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Quiz #47 - Answer

by Brian Booth

1. The tree in Photo 47B is an EASTERN HEMLOCK. In New England, this tree is distinguished from other conifers by its shape.

2. The mystery animal is PORCUPINE.

3. Clues that help support this conclusion include:
  a. In New England, porcupines have a strong preference for establishing dens in boulder fields.
  b. In New England during winter, porcupines have a very strong preference for sprigs of eastern hemlock as their favorite food. The hemlock shown in the photo shows extensive signs of being fed upon. (Trees like this are sometimes called “hammer trees” because they have basically been “hammered” by hungry porcupines.) That was a subtle, but significant clue. (In other parts of the continent and in other seasons, porcupines have a more varied diet and do not have a particularly favorite food.)
  c. Porcupines deposit their scat around the entrances to their dens. If they’ve been living there a long while, there can be rather enormous piles of scat.
  d. Porcupines scat is fibrous, especially in winter when they tend to eat mostly twigs and conifer leaves. The scat is often macaroni-shaped, and generally is not stinky – in fact, it can actually have a fairly pleasant aroma, depending on what they have been eating.
  e. The item shown in Photo 47H is a porcupine quill, which can generally be found along with the scat. This is a dead giveaway that the animal was a porcupine.

Porcupines are unique and interesting animals. They are slow, quiet and gentle, although they can do a lot of damage. I was once hiking in a canyon in Alberta and encountered a porcupine that was chewing away at the supports for a wooden bridge that was high above a raging stream – if the bridge collapsed while someone was crossing it, they would almost certainly perish. Porcupines have poor eyesight and limited brainpower, but are able to locate and identify hemlock trees more effectively than your average human!

I have found the easiest way to find porcupines is to investigate boulder fields that are in the vicinity of hemlock trees. You can learn amazing things from a pile of rocks!

So, considering there weren’t any tracks present in this quiz, was it really “tracking”? Experienced trackers will tell you definitively YES, that tracking involves searching for all kinds of signs of animals, whether it is footprints, feeding sign, dens, trails, scent-marking, claw marks, or scat. I best heard it described by Tom Brown Jr, who remarked that his mentor, Stalking Wolf, said the Apache word for looking for signs of animals translated more closely to the English word "awareness" rather than "tracking", although there wasn’t really an English word that fully captured the meaning of the Apache word. This has been a source of inspiration to me to expand my awareness and observation of the world – the more I look for, the more I learn.

Hope you all get in some good "dirt time" before the next tracking quiz.

Quiz #47 - Question      ...on to Quiz #48

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