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

Archive for February, 2010

Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England.

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

SIGNS OF WINTER AND SPRING

This is what my hill top looks like today – but believe it or not, this morning I passed a dead skunk on the road, proving that they think it’s spring. Striped skunks become active in mid-February in central Vermont; the peak of their breeding season is during the third week of March. Between now and then they cover a lot of ground, and, unfortunately, for the next month or so it isn’t unusual to see them lying by the side of the road. I also heard a house finch singing at the top of his lungs (or syrinx) high up in a sugar maple this morning – a definite sign of spring.

To hear his song and see what a male house finch looks like, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_finch/id .


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

SAP IS FLOWING

All you need to do is take a walk in the woods, especially after the severe winds of the past 24 hours, in order to determine that the sap in trees has started to flow. Whether the result of porcupine debarking or a limb breaking off a tree, sap could be seen flowing freely today, as evidenced by this yellow birch icycle that was in the process of melting when I photographed it. Sugar maple is the tree of choice for most syrup makers, but yellow birch sap has been a source of flavor for beer and wine, as well as for syrup-making. Fresh out of the tree, it has a sweet, somewhat wintergreen taste.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WHITE-TAILED DEER SIGN

The twenty new inches of snow that fell in central Vermont yesterday certainly didn’t make getting from one spot to another any easier for wildlife.  On top of that, it rained most of the night – I thought I would go out and see who, if anyone, had attempted to travel in these conditions. The tracks of nocturnal creatures would have been obliterated, so I didn’t expect to see much in the way of sign, and, in fact, I only saw the tracks of long-legged white-tailed deer.  It was interesting to note that this much snow did not confine them to winter yards (designated areas where trails are made by deer  in order to save energy and where they usually remain in deep snow conditions).  One deer spent the night under a large hemlock — its bed was distinctly marked with the tracks it made upon rising at dawn.  Deer scat  also was evident on the snow as was its pine-scented urine.  Nearby you could see where it had scratched the ground in hopes of finding ferns, acorns or other edibles.


Welcome to a photographic jouney through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

CREEPING CRITTERS IN CATTAILS

Much as I discourage the destruction of habitats, I am guilty of doing so in order to share a photograph of cattail caterpillars, larvae of the Shy Cosmet (Limnaecia phragmitella), a slender tan moth, that overwinter inside the fluff of a cattail head.  At this time of year, some cattail heads are still intact, while some are all fluffed out (see photograph).  Cattail caterpillars often inhabit the fluffy ones.  Come spring, they will pupate and emerge as adult moths.



Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

BROWN CREEPERS SINGING

Brown creepers are small (brown) birds that are often spotted spiraling up tree trunks (as opposed to the downward direction of nuthatches), searching for insects hidden behind bark.  In February the males begin their territorial singing, and today while hiking in a coniferous forest I heard a creeper’s high-pitched tumble of notes above my head.  Brown creepers sing from a verticle position and, according to C. Davis in Living Bird (1978), their song can be heard from as far away as 394 feet.  Brown creeper singing peaks March - May and nest building (behind loose bark) begins in late May.

Brown creepers are small (brown) birds that are often spotted spiraling up tree trunks (as opposed to the downward direction of nuthatches), searching for insects hidden behind bark. In February the males begin their territorial singing, and today while hiking in a coniferous forest I heard a creeper’s high-pitched tumble of notes above my head. Brown creepers sing from a verticle position and, according to C. Davis in Living Bird (1978), their song can be heard from as far away as 394 feet. Brown creeper singing peaks March - May and nest building (behind loose bark) begins in late May.

