Written By Tom Foulkrod.

Posted on June 27th, 2016.

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Even though I’m a forester, I don't see wildlife while I'm working as often as you might think. But even without seeing animals themselves, I’m always looking for signs of indirect evidence whenever I'm out and about.

Even though I’m a forester, I don't see wildlife while I'm working as often as you might think. My attention is usually focused on the task at hand, and that often means staring at the ground looking for signs of erosion. Most critters have a good chance of hearing my noisy approach and escaping or hiding from me.

But even without seeing animals themselves, I’m always looking for signs of indirect evidence whenever I'm out and about. Tracks in mud or snow. Bite and claw marks on a beech tree. A pile of half-chewed pine cones. These are all examples of indirect evidence. My father always encouraged us kids to look for these “wildlife clues” (following in the wake of six exuberant children, there was little else that hadn't already fled seeking safety!).

Indirect evidence gives you insight into what kinds of wildlife may be on your land and what they’re doing while there. It can really increase your appreciation for your woodlot.

Case in point, back this winter I was out inspecting a recently completed timber harvest. It was 20 degrees below zero, so there wasn’t much going on. In 2 hours, the only thing I noted was a pair of ravens engaged in an acrobatic chase through the woods. But shortly thereafter, I found some ruffed grouse scat that left me laughing all the way back to the pickup.

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Looking at the picture I took, you’ll notice the distinctive pile of grouse scat (scat is the term for poop when in pleasant company). Grouse scat looks like an elongated pellet with a wash of white at one end. Piles of scat like this are not uncommon if a grouse regularly visits an area. You’ll often spot them, for example:

  • in areas with abundant food, like recently cut tree tops or dense patches of young trees and shrubs.
  • near a suspected drumming log (the location used by male grouse for their drumming display).
  • at a winter snow roost used in extreme cold to seek warmth under the snow rather than exposed in a treetop.

This location didn't seem to have any of those merits, but then I noticed my orange vest reflected back at me in a discarded chrome shower head. That’s what got me laughing. I suspect that this grouse had also noticed the shower head and that it might be the "draw" to this location. After all, there are songbirds that seek out (and attack) their reflection in windows and side view mirrors during the breeding season.

I just couldn't shake the image of a grouse making a daily pilgrimage to this shower head to see itself. Could it be curiosity, novelty, or even vanity? I don't know. But that picture still makes me laugh.


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