Nature: even confident critters jostle each other when they have to


I had a visitor this week. It was a young porcupine try to find a comfortable place to protect yourself from the rain. It was fun watching him deal with various issues that presented themselves to him. It was in a small window well to the side of the house when we first saw it and it was a bit intimidated by the distance to the ground. But he looked into the problem and eventually stretched out and got to the ground without a problem.

Porcupines are generally not in a hurry as they feel confident they have quills to protect them. A friend of mine in Trenton described to me a funny scene she saw near her house a year ago when a porcupine raced past her windows. Not far behind was a bobcat in search of food. Porcupines can scramble if they have to! Most of the time, however, they depend on their quills for protection. They just roll into a thorny blob, hiding any parts that could be injured. They do not “throw” and cannot “throw” their feathers! The quills are easily released on contact with an enemy.

If a dog and a porcupine come in close contact with each other, the quills of the porcupine will come out and stick to the dog’s body. The quills need to be removed from the dog quickly or they could find their way into a vital area. I once saw a large dog arrive at the local vet’s office with a face full of feathers. He didn’t look happy, but the vet was able to remove the quills. When left alone and unthreatened, porcupines lead peaceful lives in the woods and fields.

Porcupines can be cuddly when you know one, but you should always be careful because the quills are sharp. Many years ago I would take a white porcupine to schools and nursing homes for my lectures. Many patients have found it exciting and a great pleasure to have one sleeping on their lap. We called la blanche Charmin and she was a big hit with all residents.

When a female porcupine gives birth to her new baby, her quills are soft. They harden soon after.

My mail is often filled with interesting wildlife adventures that people have experienced that they want to tell me about. This week, friends from the island observed a herd of turkeys, as many islanders can do. As they watched, the turkeys got restless and seemed to be worried about something. My friends love to watch wildlife, so they waited to see what would develop. Soon a lynx appeared not far away. A wild turkey would have made a big meal for a bobcat. Large bobcats are capable of killing and slaughtering a deer. Male bobcats are often larger than females. You need to have predators in an area like this to prevent deer from becoming overcrowded, suffering, and destroying natural vegetation. Trouble generally follows an imbalance throughout nature. It is not an easy problem to solve these days.

The turkeys were alerted to the bobcat’s presence and could take off if needed, but they were a little nervous and thinking about what to do.

My little dog and I one day caught a large turkey in the area just behind the beach near the shore. It was quite a commotion as the big bird flew away as fast as it could. We were all surprised. It took a bit of effort for the big bird to fly away quickly. I was impressed with its size! I still remember that experience very well.

Wild turkeys sleep in trees at night when they feel more secure. Cornell University’s Bird Department has some interesting information on the wild turkey and it’s a good site to visit on your computer.

It is not always necessary to go out on the water to see marine mammals. Friends and I walked by the shore one day and gray seals looked at us with interest. These seals were curious about us, and we were curious about them. Gray seals have large heads and distinctive noses. Their nickname, horse head, is descriptive. Its scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, means “hook-nosed sea pig”. The smallest harbor seal has a head more similar to that of a Cocker Spaniel dog. Both are curious and a lot of fun to watch.

Gray seals are at home on the most remote reefs and islands. Harbor seals can be seen frequently at preferred resting places on the shores of Mount Desert Island and all neighboring islands. Many seal pups give birth on these islands. Seals are curious by nature, and they look like mermaids when they relax on the outer islands and watch boats go by. If you get too close, they all slide in the water. Some can live 40 years. There are some beautiful exhibits mounted at the Dorr Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor that are worth a visit. You will be amazed at the size of these mammals.

Enjoy whatever appears in your garden this week!

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