Last week, while hiking at the gorge (and yes, Dave… the gorge is beautiful in winter!) we came to a spot in the trail that was blocked by a fallen beech. That, of course, did not stop my dog. As we picked our way around the blockade, Lolli, pretty much in the middle of the fallen beech, started barking like crazy. I couldn’t tell if she was stuck, or just stubborn.
Terry said, “Just call your dog.” Easy for him to say. He has a well-behaved dog. (I guess I should have gone to dog-training school.) I called and called and called. I kept thinking of a Julie Zickefoose post in which she wrote of her dog, “Don’t make me use the Darth Vader voice.” As I strained to see if maybe her collar was stuck on a branch, I finally noticed the cause of the commotion. At the base of the tree was a porcupine.
Oh geeze… that’s all we need… a dog with her mouth full of quills. “You better go up there and get your dog.” Yeah, I knew that. My dilemma, of course, was do I take the camera with me or not. Hahaha! Am I obsessed, or what? Luckily, I didn’t have to climb very far up the hill before the porcupine decided to waddle away and up a tree. Once it was out of reach, Lolli lost interest and re-joined us. From a distance and without a long lens, I attempted a shot of the critter. He’s up there… really!
Later, after we had eaten lunch, I was wandering around the campsite and found quite the pile of porcupine scat. Oval, full of wood fiber, and according to Stokes, “sweet-smelling” – though I didn’t use my nose to test this assertion! For me, the fact that it was the right size, shape, consistency and in the right location was enough for a positive ID! Besides, there was a quill right in the middle of it!
Apparently porcupine scat is quite tasty, too, since both dogs decided to snack on it. Why do dogs do that???
Porcupines are not the fastest animal in the world… They don’t need to be, given their protective quills. Unlike the porcupines you have seen in cartoons who can take aim and shoot their quills, real porcupines can do no such thing. Contact must be made with the quill, which will then easily fall out of the porcupine and become attached to you. Backward-pointing barbs and the heat of your skin will ensure that the quill works its way deeper into your skin and it will take quite a bit of effort to get it out again! When a dog has a run-in with a porcupine, the vet may give sleepy-time medicine before yanking quills with plyers.
A huge pile of scat either at the base of a hollow tree or near some rocks usually means that you have found a porcupine den. A small amount of scat may be found under feeding trees. Porcupines are particularly fond of eastern hemlock which they will climb to get at the upper branches. They won’t eat the last foot or so of the branch though and will drop it on the ground where it may become welcome food for deer.
My dog did not manage to get a snoutful this time. With her curiosity, though, I fear it is only a matter of time.
P.S. I snagged this photo of a porcupine from Jeff Tome’s Flickr site. He’s so busy with his new baby, he probably won’t even notice!