Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

The Coming of the Phoebe

As spring returns to New York, so does the eastern phoebe. This charming bird begins its courtship and nest-building in March and April. Since April is also National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to pay tribute to this little bird. The following ode to the phoebe was written by John Burroughs (1837-1921), the beloved New York naturalist who was born on April 3.

John Burroughs Memorial State Historic Site is a great place to listen for eastern phoebes!

 The Coming Of Phoebe

John Burroughs

When buckets shine ‘gainst maple trees
And dropp by dropp the sap doth flow,
When days are warm, but still nights freeze,
And deep in woods lie drifts of snow,
When cattle low and fret in stall,
Then morning brings the phoebe’s call,
‘phoebe,
phoebe, phoebe,’ a cheery note,
While cackling hens make such a rout.

When snowbanks run, and hills are bare,
And early bees hum round the hive,
When woodchucks creep from out their lair
Right glad to find themselves alive,
When sheep go nibbling through the fields,
Then phoebe oft her name reveals,
‘phoebe,
phoebe, phoebe,’ a plaintive cry,
While jack-snipes call in morning sky.

When wild ducks quack in creek and pond
And bluebirds perch on mullein-stalks,
When spring has burst her icy bond
And in brown fields the sleek crow walks,
When chipmunks court in roadside walls,
Then phoebe from the ridgeboard calls,
‘phoebe,
phoebe, phoebe,’ and lifts her cap,
While smoking Dick doth boil the sap. 

Listen to the phoebe sing: 

Call recorded by Ian Davies

John Burroughs Boy and Man By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
From John Burroughs Boy and Man by Clara Barrus
Sources:

Barrus, Clara, John Borroughs Boy and Man,  Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920.

‘Breeding Season Dates.’ New York State Department of Conservation https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/brddate.pdf.

Burroughs, John, Birds and Bough, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.

‘Eastern phoebe.’ Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Phoebe/overview.

‘Eastern phoebe song.’ Xeno-canto Foundation, https://www.xeno-canto.org/explore?query=+gen%3A%22sayornis%22+rec%3A%22ian+davies%22.

 

 

Raptor Migration and Hawk Watching

When we think about spring and fall in the northeast, we often dwell on the extraordinary changes that occur to our trees and other plants. In the spring, we yearn for green to replace the barren gray and white of winter; in fall we marvel at the warm oranges, reds, and yellows that are on display as our trees prepare for winter. But there is an equally amazing change that is occurring at the same time, one we often fail to realize because we simply don’t look up: the mass migration of raptors. Whether it is the sheer majesty of a bald eagle, the raw power of a northern goshawk, the pure speed of the peregrine falcon, or the extinct-ness of the Velociraptor, raptors have captured the minds and imaginations of people and cultures for generations. Raptors, also called “birds of prey,” include eagles, falcons, hawks, vultures, ospreys, harriers, and owls.

Raptor-watching, normally referred to as “hawk watching,” is a great way to spend a spring or autumn afternoon and can be enjoyed in many of our State Parks. Hawk watching is a draw for both veteran and novice bird watchers alike. Raptors are highly visible during their migration as they soar through the skies, unlike songbirds who hide in dense shrubs and tree tops. If you go to popular hawk watching sites during migrations (www.hawkcount.org), you will often find other observers and official hawk counters. These fellow birding enthusiasts are always eager to help you identify the shapes and flight patterns of certain groups and species. With a bit of practice, you’ll be a veteran in no time!

Migration

Migration is no joke and (as you can imagine) can be exhausting. Some species, such as broad-winged hawks, travel over 4,500 miles in about 9 weeks. Why do these birds go through all this trouble, anyways? Your first guess might be that the birds are escaping the cold. However, if so, then why don’t they stay closer to the equator, where it is always warm? The suggestion that temperature triggers migration is a very common misconception and is often connected to human behavior. Many northerners head south for warmer climates to escape the winter chill. Those who spend their entire winters in the south are even given the name “snowbirds.” With bird migrations, they aren’t escaping the cold; they are often migrating due to the lack of food availability in the winter.

