One of the fun things about the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival that I attended in Oklahoma was the opportunity to see an area owned by The Nature Conservancy normally closed to the public called Four Canyon Preserve. It wasn’t very bird–the top of the canyons were so windy, you could barely hear any song, but the views were stunning and a reminder that Oklahoma is not all flat land.
Though we did not see much in the way of birds, we did see some porcupines. I grew up in Indiana and didn’t have much experience with porcupines until I moved to Minnesota. I don’t have mammals on my radar quite like birds, so I just assumed in my head that porcupines were a northern species. I did not expect to encounter in them in Oklahoma. However, I did notice a couple of dead ones on the road as soon as I arrived.
When I came home from the trip, I looked through one of my mammal books and was surprised to find that their range extends all over the western US. One of our birding group noticed this porcupine lurking under some cedars. At first, the porcupine only showed its backside, but I stayed behind while the group continued on the trail. When it was quiet, the porcupine turned around.
I slowly snuck in for a closer look. Apart from the now famous porcupet that my friend Gail took care of, I’ve never spent too much time up close with a porcupine. I moved slowly and quietly, the porcupine was sort of cornered in this nook. I’m sure it realized it had the upper hand in the situation. Porcupines cannot shoot their quills out, but if it decided to charge and run past, even brushing my leg would leave me with a few quills. But it seemed chill and I didn’t dilly dally with my photos, just a few quick snaps and then I went on my way to catch up with our birding group.
Oh, and for those curious about how female porcupines are able to give birth without getting “quilled,” it because the young are born with soft quills that harden within about two hours after coming out.
From the top of one of the canyons, we looked down and I spotted another porcupine sleeping in a tree. I read in one of my mammal books, that many porcupine specimins in museums were found to have healed fractures. The speculation was that while porcupines are known as good climbers, they might also be good fallers too. Perhaps they fall out the trees and just learn to deal with the injury?
While we watched this critter, our guide told us that there were many porcupines in Oklahoma and many ranchers shoot them because porcupines chew the bark on trees, making them look bad. It’s funny that some ranchers don’t like the aesthetics left behind by a porcupine since I have had the same feeling about the aesthetics of some of the overgrazed prairie we passed.