To hear a brown creeper’s song, go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/brown_creeper/id and scroll down to “Typical Voice” on left hand side, click on arrow.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COOPER HAWK SUCCESS

This winter I happened to be in the right place at the right time – a Cooper’s hawk swooped down out of the blue and nailed a pileated woodpecker (in the air) that I had been watching taking a nap on the trunk of a tree just prior to taking flight.  They are roughly the same size, and it was all the hawk could do to carry the woodpecker into the woods, where  he proceeded to kill and consume it.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

RED FOXES CLEANING DENS


Most authorities will tell you that red foxes don’t use dens in the winter, but a fox down the road has been using one all winter for shelter. Today I decided to check on the den, to look for tracks, scat or scraps of food nearby, and to my surprise found a large mound of fresh dirt and stones outside the entrance. Even though red foxes are breeding now, and not giving birth until late March or April, females are actively cleaning out several dens within their territory and then selecting one for their litter. Keep an eye peeled on hillsides with sandy soil, often in the woods but near a clearing, with a stream or pond fairly close by.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

FISHER FOOD

Unlike their name implies, fishers do not often prey on fish…however, they do eat porcupines, snowshoe hares, grouse, rabbits, squirrels, shrews, carrion (mostly deer and moose) and some vegetation. According to Whitaker and Hamilton (Mammals of the Eastern United States) food required for a fisher is estimated at about one snowshoe hare per week, a squirrel or two per week, or two to 22 mice per day – a porcupine feeds a fisher for about a month. These prey must have been allusive for the fisher I followed, for it spent energy digging up a hibernating American toad under several inches of snow. Probably because of the toxic fluid in the toad’s warts and glands, the fisher chose not to eat it, but left the toad for someone even hungrier than himself.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COYOTE BEDS

Coyotes retreat to dens only for birthing and during bad storms, but otherwise sleep in the open. In winter, they curl up on top of the snow, using their tail as a muff, much like foxes. Today I climbed a very steep hill, following an extremely nimble coyote. My struggle was rewarded at the top, where I discovered three coyote beds, two side-by-side and one a few feet away. From this vantage point the small pack could see the entire valley below. The beds were distinct depressions in the snow and heat from their bodies had turned the bottoms of the beds from snow to ice.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

FISHER TAIL MARK

I have found both fisher and mink tracks consistently along frozen streams this winter. Due to some recent warm weather, most streams are partially open, and while mink tracks often disappear into the water, fisher tracks do so less frequently (their name is very misleading, as they rarely consume fish). While tracking a fisher along the ice today, however, I came upon a spot where it had climbed from the shallow open water onto the snow-covered ice, leaving a distinct line where its wet tail had dragged in the snow.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WHITE-TAILED DEER HOOVES

White-tailed deer are members of the order Artiodactyla, or even-toed ungulates, along with sheep, goats and cows. A deer’s hooves are multi-functional and contribute greatly to its survival. The relatively small size of a hoof provides minimal contact with the ground, thereby reducing friction and allowing greater speed. Technically, a deer is running on its toenails. The hoof’s outer shell of keratinized material is quite hard, and enables the deer to dig in the snow for food, signal alarm by stomping on the ground, fight off predators by striking them with a hoof and drive off yearlings when a doe is about to give birth. Inside the keratin shell the sole has a soft, spongy surface, adapted for gripping the substrate on which the deer walks or runs. Unfortunately, because of its pliable nature, it is also vulnerable to cuts and bruises. The white-tailed deer whose track is pictured had just crossed a shallow river that was open in the middle, but frozen along its edges. The deer had cut its hoof, possibly on the ice or a stone in the water, and when it climbed out of the river and stepped onto the snow, it was apparent that it had sustained an injury. The brightness of the blood indicates that the deer had passed by fairly recently.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

SNOWSHOE HARE SIGN

In New England the scat and urine of snowshoe hares are much more evident in winter than in the summer, as they are so much easier to see against the white snow. Like rabbits, snowshoe hares produce two forms of scat – the initial form consists of soft, green partially-digested pellets which are eaten by the hare directly from its anus and reingested. The second time through the pellets are more firm and have a distinct woody appearance due to the hare’s winter diet of buds, branches and bark. Every bit of nutrition is extracted through this process and it also allows the hare to eat rapidly and then to safely reingest its food in a sheltered spot. The reddish-orange hue of snowshoe hare urine is particularly striking and is thought to be caused by its diet.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

COYOTE PACK TRACKS

It being the peak of the coyote breeding season, finding their sign, particularly scat and urine marking, is not difficult. A less frequent sight, however, is that of hundreds, if not thousands, of coyote tracks that sometimes appear overnight this time of year. In this case, the tracks covered the frozen stream and surrounding bottom lands of an abandoned beaver pond in central Vermont. Oh, to have been a witness to this canid gathering!


