An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

WELCOME TO A PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIELDS, WOODS, AND MARSHES OF NEW ENGLAND

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my award-winning book NATURALLY CURIOUS

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Sea Smoke

The recent severe dip in air temperature created the perfect conditions for “sea smoke” to form – a phenomenon that occurs over water, and which commonly takes place in the Arctic and Antarctic but less so in New England.

When a light wind of very cold air sweeps in and mixes with a layer of saturated warm air immediately over warmer water, the layer of warm air is cooled below the dew point. This layer of cooled air can no longer hold as much moisture and the excess is condensed into fog, or sea smoke.  This can and does occur over oceans, lakes (common in the Great Lakes) and rivers.  (Photo:  sea smoke over Lake Champlain, VT)

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Snow Buntings: Winter Visitors From The Far North

This Snow Bunting, feeding on farm silage in the Champlain Valley, migrated from the high Arctic to spend several winter months in Vermont where temperatures are comparatively warm and food is more available.  In about two months he and other males will return to the arctic to nest in temperatures as cold as -22°F., where most of the seeds that they feed on are still covered with snow. Females will migrate back to their breeding grounds four to six weeks later.

Why do male Snow Buntings depart from warmer winter climes to begin their breeding season in such a hostile environment?  They do so because competition for their rock crevice nest sites is so severe.  Typically arctic songbirds nest in the open, but the eggs and young of crevice-nesting Snow Buntings experience far less predation than those of other birds.  Even though their nests are lined with fur and feathers, these cracks and crevices can be quite cold and detrimental to developing eggs, so the male buntings feed their mates during incubation so that the incubating females can remain on the nest for long periods, keeping their eggs warm.  

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Nannyberry Terminal Buds

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) is a native woodland shrub in the genus Viburnum. Nanny goats apparently feed on the ripe fruit (reportedly more so than billy goats), hence the common name. It is also known as Wild Raisin due to the appearance of its dark fruit when dried. 

Like all viburnums, Nannyberry has opposite-branching leaves and flowers in umbrella-shaped clusters, called umbels. One trait that keeps it from looking like every other woodland shrub in the winter is the distinctive shape of its terminal buds. There are two scales protecting the bud, whose edges meet. Some compare the shape of this bud to the bill of a goose, but I find it far more graceful.

Grouse, robins, catbirds, cardinals, bluebirds, waxwings, grosbeaks and finches feed on Nannyberry’s clusters of blue-black berrylike drupes. Humans also consume the fruit, usually in the form of jams and jellies.

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Bobcat Caches & Revisits White-tailed Deer Carcass

Rabbits and hares comprise much of a Bobcat’s diet, but when prey is scarce or hard to capture, adult male and large adult female Bobcats will attack bedded, weak or injured White-tailed Deer. Bobcats often cache prey such as a deer that is too large to eat in one feeding. They scrape up leaves, bark, twigs, soil, snow — whatever is available — and cover their prey, returning soon to eat it. When feeding on a deer, Bobcats bite away the hair to avoid eating it, and this discarded hair is frequently mixed with the debris that the cat drags over the kill to cover it.  

This photograph was taken 24 hours after the deer was cached, and the site has been visited by several predators. A characteristic sign of Bobcat feeding is the amount of hair strewn around the carcass and the lack of broken long bones (see inset). (Bobcats don’t have the strength to break large bones with their teeth.)

(Cache discovered by Lynn & Otto Wurzburg, who observed the Bobcat leaving after caching the deer)

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White-tailed Deer Bucks Shedding Antlers

White-tailed Deer antlers are typically shed in December or January. Once breeding has taken place, cells start to de-mineralize the bone between the pedicle (where the antler attaches to the deer’s skull) and antler, causing the antler’s connection with the skull to weaken — a flick of the deer’s head and one or both antlers go flying, ridding the deer of these heavy, cumbersome, bony appendages.

It’s a win-win situation for both deer and resident rodents, who scarf up these rich sources of calcium phosphate and protein almost as soon as they hit the ground. Take a close look at the tip of each tine in this photograph and you will see that something — most likely a vole, mouse, squirrel or porcupine — has been whittling away on it, and the antler’s probably only been on the ground for a matter of days or weeks at most. (Once a deer sheds its antlers, new growth starts immediately, though visible antler growth is often not apparent for several weeks.)

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Zygodactyl Toe Arrangement

Most birds have four toes, three pointing forward and one back. A quick look in the snow beneath your bird feeder will confirm this. Exceptions to this rule include woodpeckers, owls and ospreys, among others, whose toe arrangement is 2 and 2: two of their toes (the middle two) point forward, and the outer toes point backwards.  The term for this arrangement is zygodactyl

Different species have evolved this toe arrangement to meet different needs.  It enhances the ability of woodpeckers to hold onto limbs and climb up vertical tree trunks, while owls and ospreys can get a better grasp of slippery or wiggly prey.  (Woodpeckers can pivot one of their back toes to the side, and owls can pivot one of their back toes forward, as well.)

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Bohemian Waxwings Dining On Bald-faced Hornet Larvae

We think of Bohemian Waxwings, colorful winter visitors, as primarily consumers of sugary fruits, but their diet is not exclusively frugivorous.  They (and Cedar Waxwings) eat sap drips in the spring and aerial insects, especially emergent aquatic species, in the summer.

During the winter, in addition to fruits, Bohemian Waxwings also feed on protein-rich foods when they are available.  Pictured is one of many Bohemian Waxwings that found a goldmine of protein —  dead Bald-faced Hornet larvae.  While the hornet queen overwinters under loose bark or a similarly protected area, the larvae that are developing within the nest when a hard frost hits are killed.  Bohemian Waxwings apparently recognize this rich source of protein.  Scale insects and tree buds (American Elm and ash species) are also consumed in the winter and spring. (Photograph by Terry Marron)

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Drumstick Truffleclub Fruiting

Finding a mushroom in January is a delightful discovery, especially finding one that is only 3” high with a yellow stipe, or stem, (when in its prime) and a tiny, bumpy brown cap.  Drumstick Truffleclub (Tolypocladium capitatum) is unusual not only for its size, but for the late timing of its fruiting period (typically November/December) and the fact that it is a parasite of another fungus.  If you were to dig down beneath a Drumstick Truffleclub, you would likely find that it was attached to a species of truffle (another fungus). (Photograph by Sally Fellows)

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Red Foxes Mating

Red Foxes spend much of the year living a solitary life, but come January and February, during their courtship period, males join females.  Nocturnal barking ensues and their pungent urine begins smelling strongly like skunk spray.  Vixens come into heat for 1-6 days during this time and up to a week or two prior to this there is much interaction between a pair, when they often hunt and cover ground together.  Once breeding takes place, they part ways.  In about two months, when their young are born, the parents rejoin each other and raise their young together.   

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Promethea Moths Pupating

Now is a perfect time to look for cocoons, with leaves off deciduous shrubs and trees. Giant silk moth cocoons are especially evident, due to their large size (often 2″-4″).  The Promethea Moth caterpillar (Callosamia promethea), one of several giant silk moths in the Northeast, hatches in the summer and reaches its full size by fall.  It then chooses a leaf and reinforces the leaf’s stem, or petiole, with silk so as to make it less likely that the leaf will detach from the branch it is growing on.  The caterpillar then spins its silken cocoon inside the curled leaf, and spends the winter pupating inside the cocoon. Look for their well-camouflaged cocoons on low-hanging branches. 

Come May or June, the moth will emerge, and if it’s a female, will produce pheromones that may attract males from as far as several miles away.

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