Picture this (shouldn’t be hard for us Northeasterners)… the sun starts setting lower in the sky, the days grow shorter, and the frigid air from the north starts blowing. Plants go through an amazing transition. Annual plants who have dropped their seeds have reached the end of their life, while perennial plants drop their leaves, transferring their energy into their roots and stems to outlast the winter. The world feels a bit barren with the browns and whites of winter. Those plants provide food for insects and many small mammals. When the plants retreat, these small animals follow suit with either long slumbers or feeding off their stockpile of nuts and seeds in their winter dens. Even our ponds and streams can’t provide a bounty, for water denizens are sealed under a thick layer of ice. If you were a raptor, would you stay around and risk not finding food, or would you soar south where food is still plentiful? That said… not all raptors leave. Driving along major highways, you’ll often see red-tailed hawks perched high above, waiting for a mouse or rabbit to make the mistake of exposing themselves. Food is still around, it is just harder to come by. Raptors who do fly south must compete with southern resident birds for food and roosting sites. This added competition is OK though, for the adult raptors only need to worry about feeding themselves. However, when the desire for mating and offspring arises, these southern retreats don’t provide enough food to feed hungry young bellies. So, adults return to their summer breeding grounds… right when their unsuspecting prey emerges from their long winter retreat.

Like humans, raptors concentrate along specific routes while traveling long distances. So, just like you would find more people driving cars on highways than backroads, you’ll find more raptors along flyways. Here in the Northeast, we are part of the Atlantic flyway. Raptor flyways are normally found over level terrain. Mountains, large lakes, and oceans create obstacles that raptors cannot easily cross. Mountains do have a very important role to play, besides being simple barriers. In North America our mountain ranges run north-south. When cross winds hit these ridge an updraft is created, which raptors then use to help them soar and stay aloft. These updrafts mean raptors need to flap their wings less, conserving an enormous amount of energy for their long trip.

flyways
Image courtesy of Hawk Mountain

Updrafts are extremely helpful… when the wind actually blows. So, what do raptors do in early fall, when the sun is still high in the sky and the winds relatively calm? Physics, my friend. Even if you aren’t an avid hawk watcher, you have probably noticed vultures or hawks flying in large circles with their wings wide and high in the sky. This trick is called soaring flight and it is raptors mastering flight on thermal air currents. Thermal air currents, or thermals, are created when air heated by the sun rises from the ground into the sky. Thermals are often formed along the slopes of hills, but can also form over flat ground. As this warm air rises it cools and condenses, forming puffy, beautiful clouds. If you have a sunny, warm day with puffy clouds, it is also probably a good day for thermals and a good day for raptors to soar overhead.

updraft-thermal
Image courtesy of Hawk Mountain

Thermals typically do not form over open water; water releases heat evenly and slowly. Without any type of thermal or updraft most raptors must resort to flapping their wings, which uses an extraordinary amount of energy. If raptors decide to migrate over large bodies of water and need to flap the entire way, they are taking a huge risk: if they run out of energy, they will most likely drown. So, when raptors come across a large body of water while migrating, they typically hug the shoreline until they find a short way to cross. These short crossings often form bottlenecks where thousands of raptors pass through every year. One of the largest bottlenecks in the world happens to be in Veracruz, Mexico, where tens to hundreds of thousands of raptors migrating from central and eastern North America pass through, trying to skirt between the Gulf of Mexico and the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range.

Identification

The identification of raptors hundreds of feet in the air, where you can often only see a silhouette against a cloud, can seem… daunting. Luckily, with a bit a practice it might be easier than you feared. Hawk watchers often utilize an identification protocol called the SPASMATIC method:

Shape Relative sizes and proportions of wings, tail, and head
Pattern/plumage Contrasting patterns of dark and light
Actions How does the bird fly or what is it doing?
Size How big is the bird in comparison to other birds?
Multiple
Attributes
Use as many of the above characteristics as possible
Trust
In the
Concept
Believe in your ability to judge these characteristics

Shape and size are often the key characteristics you need to focus on and can be used to identify or narrow down most raptors in flight in the Northeast. Raptors (excluding owls) are broken down into 7 main shape groups: accipiters, falcons, eagles, buteos, vultures, osprey, and harriers. Each group has distinctive characteristics to help you with your identification venture.

