Friday, January 27, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 2

January 24-January 28 "Porcupine Horror Movie"

Week two already! It always feels good to put the uniform on, head out into the flag, and as my supervisor Keel says, "fly the flag".

Sadly, one of my classes in the morning got out late, so I regret to inform you that instead of telling you about wrestling white tailed deer out of nets and putting radio collars and tags on them, I missed the opportunity and got to be on land survey duty again.This time, though, it was all about Swan Island in Richmond.

Swan Island is a very large "island" in the middle of the Kennebec River at the tip of Merrymeeting Bay. It may look inland, but the waters are tidal from the ocean just beyond your sight. It's an IFW managed area, which is essentially shut down this time of year, but is a bustling place in the summer. Visitors come from all over Maine for its fantastic bird watching and wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as camping and summer programs. It is run by folks contracted by IFW who have staff housing on the island, which is a sister to several other buildings on the island. These buildings were our purpose of the day; we had to be sure that they were A. up and running, and B. not eaten by porcupines.

I'm not kidding about the second part.

Myself and another wildlife biologist, John Pratte, slipped our way over to the island and uncovered the ATV used by biologists for transport around the island. We checked the staff house first; everything was still working, the heat was still on, and no sign of porcupine damage. Good. Sweet. Okay.

The campgrounds looked good.

A few hundred feet of icy trails and graceful herds of deer prancing through the woods later, we came upon some houses that were in really rough shape.

All over the houses were giant holes, particularly around the base. We dismounted the ATV and walked toward it. All around its base I could see dung literally BULGING out against the chicken wire that skirted it. I recognized it. It was porcupine dung.

Seriously, LOOK.

 John had tried to devise a way to keep the porcupines out while letting anything that made its way under have a way out. His solution was a locked door that something could chew through. And guess what? The porcupines moved the logs in front of it, unlocked the door, and opened it right up.

"This is all porcupine damage" John told me, pointing to the chewed up house.

Urine and feces leaked from the ceiling.

"Neat" I said.

Sure enough, we encountered a culprit. He's hidden way at the back of the tunnel, behind the massive mound of dung he has building up at the entrance.

In fact, we found several.

A lot of them dead.

I will spare you of any more gross images, a lot of porcupines have died under, in, and around these houses. Everywhere you looked, there were porcupine skulls and bones. 

Just kidding about the pictures thing, one last gross one of this porcupine tibia and fibula among the feces.

It wasn't just porcupines either.

"Vultures nest in this one," John said as we entered the last house.

"You're KIDDING me," I said, expecting to find a huge assortment of dead animal parts from the scavengers. There certainly was plenty porcupine.

John is currently trying to get them to nest about fifty feet away in a tree where he built and installed his own nesting platform for them. It fell down a bit, but he still hopes they'll use it.

Swan Island is a very beautiful place, don't get me wrong; the beautiful herds of deer, the owls, and the coyotes make it a really cool place to be. The campsites and staff houses are awesome. But, the porcupines seem to really run the show there. I wonder if the trespasser who left the footprints at the north end of the island is aware of the horror show on the south end?

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