodlands: “There is a humbling recognition that the creatures we talk about don’t need us. They only need to be left alone. Blessing for us, each time they allow us to see them.” ~