Shape and size are often the key characteristics you need to focus on and can be used to identify or narrow down most raptors in flight in the Northeast. Raptors (excluding owls) are broken down into 7 main shape groups: accipiters, falcons, eagles, buteos, vultures, osprey, and harriers. Each group has distinctive characteristics to help you with your identification venture.

Hawk_silhouettes2
Hawk silhouettes, image from Learn.org

Accipiters (sharp-shinned hawk, cooper’s hawk, northern goshawk) typically chase and feed on songbirds in woodlands with closely spaced trees, so when in flight they have short, rounded wings and long narrow tails.

1024px-Sharp-shinned_Hawk_(Accipiter_striatus)
Sharp-shinned hawk, note the long tail and rounded wings. By Steve Berardi, accessed from Flicker

Buteos (red-tailed, broad-winged, red-shouldered, and rough-legged hawks) have broad-shaped wings for soaring and perching on high branches.

Red-tailed_hawk_(16381245001)
Red-tailed hawk, note the dark band of feathers across the belly. This can be seen in all birds, photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Falcons (American kestrel, merlin, peregrine falcon) often catch prey in mid-flight in open spaces and depend on speed to capture swift prey, so when in flight you can see that they have pointed wings.

An american kestrel ( perched on a wooden post.
American kestrel

Harriers have broad, strong wings held in the distinctive v-shape (or dihedral shape), which allows them to fly low and slow at ground level, typically around grasslands and marshes. Northern harriers are the only harriers found in our region.

Northern_harrier_(12344138524)
Northern harrier, photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

Vultures (turkey and black vultures) have long and broad wings, which aids in soaring over fields and woods while searching for carrion. Turkey vultures hold their wings in the v-shape, but black vultures lack the v-shape almost entirely.

iStock_000049109130_Medium
Turkey vulture, note the difference in feather color between the top and the bottom of the wings,

Osprey distinctively look like large gulls in both body and wing shape. Their wings help them hover over water where they dive feet first into the water to capture fish.

Osprey_in_flight_(11820598024)
Osprey in flight, note the distinctive coloration of the feather, photo by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region

Eagles (bald eagle and golden eagle) have large wingspans to soar high in the air; this also aids them in capturing food in large open spaces on the ground or over water.

1024px-Golden_Eagle_1
Golden eagle in flight, note the large, long wings, photo by Juan Lacruz

Get out and Hawk watch!

New York has multiple premier Hawk watch locations, with many of them having designated hawk counters. HawkCount gives you the ability to find hawk  watch locations across North America, contacts of designated hawk counters or coordinators, and new and historical data that has been collected at these locations.

We hope you enjoy your next hawk watching adventure. Why not make your next hawk watching experience at a designated hawk watching site in a New York State Park? Here are a few to check out!

Happy birding!

To learn more about hawk watching and to find great resources, visit the Hawk Migration Association of North America’s website.

Robert Moses State Park on Long Island

Out on the south shore of Long Island is a barrier beach called Fire Island, where the First Island Hawkwatch can be found at the east end of Robert Moses State Park. This all-volunteer watch provides coverage from September to November and has access to a hawk watch platform.

To get to the hawk watch platform, proceed south on Robert Moses Parkway and cross the bridge to Robert Moses State Park. From the water tower circle, proceed East to parking lot #5. Park here and walk east toward the lighthouse.

John Boyd Thacher State Park outside Albany

The Helderberg Escarpment Hawk Watch is found just outside Albany, NY at John Boyd Thacher State Park. At the overlook parking lot, hawk watchers can view thousands of broad-winged hawks and other migrating raptors during the park’s annual mid-September Hawkwatch Festival.

