This young porcupine at the columnist's house this week had a bit of trouble trying to figure out how to get down from the window ledge. ISLANDER PHOTO BY RUTH GRIERSON

Nature: Even confident critters hustle when they have to 



I had a visitor this week. It was a young porcupine trying to find a comfortable place to get out of the rain. It was fun to watch it cope with various problems that came its way. It was in a little window well on the side of the house when we first saw it and it was a little intimidated about the distance to the ground. But it examined the problem and finally stretched and got to the ground with no problem. 

Porcupines don’t usually hurry about for they feel confident about having quills to protect them. A friend of mine in Trenton described to me a funny scene she saw near her place one year when a porcupine came speeding by her windows. Not far behind was a bobcat looking for food. Porcupines can hustle if they have to! Mostly, though, they depend on their quills to protect them. They just roll up into a prickly blob, hiding all parts that could be injured. They do not, nor can they, ‘throw’ their quills! The quills come out easily when in contact with an enemy.  

If a dog and a porcupine come in close contact with each other, the porcupine’s quills come out and stick to the dog’s body. The quills have to be removed from the dog soon or they could make their way into a vital part. I once saw a big dog arriving at the local vet’s office with a face full of quills. It did not look happy, but the vet was able to remove the quills. When left alone and not threatened, porcupines live a peaceful life in the woods and fields. 

Porcupines can be cuddly when you get to know one, but you must always be careful for the quills are sharp. Many years ago, I used to take a white porcupine to schools and nursing homes for my lectures. Many patients found it exciting and a great pleasure to have one sleeping on their lap. We called the white one Charmin and she was a big hit with all the residents.  

When a female porcupine gives birth to her new baby, its quills are soft. They harden up shortly afterwards.  

My mail is often full of interesting wildlife adventures people have experienced and want to tell me about. This week, friends on the island were watching a flock of turkeys, as many island residents can do. As they watched, the turkeys became agitated and seemed worried about something. My friends enjoy watching wildlife so they waited to see what would develop. Soon enough, a bobcat appeared not far away. A wild turkey would have made a big meal for a bobcat. Large bobcats are able to kill and pull down a deer. The male bobcats are often bigger than the females. You need to have predators in an area such as this to keep deer from becoming over-populated and suffering and destroying the natural vegetation. Trouble usually follows an imbalance in all nature. It’s not an easy problem these days to solve. 

The turkeys were alerted to the presence of the bobcat and could take off if necessary, but they were a bit nervous and thinking about what they were going to do.  

My little dog and I surprised a large turkey in the area just in back of the beach one day near the shore. It was quite a hustle and bustle as the large bird took off as fast as possible. We all were startled. It took a bit of effort for the large bird to get airborne quickly. I was impressed with its size! I can still remember that experience very well. 

Wild turkeys sleep in the trees at night where they feel safer. Cornell University’s bird department has some interesting wild turkey information and it’s a good site to visit on your computer. 

It is not always necessary to go out on the water to see sea mammals. Friends and I walked near the shore one day and gray seals watched us with interest. Theses seals were curious about us, and we about them. Gray seals have a big head and a distinctive nose. Their nickname, horse head, is a descriptive one. Its scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, means “hooked nose pig of the sea.” The smaller harbor seal has a head more like that of a Cocker Spaniel dog. Both are curious and great fun to see. 

Gray seals are at home on the more remote reefs and islands. Harbor seals can be commonly seen on favorite resting places on the shores of Mount Desert Island and all nearby islands. Many seal pups give birth on these islands. Seals are curious by nature and they look like mermaids as they relax on outer islands and watch the boats go by. If you get too close, they all slip into the water. Some can live 40 years. There are some nice, mounted exhibits at the Dorr Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor that are worth visiting. You will be amazed at the size of these mammals.  

Enjoy whatever appears in your yard this week! 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected].  

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.