Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sudden Death Ninja Porcupine

After the last blizzard we enjoyed over a week of very nice weather. I even wore shorts one of the days, but that may have been a little ambitious. It's been so balmy it was only a matter of time until the wild critters started to stir again. I've seen geese flying north and ducks out in the frozen fields (we're having a blizzard today, and I bet the water fowl are regretting their impetuosity!). And of course the porcupines peeked their heads out and began waddling around searching for delectable twigs after a long nap.

Finely and Anika had already discovered porcupines during the thaw we had in February, but I didn't have much hope for Finley learning from his experiences. So it was with no surprise that I saw him on my doorstep with a porcupine quill on his lip, but I was very pleased that it was only one, instead of the 30 he had last time. Anika wasn't back yet, but I was pretty sure she would have stayed out of trouble.

A short time later Laura and I stepped out for a jog. We hadn't gone far when Laura said, "There's Anika and she has quills all over." Sigh. Not again! At least she was the brave one last time.

Since it was still late and I had my camera in my pocket (and yes, Noni, I do realize it is really your camera, but I am condensing for the flow of the story) I decided we would follow Anika. She would lead us straight to the porcupine and I would be able to get some nice pictures.

Sure enough, she took off like a dart down our line of trees. We followed as best we could, plunging into drifts along the way, and finally caught up with her at the edge of the prairie. Hmmmm. No porcupine yet. Laura was getting nervous and kept asking what we'd do if it charged us. Or jumped out of a tree on us. Someone has not been keeping up on their natural history.

Next, Anika pranced back up the line of trees until we were abreast of the house again, then took off across the field to the clump of trees where we like to take walks. Finley followed her, and we could hear barking before we were halfway there, but by the time we'd waded over, they'd moved and were circling through the trees. We followed on the outside and got almost all the way around before the snow got so deep we had to change direction and go into the thicket. That was small improvement and we ended up crawling across the snow in an attempt to distribute our weight more evenly. Even that gave out, and we had to push through the snow, sinking up to our hips at each step, before we could break through onto more stable snow.

We headed back to the house and were half way there when the dogs set up a ruckus from the same spot they'd been originally. Laura and I dashed as fast as possible on unstable snow and managed to get there before they lost interest and moved off. We had to cross a snow drift at least eight feet deep between two rows of trees to get to them. I was a little nervous, but the drift held and soon we gazed at our friendly neighborhood pincushion. He was tucked back into the drift with his business end pointed out.

I wanted to get a better angle for pictures, so I stepped off the drift onto the snow about 3 feet below. And promptly sank to my waist in soft, white quicksand. I had to have Laura pull me back up, after which I decided that the angle from the top of the drift was pretty good, after all!

The dogs barked around, Anika with her face still full of quills, but I noticed neither of them came within striking distance. While a porcupine cannot project its quills, it can move very quickly, and the slightest brush will embed its razor-sharp quills deep into its victim. The quills themselves are actually modified hairs coated with keratin, but they feel like spears if you're on the wrong end of them.

We left the porcupine embedded in the snowbank and headed back to the house. The sun was setting, but it was still a mild 30 degrees or so with no wind. As we passed under the giant poplar we saw a very beautiful owl sitting there, but once we noticed him he only let me get in one shot before sailing silently to rest in a less crowded part of the thicket. If you squint, you can kind of make him out in the middle of the tree. You had to be there.

Once back at the house, it was time to take Anika's quills out. Evidently she used up all her bravery the last time because we had a hard time holding her still long enough to remove her 13 quills (same # as last time). The last one broke off and disappeared into her lip before I could get it, but no matter how she suffered, she and I are both glad she wasn't the pit bull in this picture.

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