While birding at Antelope Island State Park, an Island on the Great Salt Lake, we drove past a few stands of trees that had these large dark clumps in them. My girls thought they were magpie nests, but as we got closer, we saw that they were awful furry for a nest! What in the heck are these big round balls of fur?!
Why, of course! They are are porc espin, or quill pigs, commonly known as Porcupines!
When I was about eight years old, my dad, the Scout Master over a big group of boys let me come on one of the overnight camping trips. After an intense game of "Capture the Flag" we slept under the stars in sleeping bags laid on top of a crunchy plastic tarp. Right as the sun began to rise and there was a faint glow of daylight, mother nature inflicted her worst on a little boy too scared and too cold to crawl out of his dew covered sleeping bag...I had to pee. Eventually the overwhelming urge purged my fear and I stepped a little ways off to do my business as a man does in this the purist and most natural form. Suddenly I heard a tremendous chomping sound, like bark shattering. Just feet in front of me was a huge beast. I thought it was a bear! (Cue the shy bladder) I scampered back to my dad and woke him up. He woke up the scouts to show them the impressive porcupine eating bark off a fallen log near our campsite.
That was the first and last porcupine I saw until birding at Camas NWR in Hamer, Idaho last Memorial Day weekend. There I saw a porcupine sleeping high up in a tree, which I had not previously known that they did. So, when we saw around two dozen porcupines, sometimes two or three to a tree, you can imagine the amazement and impression it made on me at Antelope Island!
Their dexterity with their front paws reminded me almost of monkeys. Their faces reminded me of the several carpincho (capybara) I saw and ate in Argentina. Their slow movements reminded me of a sloth.
This is the same porcupine shown in the photo above, but notice how it eats the bark off the branch. Once they had removed the tasty bark, they dropped the branch to the ground. Nature's little pruners, I guess. I read that most porcupines are nocturnal, but I'd say half of these were up and slowly at 'em. The rest were tucked into a ball snoozing the day away as shown in the photo at the top of this post.
Anyway, Porcupines are cool and a fantastic sideshow while birding!