To get to overlook parking lot take I-90 to Exit 4 onto Rt 85 west. Follow Rt. 85 for about 11 miles and make a right onto Thacher Road (Rt. 157). “The Overlook” parking area is about 2 miles up the escarpment.

Braddock Bay Park outside Rochester

The great Braddock Bay area outside of Rochester, NY, is one of the top hawk watching sites in New York and is considered a migration “hot spot.” Millions of birds migrate through the area every spring as they head to breeding grounds farther north. In 1996 over 140,000 raptors were counted migrating through the area, and on April 27, 2011 they tallied 42,235 hawks: the biggest spring flight day recorded in the U.S. and Canada. The official hawk count is conducted only in the spring season between March and May. Viewers can use the hawk watch platform found in Braddock Bay Park, which is owned by State Parks and operated by the Town of Greece. The Braddock Bay Raptor Research (BBRR) has conducted the hawk watch since 1986.

To get to Braddock Bay take the Lake Ontario State Parkway until the East Manitou Road/Braddock Bay Park exit. Turn north onto East Manitou Road and turn left into Braddock Bay Park. When you come to a T in the road turn right and continue until you see the hawk watch platform on your left.

Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park

The site is adjacent to parking lot at the crest of the road through Betty & Wilbur Davis State Park. It has excellent views to the west over and across the Cherry Valley Creek Valley, and south and southeast. The view to the north is good. The hill obstructs the views northeast and due east.

Check out our 2016 blog post about Golden Eagle migration surveys by Delaware Otsego Audubon Society.

By Matt Brincka, State Parks

Juvenile bald eagle featured image by Matt Brincka, State Parks

In Appreciation of Skunks

When you start to think about skunks, the thing that comes most to mind is the overwhelmingly identifiable stench that these small creatures can produce. Skunks are often vilified for their over-the-top predator defense mechanism, and most people have a story of it plaguing campgrounds, pets, and homes. But these cat-sized mammals actually have some behaviors and habits that should be appreciated, despite their larger-than-life smell.

skunksurprise
A surprised skunk, photo by State Parks

Skunks are a member of their own distinct family, Mephitidae, formerly of the weasel family (Mustelid). The Latin name for the Striped skunk (the most common in New York State) is Mephitis mephitis, roughly translated to “double foul odor”. The striped skunk is about the size of a house cat, at 6-10 pounds. The skunk has a beautifully patterned, glossy hide, and a fluffy easily recognizable tail. Not unlike the bright warning colors of some frogs, the skunk’s distinctly patterned fur serves as fair warning of its noxious potential.

Skunks live in a variety of habitats, but prefer transition areas of open areas, like fields, with nut-producing trees.  Unfortunately, that means that skunks also like to live in residential areas, like mowed lawns and street-sides.

snowskunk
Short-legged skunks waddle through the snow, leaving a wide track, photo by State Parks

Skunks live in dug burrows, and will use abandoned burrows, hollow logs, or large rocks as dens. A skunk can have upwards of 10 burrows that they rotate among. Skunks are not huge travelers, and most of the time will establish a home range around a water source, rarely venturing farther than 2 miles away. Skunks do not truly hibernate, but they do slowdown in the winter, sleeping deeply for a few months in the coldest part of the winter. Skunks are also a relatively short-lived mammal, rarely living longer than 3 years in the wild. They have few natural predators – disease and birds of prey are their main population controls. Birds of prey (for example, great horned owls) have very poor senses of smell.

skunk
A skunk resting during the day, photo by State Parks.

Skunks eat just about anything! Being omnivores, skunks eat nuts, larvae, worms, eggs, reptiles, fish, you name it! They will even eat hornets! Skunks are foragers, and so they take advantage of any meal. They are also fabulous diggers, and are one of the few animals that will dig up a ground hornets nest to eat  stinging bees or wasps. To help them dig, skunks have long claws and a pair of partially fused toes on their front feet. They will leave many small cone-shaped holes in an area where they are foraging. Skunks also provide a free pest-removal service! They eat grubs, stinkbugs, mice, and more. Skunks are common and widespread, so your local campground is probably benefitting from their work.

