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

Archive for January, 2011

Black-capped Chickadee – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Have you noticed that even in the depths of January, there is a sign of spring outside your door? Male black-capped chickadees have started singing their spring song, “fee-bee,” in an attempt to claim their territory and attract a mate. This most obvious proclamation that the breeding season has begun is not, as one might think, triggered by temperature (it’s going to dip way below zero tonight), but rather by photoperiod, or day length. Longer days stimulate the production of hormones which initiate breeding behavior. Even though mating won’t take place for at least two more months, the air will continue to be filled with this most welcome of spring songs for the duration of the winter.

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.

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES SINGING


Eastern Coyote – 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.

EASTERN COYOTE BED

Like most carnivores, coyotes do not have permanent homes, other than the maternal dens in which their young are raised. However, when they rest (usually during the day in the East), they often choose to lay down on a knoll within a forest. When they do so, they leave a round depression in the snow, as they sleep in perfect circles when it is cold out, with their heads wrapped around their legs and their tails covering their noses. This impression is referred to as a bed.


Ruffed Grouse – 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.

RUFFED GROUSE SHELTER

On really cold nights, if there are at least 10 inches of snow on the ground, ruffed grouse seek shelter from the cold by diving into snowbanks, where they are not only protected by the insulating blanket of snow, but camouflaged as well. Once they’ve landed, they often burrow further into the snow for even more protection, and have been known to remain there several days. When they leave these shelters, there is often a pile of scat that has accumulated during their stay.


Snowshoe Hare Form – 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.

SNOWSHOE HARE FORM

Most of us have not set eyes on a snowshoe hare, even though their range extends throughout most of New England. Snowshoe hares are, in fact, very elusive. Their brown summer coats and white winter coats allow them to be well camouflaged. In addition, snowshoe hares tend to be active at dusk, dawn and during the night, when we are not apt to be crossing paths with them. During the day, hares rest in protected areas called “forms.” Often these sheltered spots are located under low conifer branches, and, because they remain there throughout the day, snowshoe hares often leave a pile of scat in their form.


Twig I.D. – 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.

TWIG I.D.

Shrubs and trees are easily identified in the summer, when leaves are present, but the bud-bearing twigs of these woody plants are actually as distinctive, or more so, than leaves. Pictured, from left to right, are twigs from a white ash, red oak and sugar maple. Note the placement of the buds,as well as their shape and color. White ash branches, as a rule, are quite stout, and their terminal (at tip of branch) bud is fairly fat. Usually it has two lateral buds (one on either side and just below it), illustrating the opposite arrangement of its buds, and therefore its branches and leaves. A distinctive characteristic of oaks is the cluster of terminal buds – rarely do you find just one bud at the tip of a branch. Sugar maple buds are pointed and bear many scales; their branches are often a rich brown color. As you see further down the branch, the buds/branches/leaves of maples grow opposite one another, just like those of ashes.


Snowshoe Hare Sign – 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.

SNOWSHOE HARE SIGN

Snowshoe hare urine is as distinctive as, or more so than, its scat, for often it is orange, red or pinkish. This color is said to be from a pigment that was originally part of chlorophyll molecules in green plant tissues the hare consumed.


Red Fox Urine – 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 URINE

It’s that time of year again… red foxes are courting and their urine has acquired a musky odor, much like that of skunk spray. Male red fox urine smells particularly strong at this time, so much so that you can often detect it as you’re walking, snowshoeing or skiing where foxes have been scent marking. For the next four to six weeks this odor will permeate the woods wherever a pair of red foxes has established its breeding territory. If you look closely you can see that a red fox has marked a grass tussock in the photograph.


Red Squirrels in Winter – Welcome to a photographic journey through the woods, fields and marshes of New England

Except in the middle of storms or periods of severe cold, red squirrels remain active in winter. This is fortunate for northern goshawks, fishers, ermine and great horned owls, whose survival, in part, depends upon the availability of these rodents. Although not too visible in this photograph, the winter coat of a red squirrel has a rusty-red band that extends from between its ears all the way down its back nearly to the tip of its tail. During the colder months there are also tufts of hairs on its ears which are not present in the summer (no other eastern squirrel possesses these tufts).

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 SQUIRRELS IN WINTER


Snowshoe Hare Scat – 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.

SNOWSHOE HARE SCAT

Finding snowshoe hare tracks in the woods of central Vermont is not difficult, nor is detecting other signs of their presence, including scat. Usually you find a single pellet, unless the hare has paused in order to feed or rest, in which case there may be several pellets deposited. These pellets have a history unbenownst to many. All lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) digest their food twice. The first time through food goes into the stomach where it is partially digested and then defecated as a soft, jelly-like pellet (Rezendes, Tracking and the Art of Seeing). We rarely see this form of pellet because the hare then eats and digests it, subsequently expelling the brown pellet we’re more familiar with. (In photograph, hare was sitting facing left; note smaller front feet tracks inbetween larger front feet tracks, and tail impression by scat.)


Acorns & Wildlife – 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.

ACORNS & WILDLIFE

It’s fairly easy to find an oak tree in winter – all you have to do is look around to see where white-tailed deer have been pawing and digging down through the snow into the leaves to find acorns, and then look up. It’s not hard to understand why the deer actively seek out oaks, as acorns, being relatively high in carbohydrates, are a highly concentrated source of energy. More than 100 species of animals are known to consume acorns, including mammals such as white-tailed deer, black bears, gray squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and foxes. Birds that feed on acorns include wild turkey, ruffed grouse, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays.


Common Redpoll – 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.

COMMON REDPOLLS

Common redpolls -- tiny, streaked members of the finch family -- are usually only seen in New England during the winter months, often in large, irruptive numbers every other year. They have been spotted here in central Vermont the past several weeks. Redpolls seek seeds (birch, willow, alder, grasses and weeds) south of their breeding grounds which are in the subarctic boreal and taiga regions. Thistle feeders are popular with these birds, and once attracted, they tend to be tame and show little fear of humans, probably because they live so far north, far from human habitation. Common redpolls have throat pouches for temporarily storing seeds – an adaptation which allows them to feed voraciously in the open and then seek a more sheltered spot in which to swallow them.


Snowfleas – 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.

SNOWFLEAS

The dense swarms of snowfleas that inhabit the forest floor are never more apparent than when they climb up through the snow on warm, winter days such as central Vermont has experienced recently. A close-up look at these insects reveals a forked tail (with which they make giant leaps), a tubelike appendage under the abdomen which is thought to aid in water intake, excretion and grooming, and a mouth that looks like it’s been sucking on lemons for some time. When they appear in winter, snowfleas tend to be concentrated in tracks, including those of humans, as seen in the accompanying photograph.