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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Black Bears Still Active

Black Bears often enter into hibernation in November, but their exact timing depends in large part on the weather as well as the availability of food such as hard mast (acorns, beechnuts, etc.).  Cold temperatures and scarce food hastens their entry, and warm weather and ample food delays it.

As long as bears are active (and they still are in the Northeast due in part to relatively warm weather), one would be wise to delay feeding birds. Even though a Black Bear’s metabolic rate during hibernation can drop to a quarter of its (nonhibernating) basal metabolic rate, it still needs to put on a considerable amount of fat (some bears double their weight) in order to sustain itself while it fasts through the winter.

A pre-hibernation feeding frenzy by Black Bears is why putting up bird feeders prematurely (before Black Bears hibernate) is discouraged by most northern Fish & Wildlife Departments.  If a bear comes upon a filled bird feeder it is very likely to return to it repeatedly until it goes into hibernation. A Black Bear’s memory is very impressive and most are unable to resist a free lunch.  If you can’t put off feeding the birds for another few weeks, it’s a good idea to bring feeders inside at night if you live in bear country. 

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Mimic Makers

Biomimicry, which refers to innovations by humans that are inspired by nature, happens to be one of my favorite topics, and I particularly love introducing the concept to children.  Occasionally I come across a natural history book which is so compelling that I want to share it with Naturally Curious readers, especially at a gift-giving time of year.  Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature by Kristen Nordstrom is one of these books.  

Written for elementary school readers, it engagingly presents ten “mimic makers” who come up with technological inventions based on the natural world (leaf-inspired solar panels, beetle-inspired water collectors, maple seed-inspired drones, etc.).  It’s biomimicry at its very best, guaranteed to captivate young (and not so young), inquisitive minds. (Photo: Red Maple seeds/samaras)

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A Few Avian Songsters Remain In New England Year Round

Anyone tuned in to bird songs is aware that the skies become fairly quiet once migration has taken place. 75% of North American songbirds head to warmer climes in the fall and when they disappear, so do their songs.  Among those birds that remain in New England year-round are some species that actually continue to sing throughout the year as well.  Northern Mockingbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, and Northern Cardinals are among them, as is the Carolina Wren (pictured), whose range has extended north as our climate has warmed.

Male Carolina Wrens sing year-round defending their territory. Unlike other wren species in its genus, only the male Carolina Wren sings. An individual can have from 17 to 55 song types. He will sing a song type an average of 15 times before switching to another song type, usually after a pause in singing. To hear a Carolina Wren, go to  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Carolina_Wren/. How fortunate we are that their voices can be heard now and even in the dead of winter.

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Buck Rubs: Bright Beacons Of Scent Communication and Visual Signals

As fall unfolds and the breeding season approaches for White-tailed Deer, testosterone increases in bucks, triggering the drying and shedding of velvet from their antlers.  Bucks rub their antlers against shrubs and trees in order to remove the dried velvet, a process which is normally completed within 24 hours. Generally small-trunked, smooth-barked trees and shrubs ½ to 4 inches in diameter and without lower branches are preferred (Staghorn Sumac is often chosen, as depicted).  Research shows on healthy habitat, rub densities can vary from a few hundred to nearly 4,000 rubs per square mile. 

Rubs are far more than just a velvet-removal site, however. They serve as billboards posted for deer of both genders. Through specialized forehead skin glands, a buck deposits pheromones that convey social status, suppress the sex drives of younger bucks and stimulate does.  Aggressive rubbing as well as increased testosterone strengthen neck and shoulder muscles, equipping them for battle with another buck should it vie for the same doe.

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Everything Affects Everything

When you see Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) flowering and pussy willow buds opening in November, you know climate change is affecting life in your own back yard. How do late-blooming flowers in the fall as well as increasingly early flowering in the spring affect our ecosystem?  

For one, think about the timing involved when it comes to pollination.  Insects have synchronized their pollination activity to take place when their sources of pollen and nectar are available. Climate change may increase the chance of plants and pollinators becoming out of sync, with plants using up energy flowering in the fall after pollinators have disappeared, and flowering too early in the year for the insects that pollinate them. And then there are the migrating insect-eating songbirds whose return is coordinated with the presence of food on their breeding grounds…It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eastern Chipmunks Soon To Retire Underground

Unless global warming extends the normal activity of Eastern Chipmunks, most have or will shortly disappear into their tunnels where they have gathered and stored their winter food supply underground in a special chamber, or larder.  Up to half a bushel of nuts and seeds can be stored here.  They will visit this chamber every two or three weeks throughout the winter, grabbing a bite to eat between their long naps. 