A State Parks employee tells the tale of a late fall garden, plagued by a ground hornets’ nest. After being stung a few times, the garden was abandoned until a plan to deal with the hornets was determined. The next day, there were skunk holes and tracks, an empty hornets nest, and the rest of the potatoes ready to be picked. Skunks are not necessarily the stinky nuisance that comes first to mind.

BabySkunk
A young skunk, photo by State Parks

Also, skunk babies are adorable and fun to watch if you keep your distance.  Did you know a group of skunks is called a surfeit? A surfeit of baby skunks is sure to creep into your heart, as the smell creeps into your nose. Check out this close animal encounter with the most adorable surfeit around. Baby skunks, or kits, stick close by their mother, and like to maintain almost constant body contact with her (AWW!) but in general skunks are solitary creatures. Baby skunks can produce spray at 3-4 weeks old.

Skunks only spray when they feel threatened, but boy, when they spray you know it! They generally will display other defense postures before spraying, like growling, spitting, stomping, and fluffing their beautiful fur. Usually, only inexperienced pets will push a skunk to spray. If you or your dog are still not scared off after their initial warnings, the skunk will resort to their final “eau de resistance,” and spray a sulfurous smelly compound up to 10 feet away. This spray is not considered dangerous, but it can sting the eyes and is definitely not fun.

The spray is an oil produced in glands under the tail. Skunks also have surprising accuracy in their aim. It can take several days for a skunk to replenish its grape-sized glands, so they really only spray as a last resort. There are many supposed remedies to get rid of the smell including washing with: tomato juice; a mixture of baking soda, peroxide, and liquid detergent; vanilla extract; apple cider vinegar; the juice of many lemons; and many more. In a strange twist, skunks hate strong odors, and having something strong-smelling in your garage (like a hanging deodorizer) may keep skunks from taking up residence.

Skunk Night

Spring is breeding season and is the most common time period for skunk spray, as they are preoccupied and easily startled. So, keep an eye on your pets this spring while enjoying the outdoors, but also keep an eye out for your chance to spot a stinky but cute surfeit of your own.

Post by Keleigh Reynolds, State Parks

References:

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9353.html

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/s/striped-skunk/

http://wildliferemovalplus.com/wildlife-facts/skunks-facts-and-information/

http://totalwildlifecontrol.com/critter-facts-control/skunks/

http://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/skunk_facts/12/

http://www.animalfactsencyclopedia.com/Skunk-facts.html

http://www.animalfactsencyclopedia.com/Skunk-facts.html?_sm_au_=iVVLJRtBMsH2j23N

Tundra Swans at Beaver Island State Park

It’s winter on the Niagara River.  While most of us are looking forward to spring, migratory birds from the high Arctic are frolicking here as if the river were a tropical resort.

The tundra swan foreshadows the arrival of winter on the Niagara frontier.  During the waning days of autumn, large flocks of these elegant birds congregate along riverbanks and small islands wherever there is shallow water where they remain for several months feeding mostly on the roots of submerged aquatic plants.  Sometimes they are joined by lesser numbers of mute swans  and trumpeter swans.

Tundra Swans P Leuchner1
Adult tundra swans along the Niagara River.

As our tundra swans settle into their winter environs they often behave in a stealthy manner, choosing to lead a low-key existence until the annual waterfowl hunting season ends. However, it’s easy to locate these birds from their unique calls which are reminiscent of those of a baying dog but with a bit of a musical lilt.  By the end of January, large flocks of hundreds of birds emerge where they can be observed feeding, preening their feathers or engaging in mating rituals.  One of the best areas to observe the tundra swan is at Beaver Island State Park located at the south end of Grand Island where the Niagara River is widest.

