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Archive for November, 2011

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

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Imagine my surprise when a juvenile red-tailed hawk standing in a nearby field allowed me to approach ever so slowly within inches of it. Tracks in the snow told the story of its diving from the sky and successfully killing and eating a resident vole.  For unknown reasons, it remained near the kill site for at least an hour, offering me an unusual photographic opportunity. Its wings and legs were functioning just fine as it walked and hopped/rowed with its wings occasionally in six inches of snow, so it did not appear injured in any way. Having watched red-tails raising two young  this summer only a couple of miles away, I wondered if this juvenile was one of those fluffy, white nestlings that successfully fledged.

 


House Sparrows

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Along with two other introduced species, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon, House Sparrows (also known as English sparrows) are some of our most common  birds. They are so common, in fact, that we rarely stop to appreciate their plumage, which, in the male, is quite distinctive — they have gray heads, white cheeks, a black bib, and rufous neck, whereas females are a rather dull  buffy-brown.  Male House Sparrows have a pecking order which can be determined by looking at the black bibs of the males.  Those birds with larger patches of black tend to be older and dominant over males with less black. By broadcasting  this information on their feathers, House Sparrows can often avoid fights and thereby save energy.


Happy Thanksgiving!

A parade of wild turkeys.


Wild Turkey Scat

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would express my amazement at the fact that by looking at the shape of wild turkey scat, you can often  tell whether it was deposited by a female or a male turkey, due to the different shapes of their intestinal tracts.  Hen turkey scat is often a round plop, whereas tom turkey scat  tends to look like the letter “J”, or is in a straight line. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 


Beaver Scent Mound

 Beavers, like many mammals, communicate with chemical signals.  In scent marking, beavers actually build a mound of mud on which to place their scent. First they dive down to the bottom of their pond, dig up an armful of mud with their front feet and swim to shore with the mud held against their chest.  Walking on to the shore on its two front legs, the beaver deposits this mud next to the water.  Beaver scent mounds can be quite small, or as high as three feet or more, depending on how many loads of mud they contain. The beaver straddles this pile of mud and applies castoreum from its castor glands, or anal gland secretions, or both.  The purpose of building a mound is to elevate the odor (helps with scent dispersal), to intensify the odor by putting it on a moist substrate, and to protect it from flooding when the pond level fluctuates.  Beavers build most of their scent mounds in the spring, when young beavers are dispersing and claiming new ponds, but I have found several fresh ones this fall, including the one in the photograph. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

 


American Goldfinch Nest

Like the majority of songbirds, American goldfinches use their nest only once —  to raise one brood — and do not return to it after their young have fledged.  This time of year, when leaves have fallen off of shrubs and trees, is a great time to try and locate where birds you saw all summer nested.  Just as each species of bird has its own song, each species of bird builds a nest unlike those of other species.  By noting the habitat in which it’s built, the material with which it was built, and the dimensions of a nest, it is often possible to determine the species of bird that constructed it.  Female American goldfinches build a very neat nest composed of plant fibers, and line it with the down of cattails or thistles. The walls are quite thick, making  it quite durable – the nest in the photograph even withstood the wind and rain that Irene delivered this fall.  While it’s fun to hunt for nests, bear in mind that you need a federal permit to collect them.

 

 


Naturally Curious wins National Outdoor Book Award

I am delighted to be able to tell you that this morning I learned that NATURALLY CURIOUS won the Nature Guidebook category of the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards.  I’m honored and humbled by this recognition.   http://www.noba-web.org/books11.htm