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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.


Deer Beds – 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.

WHITE-TAILED DEER BEDS

A deer lies down on its side, with its front feet tucked under it, and its rear legs out to one side. Three things I always look for when I come upon a deer bed are imprints of the deer’s “knees,” where the front legs bend back under its body, a hoof print in the middle of the bed, where a deer first puts its weight when starting to stand up, and the curve that the back side of the deer leaves in the snow. Three of six deer beds that were all within several feet of each other are pictured here. When several deer bed down together, it is common for them to position themselves so that each deer’s head is facing a different direction, in order to keep an eye out for predators.


Shelf Fungus – 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.

SHELF FUNGUS

The colors, textures and design of an aging shelf fungus spoke to me on a recent woodland walk. Humans can only attempt to create works of such beauty, in my mind.


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.

BARRED OWL RETURNS

For the fourth consecutive year, a resident barred owl has appeared on its favored winter perch near my home -- a broken branch of a white birch, about 30 feet from the ground, where this bird of prey has a good view of the area surrounding my bird feeders. Unlike many owls, barred owls are sometimes active during the day, but rare are the times when you can find this barred owl’s open during daylight. It seems to appear on the coldest days, perhaps because even nocturnal small rodents will expose themselves in order to get additional fuel in the form of bird seed on days that dip below zero. A rustling of leaves on the ground does allow one to capture a glimpse of this owl’s large, brown eyes. Captive barred owls have lived up to 23 years, while barred owls in the wild live an average of 8 to 10 years. Hopefully this familiar visitor will return for many years to come.


Naturally Curious Book Signing

Friday, December 10th, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. I will be in Norwich, Vermont at the Montshire Museum's "Shop-Save-Explore" night, signing copies of Naturally Curious. Members receive 25% off items this one evening, non-members 10%. People tell me that Naturally Curious makes a great Christmas present! Hope to see you there.

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.

NATURALLY CURIOUS BOOK SIGNING AT MONTSHIRE MUSEUM


Red Fox 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.

RED FOX TRACK PATTERN

Hooray! A light layer of snow on top of a frozen body of water provided a great start to winter tracking this week. Although the individual characteristics of an animal’s track can help greatly with identification, the red fox’s foot, in winter, is very furry, and details of the individual pads are very hard to come by. Instead, a quick glance at the track pattern reveals an animal that direct registers – its hind feet land almost exactly where the front feet were placed, with each mark representing two tracks. You can tell the pattern of a fox from a small domestic dog by this trait – a domestic dog’s hind feet fall next to or partially on top of where its front feet fell. In addition, a fox’s trail is often relatively direct – as if the animal knew where it was going, unlike the domestic dog, which tends to wander aimlessly here and there (it knows its dinner will be provided).


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

As a young tree, Eastern Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), also known as Ironwood, due to the hardness and heaviness of its wood, has smooth bark, but as it matures, its bark becomes shaggy, making it easy to identify any time of year. It’s as though tiny rectangular-shaped bits of bark have been carved out, with many of the ends peeling away from the tree. Equally distinctive is its fruit – clusters of papery “bladders,” each containing a seed. You often find these on the ground, as they fall off the tree about when the leaves do.

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.

EASTERN HOPHORNBEAM


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

The moose is the largest living member of the deer family, with bulls weighing up to three-quarters of a ton.  Although the size of the antlers of the young bull that is pictured are not that impressive, the record antler spread (greatest distance between outside points or antler edges) is an amazing 81 inches.  I observed this particular bull lying down in a field during a rainstorm, placidly chewing its cud.

The moose is the largest living member of the deer family, with bulls weighing up to three-quarters of a ton. Although the size of the antlers of the young bull that is pictured are not that impressive, the record antler spread (greatest distance between outside points or antler edges) is an amazing 81 inches. I observed this particular bull lying down in a field during a rainstorm, placidly chewing its cud.