Sawdust Social

We’ve been landing a bunch of pine logs within 100 feet or so of Route 7A – a major rural route in Vermont. Our sugarbush and woodlot adjoin from the west; there are houses north and south and the road’s to the east. The landing is essentially a parking lot – you certainly wouldn’t mistake it for a wildlife corridor. But it is “edge” habitat in that it abuts woods on one side and lawns on two. If you put something there that was attractive to wildlife, in theory, you’d probably get some wild visitors.

We could have used a carrion bait, but in warm weather that would have brought flies and stink right where we were working. We could have used a gland lure, but breeding season has passed so it would have lost some of its allure. So we just pushed the easy button and worked with what was there. That included piles of logs and lumber and slabs, which hold mice and bugs and reptiles. And after milling up some lumber there a few weeks back, we had a big pile of sawdust. This would do.

As anyone with a cat or a dog knows, canids and felids love piles of stuff. Sawdust. Manure. Raw dirt. Part is probably simple curiosity – that wasn’t there before, so we’d better check it out. Part may involve scent-marking – a sawdust pile is essentially a giant litter box, and since animals talk to each other through their excretions, it can turn it into a kind of wild animal Facebook. Part may be hunting-related: whatever’s hidden or trapped under the sawdust will eventually come to the surface, making for a relatively easy meal.

We set the camera up at the end of the first day, and that night a raccoon came, checked things out, and left a fecal calling card. The next night a coyote visited. The night after a house cat. The night after a red fox. The night after another fox – it’s too hard to tell from the blurry photo if it was the same one or a different one. So five animals in five consecutive nights. Interesting, the camera was left up for another five nights, and the house cat was the only animal that returned. This seems to indicate that the curiosity factor was the biggest allure to the wild set. And extending the Facebook metaphor, it seems perfect that the house cat was the heavy user – the one who was there multiple times every day posting cat videos.

The whole thing gives us some insight into animal psychology, but the downside of a camera being in such a populated area is that none of the wild animals felt comfortable visiting during the day, which makes for pretty dull photos. For our next installment, we’ll set a camera up in some edge habitat on the top of a mountain in a wilderness area. We wonder what the ratio of day-to-night shots will be in a place that’s mostly unvisited by humans.

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