Trail Update: All the trails located at Gate 1 and Gate 3 are all accessible without snowshoes. The access road and the parking areas at Gate 1 and Gate 2 have been sanded but you may experience some slippery areas.
Along the White Pine trail, heading west from the access road, you will find the fine chisel work of a Pileated Woodpecker. The strips of bark hanging over the bushes are similar to what the squirrels use in building their nests, called dreys. This week, as I walked the trail, a hairy woodpecker was chipping away on an old pine tree in search of protein-rich insect food. The sound echoed loudly in the otherwise nearly silent landscape.
Pushaw Stream still has some open areas, although they are freezing fast. Breathing holes made by River Otters are visible as are tracks originating on the opposite site of the stream, meandering over the ice, and finally making landfall near the Pushaw Stream trail.
Also moving around the refuge right now are the Red Fox, and if you're lucky enough you might spot one! If not, you might see signs of their activity, like tracks, scat, and scent markings spots, instead.
Foxes live a solitary life, until mating season which occurs between January and March. Female foxes, called vixens, excrete an intense scent from their anal glands indicating their readiness for mating. Attracted by the scent the dog-foxes (males) court the female until she favors one or, sometimes, many of the courters. After a 50–63 day gestation she bears a litter of three to six kits. In previous years, we have documented as many as six kits in one litter at Hirundo. Both parents participate in feeding the young. The family unit breaks up by mid-September. While walking along the trails you might see a fox scent mark with interspersed blood, indicating the vixen is in heat. Biologists use these markings to provide a ballpark figure of when the kits will be born.
Scent marking and blood indicating that a female fox is in heat
Each year the foxes chose one of the several dens for their nursery. Last year the red squirrel had taken up residence in a former fox den. Although the foxes do not hunt in the immediate area of their den, the squirrel decided to move out of the fox den. It was interesting to see the red squirrel enter the fox den through the same entrance the vixen had exited just minutes before!