Wednesday, December 12, 2012


What: While out at the retention pond in Centennial Woods the other day I spotted a most gruesome scene. Actually, within a little more than a square foot there were three cool finds. See if you can spot them (or at least what I thought was cool) in the photo above.

1. Golf ball. I've seen staff from UVM Grounds on numerous occasions hitting golf balls down into the retention pond. I picked up about a dozen yesterday. Most of them are driving range balls, but occasionally a nicer Titleist ball will show up.

2. Deer scat. A neighbor tipped me off a couple years ago that in the winter, deer in the area often spent their mornings grazing on the north side of the retention pond. That slope has great southern exposure and gets warmer before the other areas - it also has a lot of ground cover. I was surprised, however, to find a few fresh piles of deer scat in the ponded area. I haven't seen their tracks within the fence in the past few years.

3. De-brained short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda). Easily the coolest find was a de-brained short-tailed shrews. Much like grizzlies that eat salmon heads during the salmon runs, in times of plenty members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) will consume only the most delectable parts of their prey. And apparently for weasels that's the brain. According to Mark Elbroch, chipmunks will also eat the brains of mice and leave the rest, which was news to me as I didn't know that chipmunks would eat prey that large.

Shrews are toxic to most mammals (they secrete a venom in their saliva that helps incapacitate larger prey). A mammalogist friend got bit by one a few years back and his arm went numb - imagine the effects on a green frog! I have found two half digested shrews thrown up by red foxes. Here the mink ate it's brains and so didn't have to worry about poisonous saliva. I assumed mink (Mustela vison) and not one of the other smaller weasels (long- and short-tailed weasels) as there were tracks about 15' away in a little stream. Mink also prefer aquatic habitats.

It was a pretty neat find and the second mink kill in that spot in the last couple of weeks.

Where: Centennial Woods

Other notes: Miraculously the fourth beaver (well now the third since UVM killed one of them) showed up again. While out the other night I could see two of them and heard a third making a low grunting noise. All three of them, at about the same time, started making that noise. It reminded me of when my chickens make a really uncomfortable clucking sound when our backyard woodchuck comes around. It's not a sign of imminent danger, but a signal that another presence is in the area - I wondered if the beavers were grunting at the fox that I've seen tracks from in the last week.

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