Thursday, September 09, 2010

Raccoon Family

Low water at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest is not as aesthetically pleasing as a full "pool," but it is not a negative for all living things.  Obviously, fish and crayfish do not welcome the dropping water levels that shrink the world they occupy, but the dinner bell is ringing long and loud for the predators!

Flocks of juvenile White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) patrol the shallow creeks in search of crayfish.  Barred Owls (Strix varia) perch low over the water watching for a crayfish meal to move within talon range.  River Otters (Lutra canadensis) supplement their diet of fish and mussels with some of the plentiful crayfish.  Raccoons (Procyon lotor) have a wide diet, but they eat a substantial number guessed it, crayfish!

As the water level drops, the crayfish body count rises.  Otters, herons, and ibis eat the entire crayfish, so there is no immediate evidence of the meal...the scat evidence arrives later.  Owls will remove the claws and swallow the rest whole with the indigestible exoskeleton pieces later regurgitated in a pellet.  Raccoons cannot be bothered with the less-meaty portions of the crayfish.  They consume the tail like humans at a Maine lobster bar and discard the thorax and claws.  Tailless crayfish draped across logs or splayed out on the mud give a gruesome account of the previous night's massacre.

Yesterday as the sun began to set, we came upon a family of Raccoons probing a creek bed with their highly-sensitive paws.  Startled by our presence, the female and one kit went south of the boardwalk and two kits went north of the boardwalk.  The two kits separated from the family muttered and made sounds like a purring kitten.  One started to climb a tree while the other contemplated entering a hollow trunk.  Eventually, they found enough courage to pass back under the boardwalk and join mom and their sibling.

Once again a family unit, they returned to moving up the creek in search of a meal.

It won't be crayfish, but we are ready for a meal too!

Images by Mark Musselman

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