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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Bloodroot In Flower

One of our earliest spring ephemerals, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), a member of the Poppy family, greets the longer, warming days by having its short-lived flower emerge from within its protective leaf and spread its white petals wide open on sunny days. (The flower only opens on days when the temperature reaches 46 degrees, as that’s when pollinators are active.)

To encourage cross-pollination, when the flower opens it is in the female stage, relying on pollinators covered in pollen to land and drop pollen to the receptive stigma. Within a few hours of opening the stamens begin to release pollen. The flower will open for up to three days or until cross-pollination has occurred. Once pollination has taken place the flower begins to drop its petals.

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Ospreys Courting & Copulating

Ospreys have returned to their breeding grounds in New England, where both courtship and copulation is taking place.  The males engage in an undulating courtship display flight high over the nest site, often with fish or nesting material clutched in their dangling legs while they repeatedly issue forth screaming calls.  This can go on for up to ten minutes or so before they descend to the nest.  In addition, “courtship feeding” often takes place with the male providing his mate with food, often just prior to breeding.

Although an osprey pair copulates frequently (an average of 160 times per clutch), nearly half the time there is no cloacal contact. Most of the breeding takes place at or near the nest site. (Note the protective positioning of the male’s toes and talons as he mounts his mate.)

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Silver Maples One Of Earliest Trees To Flower

For several weeks the red flower buds of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) have been swelling, preparing to open and expose their flowers to the wind, their pollinating agent.  While Silver Maple can have both male and female flowers on the same tree, (monoecious) it much more commonly has flowers of only one sex (dioecious).  Less than 10 percent of flowering plant species have male and female flowers on separate trees — the other 90 percent combine both sexes in one plant.

The pictured branch of Silver Maple bears only male flowers, each possessing several pollen-loaded stamens.  Like many wind-pollinated flowers, Silver Maple’s flowers have no flashy petals to attract insects, rather they lack them entirely, as they would only get in the way of pollen dispersal.  Like other maples, if fertilized, the female flowers develop winged fruit referred to as samaras.  Silver Maple samaras are larger than those of any other native maple species.

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Wood Ducks Returning To Northern New England

A welcome sign of spring in northern New England is the return of the Wood Duck to wooded swamps and wetlands.  There are seven species of North American ducks that regularly nest in cavities and the Wood Duck is uniquely adapted for doing so.  Its slim body allows it to use Pileated Woodpecker cavities for nesting and the acuity of its large eyes allows it to avoid branches while flying through wooded areas.  Even so, it still tends to make one look twice to see ducks perched up in a tree!

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Mourning Cloak Butterflies Emerging

With the recent warm temperatures, Mourning Cloak butterflies have been seen gliding through fields and leafless woods.  Unlike most butterflies, Eastern Commas, Question Marks, Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults, seeking shelter in protected spots such as under loose bark. When spring arrives, they slip out from their winter quarters and take to the air.

Mourning Cloaks resemble dead leaves so much that from a distance the entire insect seems to disappear when it lands on the forest floor.  Up close you can see the velvety texture of the wing scales, said to resemble the clothing mourners used to wear; hence, their common name. Mourning cloaks live up to ten months — an impressive life span for a butterfly.  As they age, the yellow border of their wings fades to an off-white.

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Bohemian Waxwings Bulking Up For Migration North

Named for the nomadic ranging patterns of their large winter flocks, Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) are winter visitors in northern New England, where flocks can be seen eating the sugary fruits of mountain ash, serviceberry and crab apples, among others. Very soon they will return to their breeding grounds in the boreal forests of Alaska and western Canada.

Adults and some juveniles of Bohemian (and Cedar) Waxwings have variable numbers of red, wax-like nubs on the tips of their secondary feathers. Research shows that these nubs are important in the social hierarchy of a flock. They, and other plumage characters (brightness of yellow tail band and wing-stripe), increase in number and/or prominence with age. The red and yellow carotenoid pigments of waxwing plumage are derived exclusively from dietary sources.

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Overwintering Moth Larvae Becoming Active

One of the last things one might expect to see on a newly-exposed grassy field in the middle of March is a caterpillar crawling along. This would be unexpected because most moths overwinter as eggs or pupae inside cocoons, not as caterpillars (larvae).  Most moths, but not all.  Some species of moths overwinter as larvae (and adults). 

Tiger Moths (and Tussock Moths) overwinter as caterpillars and pupate in the spring before emerging as adults during the summer.  One member of the Tiger Moth group that is familiar to many is the Isabella Tiger Moth, known as the Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella) in its larval stage.  Another member of this group that overwinters as a caterpillar is the Great Tiger Moth (Arctia caja).  As early as mid-March you can find both of these caterpillars wandering in search of a protected spot where they will form hairy cocoons that surround and protect their pupal cases.  The pictured Tiger Moth adult (Great or Garden Tiger Moth) bears the white geometric stripes that give the members of this group their common name. 

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Clean-up Crew Has Arrived

New England’s skies have been devoid of the wheeling antics of our most prominent avian scavenger, the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) since last October.  The first migrants are returning, and just in time to recycle winter’s roadkills such as the raccoon carcass pictured.

Turkey Vultures have keen vision and road-killed animals are fairly easy to spot, but scientists have wondered for many years how they locate carrion hidden from view, such as those within forests.  It’s been determined that they do so primarily with their highly developed sense of smell. Turkey Vultures have an extremely large olfactory bulb—the area of the brain responsible for processing odors.  When it comes to detecting food by smell alone, the Turkey Vulture has the most finely-attuned sense of smell among nearly all birds and is known to be able to smell carrion from over a mile away.

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Striped Skunks Breeding

The peak of the breeding season for Striped Skunks is in March, which is why their tracks in the snow are fairly easy to come across, and why road-killed skunks are not an unusual sight at this time of year. Both males and females are actively seeking mates and travel as far as 2 ½ miles to scout out other skunks’ winter den sites.

 A female is in estrus for a little over a week; only after mating does she ovulate, thereby increasing the chances of fertilization.  After mating, the female skunk will aggressively attack any subsequent suitors, whereas the polygamous male will attempt to mate with all the females within his territory. (Photo: striped skunk den)

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Beavers Released

Most beavers in northern New England have been trapped inside their lodge for several months, with their only food supply being the branches they cut last fall and piled up on the floor of the pond or river near their lodge. Ice has sealed them in, not only to a life of darkness and dampness, but to a diet of cambium. 

Needless to say, they are quick to take advantage of melting ice that allows them to exit their lodge and make their way to shore to sample fresh food.  One of the first delicacies they dine on, if it’s available, is skunk cabbage.  The rhizomes, leaves and flowers of both yellow and white pond lilies are also favorites.  No longer restricted to woody plants, beavers head for grasses, sedges, ferns, fungi, berries, mushrooms, duckweed and even algae as the water warms.  Their palate must jump for joy with the melting of ice in early March.

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