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

WOODPECKER DRUMMING

It’s not just barred owls and black-capped chickadees that are courting these days. Woodpeckers are tuning up as well. Unlike songbirds, woodpeckers do not sing songs to stake out their territory, attract a mate and maintain a pair bond. They drum -- rapidly and repeatedly striking their bill against a surface such as a tree, creating a sound that travels great distances. The louder the sound made by the drumming, the further it travels, so woodpeckers often seek out metal drain pipes, antennas and signs to hammer their bill against. Woodpeckers are well adapted for this behavior. Their skull is specially designed to withstand repeated blows and to protect the bird’s brain from concussion. Unlike other birds, the bones between the beak and the skull are joined by a flexible cartilage, which cushions the shock of each blow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0v-CukKW5Y


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

RACCOON TRACKS

Raccoons are out and about in the winter during fair weather, if the temperature at night is above freezing.  Look for the hand-like prints of their front feet, paired with their longer hind feet. The front and hind tracks alternate sides in each track pair.  The pattern of these tracks indicates that this raccoon was walking, not bounding.

Raccoons are out and about in the winter during fair weather, if the temperature at night is above freezing. Look for the hand-like prints of their front feet, paired with their longer hind feet. The front and hind tracks alternate sides in each track pair. The pattern of these tracks indicates that this raccoon was walking, not bounding.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

PORCUPINE DEN RENOVATIONS

I revisited an old porcupine den today which has been unoccupied since last winter, and found that someone had been doing some renovations on it. Fresh porcupine scat on the top of the snow alerted me to recent activity, and looking up I saw that a portion of the edge of the cavity’s opening had been gnawed on, leaving a bright strip of debarked wood. No-one was home at the time of my visit, but I shall keep a close eye on it.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

MINK TRACKS

Today I followed a nearby stream that had a considerable amount of snow-covered ice on it. Mouse and vole tracks were plentiful along the edges and squirrel tracks criss-crossed the stream periodically, but the prize of the day were the tracks of a mink who had travelled much of the length of the stream, probably in search of fish to eat. It stayed on top of the ice most of the time, but dipped into and climbed out of the water occasionally, as well. On one occasion, when it came out of the water, its wet tail made a drag mark in the snow.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

BARRED OWL COURTSHIP

Listen to the Barred Owl here:

I awoke in the middle of the night to the "who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all" call of a barred owl right outside my bedroom window. Courtship has begun for these birds of prey, right on time. In March or April, after breeding takes place, two or three eggs will be laid in the hollow of a tree, or perhaps a stump or the old nest of a hawk, crow or squirrel. Meanwhile, listen for the call of Vermont's most common owl


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Hobblebush Leaf Buds Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is a shrub whose branches often bend and take root, tripping or hobbling those who pass by – hence, its common name. The white showy flowers of this plant are impressive, as is the red color of its leaves in autumn, but my favorite part of hobblebush is its buds. Unlike the buds of most shrubs and trees, both the leaf and flower buds of hobblebush lack protective scales, and are referred to as “naked” buds. They are fuzzy and uniquely shaped; the two leaf buds are pointed and the flower bud is the swollen, round structure in the middle.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Common Loon (Gavia immer) -- While younger common loons usually remain off the coast of New England throughout the year, older individuals return to their breeding ponds in April, just as the ice is melting.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Red fox kits (Vulpes vulpes) -- Red foxes are born in March or April, but they spend the first month of life in the den, so it’s usually late April or May before they can be seen above ground.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Chicory – (Cichorium intybus) This cornflower-blue flower can be found growing along roadsides from July into the fall. However, each individual flower lasts less than a day.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) -- About the only time you’re likely to see snapping turtles out of the water is during June, when they seek sandy soil in which to lay their eggs.


Welcome to a photographic journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England

Here I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photographs from my forthcoming book Naturally Curious. I’ll be updating my blog periodically with new images, new stories, and more glimpses of New England in all seasons.

Potter Wasp (Eumenes sp.) -- Many species of potter wasp lay eggs in pots that they build with earth and regurgitated water. Other species use chewed plant material. They can be found in sheltered areas throughout the summer.