Natural History at Ragged Chutes
Our walk began with Ted's introduction
to the history of the Ragged Chutes section of the Mississippi River. The
chutes are a series of low but powerful waterfalls, and were one of the greatest
natural obstacles to be negotiated when loggers drove timber downriver from
the Madawaska Highlands region over a century ago. The surrounding forest
is, for the most part, mature and has not been logged recently. The result
is an old growth type habitat consisting of many species of trees, shrubs,
and other vegetation, as well as decaying logs, nurse trees, and the various
organisms that prosper in this environment.
~ Forest Wolf Spider (Lycosa gulosa) in the leaf litter at the trailhead. ~
As we began the downhill trek towards the chutes, Ted stopped periodically to identify and discuss the flora and fauna along the way. He informed us that we had an added assignment on this hike, and that would be to watch for Flying Squirrels. Ted then proceeded to demonstrate one method of ascertaining whether a tree with a suitable nest hole might contain several of these small, nocturnal squirrels which often dwell in communal nests. The strategy was to employ the "Scratch and Churr" method, which involves scratching lightly on the bark of the tree with a branch while imitating the gleeful churring sounds of a Raccoon that believes it is about to strike a bonanza of Flying Squirrels. The squirrels, anticipating that they are about to become a meal at any moment, would depart from their nest and soar to the safety of a nearby tree. Our mission, should we be successful, was to attempt to identify the squirrels as either the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), or the smaller, grayer, Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans). The area in which Ragged Chutes lies, is believed to be within the northern-most range of the Southern species (Glaucomys volans). (Note: for more information on the Flying Squirrels in Canada, visit the Marc Legras' excellent Flying Squirrel page , or the CWF Flying Squirrel page. Also see range maps of both species of Flying squirrels on the Canadian Wildlife Federation website).
anticipation of witnessing such an event, we searched the high canopy of
the forest for nest cavities made by Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus).
In mature forests, these large woodpeckers gouge holes deep into the sides
of large trees. The holes, varying in size from small to large, are made
in search of food such as colonies of carpenter ants and other wood-boring
invertebrates, but occasionally excavated to create cavernous nest holes.
In turn, these tree cavities provide homes for a great many secondary tree-dwelling
occupants, ranging from small birds and mammals such as Chickadees, Nuthatches,
Squirrels, Bats, White-footed and Deer Mice, to larger species such as Owls.
The Ragged Chutes area, with its abundance of mature trees, provides an
important habitat for a rich and diverse array of such forest dwelling species
and the larger vertebrate foodchain to which they belong. (NOTE: For more
information on Pileated Woodpeckers, visit the CWF Pileated Woodpecker page).