Preening Tundra Swans P Leuchner1
Adult tundra swan preening it’s feathers.  During preening, or straightening and smoothing the feathers, swans distribute uropygial oil, a special oil that helps keep their feathers dry.  Swans and other water birds produce uropygial oil in their uropygial gland.

It’s easy to identify the tundra swan.  Adult birds are pure white with black legs and have a black bill with a distinctive yellow spot just below the eye. This area of the bill is known as the lore.  Immature tundra swans are also white but their head and neck is streaked with gray.  They often travel with the adults.  Contrast that with the features of the mute swan, a non-native species brought over from Europe, which has an orange bill with a black base and short legs.  The neck is slender and is always held in a graceful shape resembling the letter “S”.   A trumpeter swan on the other hand, has a heavy all white body with a long neck that is held straight whether on the water or in flight. The bill and the legs are black.

Tundra Swans_P Leuchner1
Adult and juvenile tundra swans.

The tundra swans will remain here until early spring.  As the weather warms they will depart on the long journey to their breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle.

Greenway Corridor
Aerial view of the Niagara River Greenway

The ecological significance of the Niagara River has long been recognized.  In 1996 it was the first to be designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area.  Then in 2005 New York State added further support officially establishing the Niagara River Greenway.  Since that time millions of dollars have been invested in habitat restoration and enhancement projects significantly enhancing the biodiversity of the Niagara River corridor.

Post and photos by Paul Leuchner

What’s That? That’s SCAT!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the snow is falling, the air is crisp, and the hiking opportunities in State Parks abound. While marveling at the snow-encrusted majesty of the pine and hardwood branches, don’t forget to look down and take a peek at one of the less glamorous and stately aspects of a wintertime hike – wildlife scat! Analyzing who’s who with number two might be the number one way to figure out who is visiting the trails with you, as well as how long ago they were there.

Hunters have long used scat to help with the hunt, determining if animals were around and when, following the scat clues to their quarry. Wildlife watchers and photographers have also used this tool to seek out wildlife. What you can learn from scat can be interesting to anyone, no matter if your intent is to hike, hunt, or just unwind in nature.

Is the scat frozen? The animal could have been around last night. Is the scat desiccated, or dried out and old looking? It could be scat from last season. Can you see if the scat melted snow around it? The animal might not be far away. Are there more than a couple of piles of scat? There could be more than one animal around. Does the scat contain fur? There may be predators hunting.  Scat can be an amazing addition to your toolbox to determine presence and habit of a variety of wildlife around. Here are some photos of common scat piles to help you infer who your wild neighbors are in the woods.

Deer scat might be the most common scat to be found on the trail. Deer scat is usually in pellets and in a pile. If the pile is under leaf litter, or a layer of snow, it is most likely old (see below photo). Deer scat can also be in a more “wet” or “patty” form, but pellets are usually still distinguishable. Shiny or wet scat can indicate a deer is close by!  Deer produce pellets about 13 times a day, a product of their near constant grazing. Bigger bucks can leave bigger poo piles than the does. You can also look further into the scat signs, and see what the deer are preferring to eat. Hunters often organize a hunt around the transition corridors of feeding and bedding areas. Lots of scat in a certain type of feeding area (i.e. clover, grass, apples) would indicate that deer may be accessing this area daily to eat.  Deer beds and poo in cover areas, like scrubby emergent forest, would indicate deer access that area to sleep. A hunt that is set up between those areas, where the deer are apt to travel every day, might have the most chance of being successful.

Deer scat both
Deer scat, fresh (right) and old (left).

Rabbit scat is also very common in brushy areas, and is usually round. Rabbit scat is generally smaller than deer scat and can be more spread out in the feeding area. Look for rabbit scat near low bushes or other available cover. In a strange evolutionary twist, rabbits also produce a second type of scat, called cecotropes, that they eat shortly after depositing. These powerful pellets are full of beneficial gut bacteria.

Cottontail scat_J Jaycox
Cottontail scat.

