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Archive for February, 2011

Tufted Titmice Singing

The relatively tame and sociable tufted titmouse is defying our lingering winter weather by loudly proclaiming the arrival of spring. “Peter – Peter – Peter” is heard repeatedly throughout the woods these days. Unlike most species of birds, the female titmouse sings as well as the male, but not as frequently as the male does. In a few short months titmice will be building their nests in tree cavities, where they often line the inner cup of their nest with hair, sometimes plucked directly from living animals including raccoons, opossums, mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, livestock, pets, and even humans. The next Naturally Curious blog entry will be posted on March 6th; I am away photographing for future blog postings!


Raccoon Track – 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.

RACCOON TRACK

Although raccoons are not hibernators, they do tend to remain in dens during the winter, particularly during cold weather or bad storms. When the temperature dips way down, several raccoons will den together, probably in an effort to save energy. This track of a raccoon's front foot, resembling a baby's hand, proves that at least one raccoon felt that winter weather was on the wane and was roaming about in the woods of central Vermont this week.


Horned Lark – 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.

HORNED LARK

Although horned larks breed in New England, we seem them most as winter visitors, when they tend to form large flocks mixed with snow buntings and Lapland longspurs. They can be seen in open fields foraging for seeds, but when the snow is deep and weeds are buried, horned larks often seek farm yards where they can obtain grain. The male’s display flight in the spring is as impressive as the American woodcock’s. He flies up into the sky as high as 800 feet. Singing, he then circles, closes his wings and drops headfirst almost to the ground, where he opens his wings at the last second. He then struts around the female with his wings drooped and “horns” (tufts of black feathers) erect. (A lone Lapland longspur is 3rd from left.)


Red Fox – 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 TRACKS ON BEAVER LODGE

At the risk of boring blog readers with snow-covered beaver lodge observations, I am posting an image of tracks from another predator (other than coyote, 2/12) whose pre-dawn meanderings took it to the peak of an active beaver lodge. Visible are the tracks of a red fox that, while walking along the edge of a pond, veered off onto a bank beaver lodge and right up to its vent in order to learn more about the lodge’s inhabitants. It must be somewhat frustrating to smell a potential meal (last year’s young) only feet away, yet not have any way of reaching it.


Wild Turkey – 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.

WILD TURKEYS IN WINTER

Temperature has less effect on wild turkey survival in winter than snow condition and depth. Powder, or fluffy, snow is the most challenging, as turkeys cannot scratch through more than six inches of it. They also cannot walk very far if it is more than a foot deep. Packed snow presents less of a challenge than powder, as turkeys can scratch through a foot or more of it, and can walk to walk to where food is available. Deep snow such as we’ve had this winter causes wild turkeys to restrict their range to special habitats that permit access to food despite the snow, such as dairy farms, with their manure spreads, silage and corn stubble.


Red Fox – 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 TRACKS

It’s easy to forget how diminutive a red fox actually is. Its average weight is between 7.5 and 14 pounds. That is roughly what a house cat weighs! The size of the tracks of a 60-pound labrador retriever (bottom) and a red fox (top) reflects the difference in their overall respective sizes. Foxes are at the peak of their mating season right now, and fields and woods abound with their dainty 2” tracks and pungent markings.


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 ON BEAVER LODGE

Tracks tell the tale of a curious coyote investigating a beaver lodge, where it climbed to the peak and dug a hole in the snow before moving on. When a beaver constructs a lodge, it plasters mud all over it except at the very top. The peak then serves as a flue or chimney, allowing for the ventilation of the chamber below. One sniff of the warm, moisture-laden air exiting the lodge reveals a great deal of information to a predator such as a coyote.


Black Bear 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.

BLACK BEAR SIGN

Black bears mark their territories in a number of ways. Often the trunk of tree (frequently balsam fir, white birch or white pine) that grows along its travel route is used as a sign post on which the bear announces its presence in the form of claw marks (see photograph), bites or rubs. Frequently a combination of these signs is found on the same tree. It is thought that the scent and saliva left by the bear communicates its health, sex, mating status and territorial boundaries, among other things, to other bears passing by.


Lapland longspur – 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.

LAPLAND LONGSPUR

The Lapland longspur is a common songbird of the Arctic tundra, where it breeds in the summer. It spends winters in open fields across much of North America. Although seen in the Connecticut Valley, it is more common on the western side of Vermont, in the Champlain Valley, where open fields are abundant. The Lapland longspur’s name derives from the unusually long claw on its hind toe, which is visible in this photograph.


Red Squirrel Cache – 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 SQUIRREL CACHE

Both predators and herbivores cache, or store, food for later consumption. Shrikes, small predatory birds, are known for their habit of piercing small prey on the thorns of shrubs, or even barbed wire, where the mice and voles hang drying until the shrike returns to eat them. Bobcats may cover their kills with leaves, grass, snow and even hair from the carcass. Grey squirrels bury their nuts individually, while red squirrels often hide green cones in a pile of cone scales (middens) that accumulate at the site where the squirrels have previously eaten seeds, keeping the young cones moist so that they will retain the seeds within them. Most distinctive is the occasional apple or mushroom that you find stuck in the crotch of two branches. This, too, is the sign of a satiated red squirrel that is planning ahead for when times are lean and it can dine on the suspended snack.


Snow Buntings – 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.

SNOW BUNTINGS

This is no mistaking snow buntings for anything else when you see a flock of them in flight. They have been described as drifting over open fields like giant snowflakes; mostly white with tawny caps and touches of cinnamon and black, snow buntings appear almost completely white when you see them overhead. Often you will find horned larks and Lapland longspurs (one individual in center of photograph) mixed in with a flock of snow buntings. Members of the Finch family, snow buntings are seen in New England only in winter. They breed as far north as the Artic Ocean – further north than any other land bird.


Lavender Insect Eggs – 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.

LAVENDER INSECT EGGS

Although this is a seasonal, New England-based blog, I wish to share a most unusual photograph taken by my daughter, Sadie Richards (of 7/27/10 wool carder bee photo fame), which was not taken in the winter, nor in New England; rather it was taken in September in California. Sadie noticed and photographed the lavender-colored eggs of a yet-to-be-identified insect which were laid on top of the flower stalk of a lavender plant (see lavender flowers in background). If there exists a better illustration of cryptic coloration, I have not seen it. Can you solve the mystery of what insect laid these eggs for us?


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.

FEATHERY INSULATION

Birds have several kinds of feathers, each of which serves a different function. Contour, or outer, feathers (the ones we see) and down feathers are the primary insulating types of feathers. The arrangement of the contour feathers on a bird’s body is much like shingles on a roof. They overlap each other and form a waterproof, outermost layer of insulation. The end, or tip, portion of these feathers interlock with a series of tiny hooks, or barbules; the base of these feathers lack these interlocking devices. Down feathers, located next to the bird’s body, completely lack barbules, and are therefore fluffy, with little structure, allowing them to trap air and prevent significant heat loss. Owls, such as the barred owl pictured, actually have few down feathers, but the base of their contour feathers, lacking barbules, serve the same purpose.