In order to minimize the number of trips taken to fill their storage chamber, chipmunks cram their cheek pouches as full as possible.  The contents that researchers have found in one chipmunk’s two pouches include the following (each entry represents the contents of one chipmunk’s pouches):   31 kernels of corn, 13 prune pits, 70 sunflower seeds, 32 beechnuts, 6 acorns.

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A Last Reminder To Order 2023 Naturally Curious Calendars By November 10

Holidays are coming and calendars might be the perfect gift! Orders can be placed by writing to me at 505 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne, VT  05482. The calendars are printed on heavy card stock and measure 11” x 17” when hanging. There is one full-page photograph per month. The calendars are $35.00 each (includes postage). Please specify the number of calendars you would like to order, the mailing address to which they should be sent and your email address (so I can easily let you know I received your order and can quickly contact you if I have any questions). Your check can be made out to Mary Holland.  You will receive your calendars within 1-3 weeks of placing an order.

Orders must be placed by November 10th in order to be guaranteed. Orders placed after November 10 will be filled as long as my supply of extra calendars lasts. (I have had so many last-minute requests (after the deadline) in past years that I have not been able to fill all of the orders, so if you want to be sure of having your order filled, I encourage you to place your order before November 10th. I hate to disappoint anyone.)  To those of you who ordered and are using a 2022 NC calendar, be assured that Thanksgiving will be correctly noted on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023!

Monthly calendar photos: Cover-moose; January-horned lark; February-barred owl impression in snow; March-beaver; April-great horned owls; May-showy lady’s slipper; June-black-crowned night heron; July-hummingbird clearwing moth; August-gray treefrog; September-red-eyed vireo; October-porcupine; November-wild turkey; December-black-capped chickadee.

Ravenel’s Stinkhorn Spores Dispersing

A group of fungi known as “stinkhorns” generate a lot of interest, mostly because of their appearance and their odor. These fungi vary in color, shape and size, but they all share two characteristics. All stinkhorns begin producing fruiting bodies by sprouting an “egg” from which they erupt, often as quickly as overnight, and a portion of their fruiting body is covered with slime (gleba) which contains spores.

Many species of stinkhorns have a phallic form, including Ravenel’s Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii). Brown, foul-smelling, spore-laden slime is located at the tip of this fungus. Attracted by the odor, insects (mostly flies) land and feed on the slime. With bellies full and feet covered with spores, the flies depart, serving as efficient spore dispersers.

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Why Do Snakes Bask?

Snakes, like other reptiles, are cold-blooded – they are unable to internally regulate their body temperature. On cool days If their body temperature is low, they are sluggish. They don’t move quickly, don’t hunt effectively and if they have food in their stomachs, digestion comes to nearly a standstill.

They avoid this situation by basking when cool weather sets in.  They lay in the sunshine and/or on rocks or substrate that is heated by the sun, and warm up. When they get to an optimal temperature, they can be active, hunt and digest the food they eat.  During these shorter, cooler fall days, before snakes enter hibernation, a great deal of time is spent basking.

There is an advantage to using sunlight to control body temperature. Warm-blooded animals must eat a large amount of food fairly continuously because it is the digestion of the food that regulates their body temperature and produces heat, which they must maintain in order to survive. Cold-blooded animals don’t have this restriction since their body temperature is controlled externally. This is why a snake can go for a relatively long period of time (months, depending on species) without eating after it has consumed food.  (Photo:  Common Gartersnake peering out from under leaves after its basking was disturbed)

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Purple Finches Irrupting

Every year a Winter Finch Forecast (https://finchnetwork.org/winter-finch-forecast-2022-2023 ) is published which predicts which finches in the northern boreal forests might be extending their range south due to a poor food supply farther north. These larger-than-normal movements of birds are referred to as irruptions, and they happen every year, to varying degrees with varying species. 

This year’s Winter Finch Forecast predicted that Purple Finches would irrupt southward, following the large spruce budworm outbreak (producing short-term population increases) and poor mast crop in much of the eastern boreal forest.  The past few days have proven the forecast right and signaled the start to a large-scale irruption event. Once Black Bears have gone into hibernation and your feeders are up, keep an eye out for ever-increasing numbers of Purple Finches (as well as irrupting Evening Grosbeaks).

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.

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