Porcupine scat can contain woody fiber, as they eat twigs and bark. Scat may also be at the entrance to their dens; they don’t seem to need to keep a clean house. Dens can sometimes have mounds of scat around them, if used over multiple seasons. It is theorized that porcupines’ scat piles could provide some warmth in the winter.  Porcupine scat can resemble deer scat, but is somewhat cashew-shaped, as opposed to the rounder deer pellets.

Porcupine den & scat_M Rogers
Porcupine den with scat (broken down) along the entrance.

Foxes, and others in the canid family, like to make a point to be sure you see their scat. They often lay their brick and mortar on top of a rock or something high to mark their territory. Fox scat does not smell as foul as your house pet’s deposits; however it does have a distinct musky odor. Fox scat usually contains hair and is very dark with distinct twisted ends, unlike house dog scats, which are tubular with blunt ends.

Fox scat_M Rogers
Fox scat

If you are lucky, you might see bear scat on your next hike! Bear scat is usually characterized as a “plop” instead of pellets. Bear scat can be in enormous piles and can be a variety of colors and consistency depending on their last meal. Bears are omnivores, and so can have nuts, hair, or berries visible in their scat. Bears can also be attracted to food caches in town, like bird feeders, before the long snooze in the winter (see photo below). Bear scat also does not smell as strongly as other scat, and in times where they have a vegetarian diet, can smell quite pleasant (for poo).

Bear Scat both
Bear scat, note the seeds in the right photo

Another very common scat is that of the turkey. Turkey scat, like other birds, contains both urine and feces. The white part of a bird’s scat is the urine.  You can actually tell a male gobbler from a female hen by the shape of the scat. Male turkeys generally balance the budget in a J shape, while females are more in a pile, with a slight spiral to it.  This is because of the anatomy of a female turkey, which has a wider cloaca for eggs to pass through.

Turkey scat both
Turkey Scat (both likely female), note the footprints on left photo.

Another elusive animal you may see by scat rather than seeing in the fur, is the mink. A small furbearer, like the weasel, a mink’s scat is tiny, braided and pointed, with a twisted end. Mink also like to advertise their bathroom breaks on top of logs or stones, like foxes and coyotes. You can tell the difference between mink and weasels easily in the winter, as mink do not change their fur coats out for the camouflage that weasels do. Weasels should be white this time of year.

Mink scat both
Two photos of mink scat, note the twisted ends.

Another avian visitor common to parks is the Canada goose, as well as the snow goose. Both geese, like turkeys, have a distinct white cap on their scat. Goose poop however is more of a long log, and usually found around beaches and other waterbodies in the parks. Geese are normally pretty comfortable around people, and buildings, so you are more likely to see goose scat on the lawns and beaches rather than in the woods on trails.

Goose_M Rogers
Goose scat.

Our final foray into the wonderful world of waste is with one of the largest visitors to the Parks. Moose are more common in the Adirondacks, but have also been seen in the Taconic Highlands.  Moose scat can look like supercharged deer scat. Pelletized, and in piles, moose scat most closely resembles deer scat winter. In the summer months when their diet is more wet, moose scat may resemble cow patties. It can also trick people into thinking it is bear scat. To determine the origin, check out the mode of digestion. Moose are ruminants.  Like cows, they have four compartments in their stomach, so four times the digestion efficiency, and so usually poop fully digested food. Their scat is generally uniformly composed.  Bears are omnivores, with one stomach, and their scat can be more variable in composition, often with undigested berries and hair.

Moose_M Rogers
Moose scat.

Winter hikes are some of the most fun and most unique hiking in NYS Parks, and most Parks do not charge entrance fees in the colder months. Come prepared with extra winter clothing, first aid packs, and always let someone know your plan in case of emergencies. And don’t forget that the feces of many species can be an informative and fun addition to your knowledge of wildlife and outdoors.

Post by Keleigh Reynolds, State Parks

Featured image https://www.flickr.com/photos/bepster/43762108/ .