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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 Scent Marking In Winter

Congratulations to Rinky for being the first person to correctly identify that a Black Bear had been rubbing its back side against a utility pole in Monday’s Mystery Photo!  A vast majority of responses were correct! Because of the relatively warm fall we’ve had and the ample food supply, Black Bears are still active in much of northern New England.  There is a limited amount of time when bears are awake and snow is on the ground, allowing you to see what they’ve been up to.  This year they are still feeding fast and furiously and, as the tracks in the snow confirm, scent marking.

Black Bears of all ages and both sexes engage in scent marking – rubbing their scent on trees and telephone poles (as well as biting and scratching them) that are often located along travel corridors.  Scent marking typically occurs during the breeding season in June, when males, especially, announce their presence by standing with their back to a tree or pole (often one that leans) and rub their shoulders, neck and back against it, leaving their scent.

The tracks in Monday’s Mystery Photo were discovered recently at the base of a utility pole in New Hampshire.  One look at the tracks’ position, pointing away from the pole, tells you that the bear that made them was facing away from the pole and rubbing his back side against it – proof that scent marking is not limited to the breeding season. (Photo: Black Bear scent marking the same pole in mating season, taken by Alfred Balch)

(If you are feeding birds, it would be wise to bring your feeders in at night until we’ve had enough cold weather to drive Black Bears into hibernation.)

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Mystery Photo

Do you think you know who was here and what he/she was doing???  If so, go to the Naturally Curious website, scroll down to and click on “Comments” and enter your answer.  Wednesday’s post will reveal what transpired here.

(Photo by tracker/naturalist/wildlife videographer Alfred Balch.)

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Coyote Breeding Season Beginning

Female Eastern Coyotes only experience estrus once per year for up to ten days and male coyotes only produce sperm during the time females are receptive.  This usually occurs sometime between late December through March.

One unusual aspect of the coyote breeding season is the coyote’s ability to change its breeding habits according to its population status. When their population is threatened and/or pressured, coyote litter sizes go up. They use their howls and yipping to assess coyote populations — if their howls are not answered by other packs, it triggers a response that produces large litters. (I have yet to understand the biological specifics of  this adaptation.)

The normal size of a coyote litter is five to six pups. When their populations are suppressed, their litters get up as high as 12 to 16 pups. Research shows that the number of coyotes in a given area can be reduced by 70 percent but the next summer their population will be back to the original number.

(Photo: blood droplets where a female coyote in estrus urinated. Photo taken 12/4/19)

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A Hungry Bear & A Larder-less Chipmunk

Many readers had partially correct answers to Monday’s Mystery Photo, but congratulations go to “adaniel”, the first person to correctly identify the visitor (Black Bear) as well as the object of the visitor’s desire (Eastern Chipmunk’s winter food supply).

Between the relatively warm fall we’ve been having and the plethora of acorns and beechnuts this year, some, if not all, Black Bears have yet to enter hibernation.  They are still actively consuming as much as possible to insure their winter survival.  A bear’s sense of smell is extremely good – it is estimated that it is about seven times greater than a bloodhound’s. This particular bear located (with its nose) an underground storage chamber off the underground tunnel system (see red circle) of an Eastern Chipmunk.

Up to half a bushel of nuts and seeds are stored 1 1/2 to 3 feet underground in the fall by chipmunks and then consumed throughout the winter during their roughly bi-weekly arousal from sleep. The bear smelled this cache of acorns and proceeded to dig into it.  Unfortunately for the bear, it was disturbed before it had a chance to consume the nutritious meal it had unearthed.

Many guessed correctly that a bear had dug up a cache of acorns, but attributed the storage of acorns to squirrels.  While squirrels do cache food for winter retrieval and consumption, their technique differs from that of chipmunks. Eastern Gray Squirrels engage in what is called “scatter hoarding,” burying nuts individually, about an inch below the surface of the ground.  Red Squirrels, on the other hand, store their winter food supply (typically cones of hemlock, fir, spruce, and pine trees) in a single stash or pile referred to as a midden, usually located above ground.                                                                                      

Thanks to Ashley Wolff who discovered and photographed the scene of the attempted ursine robbery. (Photo Inset:  Black Bear grasping and eating an acorn by M.Holland.) Illustration by Meg Sodano – https://msodanoillustration.com.  Thanks to Forrest Hammond, VT Fish & Wildlife Bear Biologist, for sharing his expertise.

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Mystery Photo

Can you tell who has been here and what they were doing?  If so, share your explanation on the Naturally Curious website by scrolling down to “Comments.”  (Hint:  those are acorns scattered on the dirt.) Answer will be revealed on Wednesday, December 4. (Photo by Ashley Wolff)

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.

 

Raccoons Preparing For Winter

Much like black bears, raccoons develop a voracious appetite in the fall and accumulate a life-sustaining layer of fat as a result (which comprises 50% of their weight).  Although raccoons are opportunists and will eat just about anything (except tomatoes), nuts (acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts and hazelnuts, especially) and corn are the food of choice at this time of year.

When the temperature consistently drops to 26-28° F. raccoons typically seek shelter in dens (hollow trees, woodchuck and fox burrows). They are not true hibernators, but do enter a state of torpor for weeks and even months at a time when the temperature is low, the snow is deep and the wind is blowing.  It’s not unusual for several raccoons, usually relatives, to den together.

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Wattles, Caruncles & Snoods

Wild tom turkeys have a number of ways of impressing hens in addition to displays involving their feathers. Among them are wattles, caruncles and snoods — fleshy protuberances that adorn their throats and beaks.

A large wattle, or dewlap, is a flap of skin on the throat of a male turkey. The bulbous, fleshy growths at the bottom of the turkey’s throat are major caruncles. Large wattles and caruncles have been shown to correlate with high testosterone levels, good nutrition and the ability to evade predators, which makes the genes of a tom turkey with them very desirable to a female.

The snood, another fleshy outgrowth which hangs down over the male’s beak, is normally pale and not very long. When he starts strutting and courting a hen, the tom’s snood (and caruncles) becomes engorged with blood, making it redder and longer. This impresses both male and female turkeys –the males avoid or defer to him and the females’ interest in him is heightened. A longer snood has also been correlated with a lack of internal parasites, making toms with large snoods even more irresistible to hens.

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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