Nature Notes

Volume XX - 1954

Porcupine Encounters
By John Mees, Ranger Naturalist

The yellow-haired porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum epixanthum Brandt, is frequently seen waddling slowly beside our park highways, especially at night. When in a hurry, however, this fellow can ramble along at about two to three miles an hour. This speed was estimated by clocking a porcupine from an automobile while I was traveling the Rim Drive near Dutton Ridge. The porcupine was held on the highway by the stone retaining wall, thus providing a good opportunity to time him while he was moving in a fairly straight line.

It is often said that a porcupine is an animated bundle of quills. He is armed with twenty to thirty thousand of these barbed needles which form his main, and almost only, means of defense. This equipment is adequate for protection against the great majority of enemies. An interesting correlation with low birth rate can be found here, for porcupines are almost always born singly. A rare occurrence of twins is suggested by the observation of an adult with two youngsters in the Castle Crest area during July, 1947, by Ranger-Naturalist Gordon P. Walker (Walks, 1947).

A vigorous slap by the porcupine with his powerful tail can send quills well into the nose and face of any animal inexperienced in dealing with these creatures. I have observed several small porcupines along Dutton Ridge and they have invariably kept their tail between themselves ant me when they were cornered.

A few natural enemies of the porcupine become expert at killing them without picking up a collection of quills. The porcupine is usually forced into a corner and snatched by the nose. With a quick flip it is turned onto its back and then attacked at the soft, unprotected underparts.

Yellow-haried Porcupine
From Kodachrome by Richard M. Brown

Early in the summer of 1952, two hollow porcupine "shells," consisting of nothing but fur and quills, were found near Castle Crest. Proof as to the identity of the animals that had killed them could not be found, but bear tracks were seen in the snow around the carcasses. Since numerous bears were seen in the same area at various times, it seems quite possible that these animals were responsible for the fatal encounter. A similar skin was found in the Castle Crest Wild Flower Garden in the early spring of 1946 (Wallis, 1947).

During the month of July, 1953, I was so surprised by a porcupine along the banks of Sand Creek that I nearly lost my footing, which would have meant a sudden dip in the creek. Luckily only the porcupine slid down the loose talus slope into the stream. This porcupine apparently disliked swimming and refused to swim across the stream. Instead, he floated along with the current until he was able to climb back onto the same bank. Wallis (1947) reports having met a porcupine while walking on the stream bank in the steep canyon of Patton Creek. This particular animal, upon being disturbed, plunged into the water and seemed to cross to the other side with no trouble at all.

Episodes such as these with porcupines make the study of our local inhabitants an absorbing experience. With a little patience, you also will surely have interesting encounters during your stay in the Park. And perhaps you will learn some new and unusual feature of the wildlife in the park.


Cahalane, Victor H. 1947. Mammals of North America. MacMillan Co., New York. x, 682 pp.

Sumner, Lowell and Joseph S. Dixon. 1953. Birds and Mammals of the Sierra Nevada. University of California Press, Berkeley. xvii, 484 pp.

Wallis, Orthello L. 1947. A Study of the Mammals of Crater Lake National Park. Unpublished Master's thesis, Oregon State College, Corvallis. 91 pp.

Two New Bird Records
By Robert C. Wood, Ranger Naturalist

On the morning of August 22, 1954, while leading a field trip along the lower part of the Garfield Peak Trail, I first heard and then saw an adult male goldfinch, Spinus tristis (Linnaeus). The bird was in bright yellow plumage and was at a distance of between fifty and one hundred feet as it fed on the ground and made several short flights.

The other, more spectacular, observation was made on the afternoon of September 3, 1954. While on duty at Sinnott Memorial, I observed a bird of unusual appearance circling over the lake shore directly in front of and below that observation point. It continued to soar, with some flapping of its wings, above the shore of the lake between Sinnott Memorial and the foot of the lake trail until it was high overhead. It then glided off in a southward direction.

I believe the bird to have been a jaeger, a pelagic bird seen infrequently along the coast and only rarely inland. It was quite dark above, white below, and had a noticeable black cap. The most striking features of the bird were its elongated central tail feathers and its long, tapering, pointed wings. The shape of the tail feathers indicate that the bird was either a parasitic jaeger, Stercorarius parasiticus (Linnaeus), or a long-tailed jaeger, S. Iongicaudus (Vieillot); its trim appearance and graceful flight would seem to indicate the latter bird.

The jaeger was observed with eight-power binoculars in good light for about five minutes.


Farner, Donald S. 1952. The Birds of Crater Lake National Park. Lawrence, University of Kansas Press. xi, 187 pp.

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