The Skunk has Arisen

The first tracks spotted upon arrival home.

The first tracks spotted upon arrival home.

The space beneath the enclosed porch on the front of the house has served as long-term and temporary shelter for any number of critters over the years, particularly in Winter. On the coldest and snowiest of nights, a local domestic feline seems to use this space as a respite judging by the tracks left on the stoop. This cat, who has never actually been spotted, leaves its sign more often than any other animal. And over the years, Eastern Cottontail have also been known to take shelter beneath the porch now and again.

One memorable evening, bumping and thumping sounds were traced to this spot. Interested in who was making the ruckus, my daughter and I carefully approached the opening at one end and no sooner did the beam from the flashlight penetrate the gloom under the porch than the most ungodly snarling and growling emanated from the dark. In a flash the two of us high-tailed it back into the safety of the house having never seen even a trace of the “banshee of the porch.”  (It was presumably a Raccoon not happy with our nosing into its private affairs.)  The Acre is a regular stomping grounds for Coons and, a few Summers back, one family jolted me awake on numerous occasions with their squabbles on the roof directly above my bed. If you’ve ever heard Raccoons arguing, you know what an eerie and ghastly noise they can make.

But the tenant who’s made the most profound mark, both actually and figuratively, is the Striped Skunk. Every two or three years, Mephitis mephitis makes my home its home finding the porch space prime real estate. And because this spot is in an apparent demand neighborhood, there have been the rare but quite memorable encounters with other squatters vying in vain for a piece of this popular spot.

Striped Skunk tracks?

Striped Skunk tracks

During Winter, Raccoons and Skunks are deep sleepers, laying low in seasonal dens with only an occasional short jaunt outside during mild spells. It’s quite common to get a whiff of Skunk on the air at these times. And although the last several days have been quite cold and snowy here in Western New York, a Striped Skunk must have sensed the forecasted mellowing of weather due to arrive.

Upon my arrival home tonight, I noted fresh tracks in the newly fallen dusting of snow on the porch stoop.  “Ah, Kitty, you’re back for another visit,” I muttered automatically since the mysterious feral has left sign of having taken refuge under the porch numerous times this Winter. But as I drew closer to the door, I noted the tracks were not that of a cat. First clue was the presence of claw marks, which is not a characteristic of a pad featuring retractable claws. Then, of course the track itself did not have the same toe arrangement as a cat nor did it show the more hand-like attributes of the Raccoon. “Ah, the Skunk has awaken and is checking out potential quarters for the coming active season,” I next surmised.  No tell-tale scent was discernible so it appears the Skunk has yet to take up residence, but there is a good chance he or she will be back once Winter has released its grip.

This portends the potential for some fairly smelly days ahead but this naturalist accepts that a resident Skunk is a good sign because it means The Acre provides suitable habitat for wildlife beyond just a convenient place to escape from weather, predation or grab a day’s rest. This is why the Skunks, Coons, Rabbits and even the Cat are regular residents. And as any knowledgeable  gardener will attest, a Skunk is a most welcome ally in the battle against moles, slugs and snails. So welcome back, Mephitis mephitis. I’m sure we both are looking forward to an encounter-free warm season ahead.

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