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Archive for December, 2010

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

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

PORCUPINE DEN

Come winter, it’s not unusual for porcupines to seek refuge in dens, which are often in rocky ledges and hollow trees. You are likely to find fresh chew marks on the rim of the cavity in the tree if it is occupied by a porcupine. Other signs of an active den include scat just below the hole, that has fallen out of the opening onto the snow, as well as the distinctive scent of porcupine urine and scat. Trails usually lead from the den tree to nearby feeding trees, often hemlock. If you find a porcupine inside a den, don’t count on it residing there all winter, as porcupines tend to move on to a new den every three weeks or so.


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

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

SUET PREDATOR

Those of you following Naturally Curious blog entries are familiar with the barred owl that resides in my neck of the woods, and its nightly habit of knocking down my suet feeder in an attempt to consume the suet. Apparently it met with success recently. I looked up at its usual perch yesterday to find it catching 40 winks while clutching its fatty prey (a chunk of suet) in its talons. As the day progressed, the chunk all but disappeared (down its throat). Unfortunately, for the owl’s sake, suet is loaded with calories (968 in 4 oz.) but has little protein (2 grams in 4 oz. of suet), no fiber and lots of fat (107 grams in 4 0z., 59 of which are saturated). Hopefully the resident rodent population will soon come to the owl’s rescue.


Tracker’s Reward – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

TRACKER’S REWARD

It’s not often, after hours of following an animal’s tracks, you are rewarded with a glimpse of the animal itself. However, today was the exception to the rule…look behind the tree and to the right, and you will see the head of the canid responsible for making the trough through the snow I was following. (Her name is Emma.)


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

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

COYOTE TRACKS

Heading out on snowshoes 24 hours after a snowstorm, with no set destination in mind, and no time deadline, is about as good as tracking gets. When I come upon the tracks of an animal I usually veer off in pursuit – of the tracks, not the animal. Often, in deference to the animal I’m tracking, I follow the tracks backwards – away from the direction the animal is heading. I will gather just as much information without the risk of possibly catching up with, and thereby disturbing, the animal. Recently I followed the tracks of a coyote along the banks of a stream roughly 8 feet wide that had not yet frozen. The coyote obviously wished to get to the other side of the stream. It could easily have waded right across it, as the stream was no deeper than 10 inches or so. Instead, the coyote attempted to cross the stream on a relatively slender tree that had fallen across it and which lay perhaps four feet or so above the surface of the water. The coyote started across the narrow log bridge, but when it reached the point at which there was open water beneath the log, the coyote turned around and resumed walking along the bank. About 50 yards further downstream, a much larger tree had fallen across the water, also about four feet above the water. This time the coyote completed its crossing, reaching the other side without any apparent hesitation. Although this decision-making was a minor incident in the coyote’s journey, it offered this tracker some valuable insight into the coyote’s thought process.


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

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

NOCTURNAL PRANKS

I have found my suet feeder on the ground every morning for the past several weeks. The critter responsiblefor its removal from the hook it hangs from remained a mystery – raccoons, I reasoned, would have finished off the suet (there remained some in the feeder) and they would have hauled the feeder off into the woods. I wondered whether perhaps the resident army of red squirrels had been making nightly raids, but seeing as they didn’t really seem drawn to the suet during the day, when they’re active, I doubted they were the culprits. I recently solved the mystery – and was reminded of how much activity takes place while we sleep. I arose early one morning and when I looked out the door, I saw a barred owl on the ground, on top of what looked like sizeable prey. As the sun rose and the light increased, I saw that its “prey” was none other than my suet feeder! When it finished snacking on the suet, the owl flew off. No more than five minutes later, a red fox came trotting up the hill and made a beeline for the suet feeder, still on the ground. It was obvious that this was not its first encounter with the feeder. As it approached, the fox appeared to lick its chops in anticipation of a fatty snack. These two creatures appear to have worked out a routine that might well take place on a nightly basis. A wonderful Christmas to all – night time raiders of suet feeders included! The next blog entry will be on 12/27.


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

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

OWL EARS

The ear openings of most birds are hidden under feathers, and are on the sides of the head. You can occasionally see them, if the bird’s head is turned just right. While birds lack the outer ear that many mammals have, owls do have a movable skin fold, most prominent along the front edge of their ears, that reflects sounds that come to the owl from behind. It is commonly known that owls have acute hearing, in part because of their ear structure. Their two ear openings are often differently shaped, and their placement is usually asymmetrical, with one ear located at a higher or lower level on the head than the other. If you look closely at this barred owl’s head, you can detect one such opening.


Red Foxes and Shrews – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Find more of my photographs and information similar to that which I post in this blog in my book Naturally Curious, which is now available from www.trafalgarbooks.com or your local bookseller.

RED FOXES AND SHREWS

Red foxes are known predators of shrews; however, they frequently do not eat the shrew after killing it. Northern short-tailed shrews, one of the most common species of shrews in New England, have a pair of glands on their flanks as well as a large belly gland that exude musty secretions used for marking territory; these secretions also serve to discourage predation. In addition, a bite from a short-tailed shrew is poisonous – a handy adaptation for killing mice and voles. Having witnessed the significantly swollen lip of our basset hound who had had a run-in with an aggressive shrew, it is not surprising that even when foxes eat a shrew they’ve killed, they often choose not to consume its head. The photograph illustrates a discarded shrew head behind the track of a red fox.