Monday, December 24, 2012

Winter Wonder Land

Well, the first snow storm of the winter has rolled through and everything is covered in white!  I love this time of year for several reasons.  The main reason is that I can spot animals much easier, although they can spot me even easier.  The other reason is that very few people venture out on the trails when it is so cold.

I got out a couple of times this weekend and it was bitter cold with fierce wind.  I headed over to Annawan, and the roads were horrible.  There were a dozen cars off the road!  I really didn't expect to see anything that first day after the storm because it was so bad.  I figured most of the critters took cover and were hunkering down until it was over.  I didn't see any tracks at all, and I started to believe I might be correct.  However, the little mink below proved me wrong.  It was headed back to the den with a hearty breakfast of fish.

I ventured out a little closer to home yesterday and on my way to my destination, I spotted 4 coyote in a field next to the canal path.  I have only seen solitary coyotes around the canal in the daytime, but these guys were hanging together.  They were just hunting and lounging.  I pulled over on the side of the road and just enjoyed watching them for awhile.  I was hoping to see some rodent pounces, but it never happened.

I was pretty sure that they had followed the canal path to that field since it is the only tree cover in the area, so I went up a couple of bridges to see if I could find their route.  Sure enough, I found four direct coyote trails on the main path headed in the direction of where I had last seen them.  So much can be learned from animals just by following and studying their paths.

The snow reveals every little nook and cranny that they investigate.  Coyotes mark with their urine frequently, and of course, this is easily spotted.  Don't eat the yellow snow!  If followed their path for a little more than 2 miles, and between the four of them, there were 13 urine spots.

Of course they left other little presents along the way as well.  Every scat i found was directly on this snowmobile track.

The tracks led up to the edge of the canal where apparently they had taken a little snooze break.  These little "beds" were nicely formed, to keep the wind at their backs.  I was a bit disappointed in the photos because these were perfectly formed little beds which can only be appreciated in person (or in 3D).  I could just picture them all curled up in little balls of fur trying to keep warm.  These beds were pretty fresh as there was very little snow in them, and the wind was still blowing.

I also found a spot where one coyote had pounced.  I'm assuming it was a rodent tunneling, as there were no other tracks.  A few feet away, there was a bit of evidence that the pouce was successful.  Tiny droplets of blood!

I tracked them all the way back to where I had first spotted them, and sure enough, they were still in the field.  Unfortunately, my tracking adventure stopped at the fence to the local farmer's field:(  I would have loved to try to get closer for some better photos, but maybe next time.

On the way back to the truck, I focused on getting some wildlife shots and came up with one final surprise.  This barred owl startled me as it bolted from a low lying tree, but not enough to keep me from getting a couple of shots.

The Hennepin holds many wildlife secrets, but many are revealed when the snow falls.  Get out there and see what you can find!  Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Another Boring Beaver Post

Well, I promise this will be the last post this year on beaver.........unless of course I can get a nice closeup of one......or a shot of scat........or a great shot of a tail:)  Actually, today was a good day in the fact that I found an active beaver den.  Now I'm not sure what the scientific difference is between a den and a lodge, but when I picture a beaver lodge, I am thinking of the giant conical beaver lodges from up north.  This seems more of a den to me in the fact that it doesn't fit the description that I just gave.  Anyway, this is the closest to a lodge on the Hennepin that I have found.  It is by far the biggest.

This is actually a den that I have watched being constructed over the past 3 or 4 years and have gotten nice photos of one of its inhabitants on a couple of occasions.   I remember when I came across it for the first time while biking.  It was just a little crevice in the bank covered with some sticks.  I haven't visited this one since last March.  Since my last post, I have been thinking a lot about the beaver and decided to go to Mineral to see this one since it had been awhile.  It has grown a bit since last year, so they have been busy.

The great thing about this visit is that I could actually hear a beaver in there.  When I first approached, I heard a little bit of water splash and then I could hear the beaver making some vocalizations.  I won't even try to explain what that sounds like, but there are audio clips on the net if you are curious.  I was just really glad to see that there was a or some active beaver left on the canal for me to visit.  It was a rainy, but very good day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trapping on the Hennepin

Over all the years that I have hiked the Hennepin, I have often seen the floating muskrat traps like below.  It is legal to trap certain species, such as muskrat, mink, and beaver, along the canal.

Honestly, trapping on the canal has never bothered me.  I spent a few years trying to hunt and trap, but found out through trial, error, and emotion that it wasn't my game.  This year was a bit different as far as the trapping game is concerned.  I noticed many more floating traps along the stretches that I normally hike.  I even saw the trappers passing by a few times in their boat out to check for their prizes.  It still didn't bother me much.  However, I have noticed that I have not been seeing as much wildlife in these particular areas.

Yesterday, while out on my daily hike, I saw a figure a distance away on the trail, and as it turned out once I caught up, it was a very nice gentleman who was pulling out his traps.  The water had begun to freeze over the other night, so he was pulling his traps to start a new area.  We discussed the canal a bit and finally got to discussing his trapping.  What he told me rather alarmed me.  He said they had taken many mink and muskrat, which of course is part of the trade, but it wasn't really this that bothered me.  

The gentleman then proceeded to tell me that since the season had started, they had taken 24 beaver from the area we were at to Geneseo.  This was less than a 5 mile stretch!  That number really kept playing in my head for several reasons.  Selfishly, I imagined them cleaning out the beaver population to the point where I wouldn't be able to photograph any more of them for some time to come.  But as the night went on, my reasoning beyond myself started to kick in a bit.  Mainly, this number tells me that the beaver population was obviously high for this area, therefore making it necessary to clean it out a bit.  The ecosystem needs a balance, and that is one of the reasons that trapping seasons are in place.  There are also many good people that rely on the supplemental income of trapping to make ends meet.

I still cringe at the fact that many of the mink, muskrat, and beaver that I have enjoyed photographing could now be pelts being shipped somewhere to make coats, gloves, or whatever else can be made from them.  However, I'm not really sure how strong the predator population is around this area.  Of course we have coyotes and foxes, but I can't imagine one of them taking out the 56lb beaver that the man told me they got last week!  Trapping is necessary to keep things in balance and it is something that I just have to deal with.  

I don't hold any ill-will toward anyone for taking animals legally, and I'm certainly not against hunting and trapping.  What it all boils down to here is just getting my thoughts off my chest, getting over my own selfish wants, and realizing that I have to share these areas with other people and activities.