Wednesday, November 10, 2004

You Don't Know Squat

Fox scat to the left, raccoon scat to the right.

Winter is starting to blow in. Groundhogs holes are starting to come up blank as they move off into the woods and burrow into deeper earth-blocked settes for a long winter sleep.

Fox are starting to pair up in earnest, and natal dens are rapidly being dug, though most are still empty as it is too warm for fox to go to ground unless it is raining or there is a driving wind.

Now is a good time to review basic sign, particularly scat, as in winter animal dung is much slower to decay, and can give an observant person some indication of what is about, and where it might be headed.

Fox scat is easily identified, as it is pointed on both ends and almost always has hair in it -- mostly mice or rat, but perhaps a small rabbit, a bit of roadkill, game bird, or gut shot deer as well. It is hunting season, and unrecovered animals are important sources of food for fox in these winter months.

A road kill deer pushed into a ditch by the side of the road, or a gut-shot deer up in the weeds at the edge of a field, will not rot once cold weather sets in, and these flesh dumps will draw in feeding fox. Fox will often park themselves in nearby groundhog holes, especially if they are startled by approaching dogs, or are waiting out bad weather before returning to the carcass for a feed.

Raccoon scat is easily differentiated from fox scat. Raccoon dung always has blunt ends and is quite uniform in thickness, looking a bit like a thin, blunt-cut, cigar. Raccoon dung is much more likely to contain a great deal of vegetable matter, such as berries and bits of acorn, and only rarely has hair in it. While fox dung can be any color (black, brown, tan, white, greenish or bluish), raccoon scat is almost always quite dark due to the large amounts of vegetable matter.

Look for fox scat at the edge of fields, particularly along paths or mows where corn or soy fields border woods, as this is the "mouse and rabbit zone" where a fox can trot along very quietly listening for scurrying mice.

Fox will often deposit their scat on stones, rises, stumps, walls or tree trunks that border their patrol areas -- a form of territory marking.

Raccoon scat can be found anywhere, but it too is commonly found along the edges of fields and at the entrance to larger groundhog dens where they may have slept off the night. The closer you are to water, the more likely you are to find raccoon. Multiflora rose thickets and dense brushy spots along stream banks near corn fields are particularly likely spots.

For a guide to other common North American animal scat, click here.

No comments: