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Archive for May, 2014

Thank You For Your Generous Donations

fox kits-donation photo 084I want to take the one-year anniversary of my providing the option to donate to my blog to thank the many readers who have so generously supported it. I am humbled by your magnanimity and greatly appreciate the opportunity to connect with so many kindred spirits. I try to acknowledge every gift and to respond to every question I receive. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day to respond to every “comment,” but I thoroughly enjoy reading them. Thank you so much for your continued support of my effort to foster a connection with the natural world in both young and old.

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Ruffed Grouse on Nests

ruffed grouse on nest  020A Ruffed Grouse’s nest is pretty basic – just a shallow bowl on the forest floor, created by the hen grouse tossing leaves over her shoulder and having them fall on her back, slip down to the ground and form a bowl. Ruffed Grouse lay anywhere from 9 to 14 eggs at intervals of 25 to 30 hours, which means it takes about two weeks for a hen to lay an average clutch of 11 eggs. Each of her eggs weighs about 4 percent of her body weight — the entire clutch will be equal to about half of her weight. Once incubation starts (when the last egg is laid) the hen’s behavior goes from wandering around and feeding voraciously, to sitting on the nest and barely moving. Because of this behavior, as well as her cryptic coloration, an incubating Ruffed Grouse hen is much more likely to see you before you see her. She will stay motionless on her nest, even in the face of danger, hiding her eggs. Once she is certain she has been spotted, she will fly off the nest, exposing her eggs. Foxes, crows, ravens, chipmunks, skunks, bobcats and raccoons are some of the predators responsible for the loss of 25% – 40% of grouse nests each year. After the precocial Ruffed Grouse chicks hatch during the first two weeks of June, they will be led away from the nest site by the hen. Within 24 hours they will be feeding on insects and within a week they may double their weight! (Thanks to Ginny Barlow for photo op.)

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Only the Mass of the Raindrop Determines Distance Miterwort Seed Travels

email-miterwort pollinator 197 In the interest of accuracy, I am going to risk boring readers with a clarification of what determines the distance that a Miterwort seed travels. Jim Block, an outstanding nature photographer, obviously has a greater grasp of physics than yours truly. I attributed the distance traveled to the size of the raindrop and the distance it had traveled, but as Jim so clearly explains, only the the size of the raindrop effects the distance the seed travels.
Here is his explanation: The distance the seed travels is likely dependent on the mass and the velocity of the drop when it hits the seed. But the velocity of the rain drop is only dependent on its mass, not the distance it falls. That is because after it falls a relatively short distance it no longer gains speed since the air drag balances gravity and the drop moves at a constant “terminal velocity”. So in effect the distance the seed travels is dependent only on the mass of the drop. All drops of the same size arrive at the same velocity.


Miterwort Flowering

5-28-14 miterwort _0328Miterwort, also known as Bishop’s–cap, is named for the resemblance of its fruits to the hats (known as miters) worn by bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. If you examine a flower closely, you will see its delicate, 5-pointed, snowflake-like beauty. Each flower is in the shape of a tiny cup, with dissected petals arising from the rim of the cup, resembling fine lacework. There is a glandular ring of nectar-producing tissue inside the cup which attracts small bees, flies and ants. Once pollinated, the flowers produce open seed-containing capsules. Water, not animals, is the dispersal agent for Miterwort’s seeds. The capsules orient themselves so that their opening faces upward. When it rains, the falling rain drops splash the seeds out of the capsules, dispersing them up to three feet away from the parent plant. The distance traveled by the seeds is dependent upon both the size of the raindrop and the distance that it has fallen before landing in a capsule.

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Red Fox Vixen & Raccoon Encounter

5-27-14 red fox & raccoon 197While observing the antics of a litter of red fox kits recently, I was witness to an encounter between the kits’ mother and a very large raccoon. The vixen started barking incessantly when she saw the raccoon, and slowly moved closer and closer to it until she was within 10 feet of it. After a short standoff, the raccoon lunged towards the fox, which ran a few feet away and then turned and chased the raccoon in the opposite direction. They took turns chasing each other until the fox eventually drove the raccoon away from her den and kits. While raccoons are omnivores, and a large part of their late spring diet is animals (mainly frogs, fish, crayfish and invertebrates, but also mammals, including squirrels, rabbits and young muskrats). I have never heard of raccoons preying on fox kits, but the mother fox’s behavior indicated that she was not comfortable with the raccoon being so close to her litter. (The following day I noticed that the nose of the runt of the litter had been bitten multiple times. Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not.)

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Different Colored Ducklings

mallard & ducklings-quacking 552The difference in the coloration of the Mallard ducklings is not gender related. The darker ones have the typical coloration of Mallard ducklings. Mallards are the ancestors of most, if not all, domestic ducks, and they do interbreed with them, so a wide range of coloration can show up in their offspring at any time.


Make Way For Ducklings

5-26-14 mallard & ducklings  470After having spent a month or so incubating her eggs, the mallard hen begins to hear her ducklings vocalizing from inside their eggs, roughly 24 hours before they start to hatch. She responds with quiet calls, and begins turning the eggs frequently. Within 36 hours the ducklings crack open (“pip”) their eggs with the help of an egg tooth that is lost soon after they hatch. The down of the ducklings dries within 12 hours and often the morning after her young hatch, the hen leads them to water (not necessarily the closest water to the nest). She encourages them to follow her by quacking up to 200 times a minute as they travel over land to their watery destination. The ducklings can feed on their own, consuming mostly invertebrates and seeds. Once in the water, if the ducklings start to scatter, the mother can be heard repeatedly and softly quacking to her brood to gather them around her. She will continue to provide them with cover and warmth for the next couple of weeks, especially at night and during cold weather.

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Morel Mania

5-22-14 morels 105This is the time of year to visit old apple orchards, burned areas, dying elms, cottonwoods and ash trees in hopes of finding delectable Yellow Morels, also known as Honeycomb Morels (Morchella esculenta). Unlike many fungi, which produce spores through gills, pores or “teeth,” morels have tiny sacs along the insides of their pits or wrinkles in which spores are produced. These fruiting bodies are highly sought after, especially in Boyne City, Michigan, where they have a morel-gathering competition at their annual National Morel Mushroom Festival. At the start of a gun hundreds of people race to find and collect as many morels as possible in 90 minutes. The record for one person is more than 900 morels – impressive by any measure, but particularly for those of us who live in the Northeast, where finding a dozen or so in a single season is something to crow about! (There are several types of morels, some edible and others poisonous, so consult an expert if you’re not positive of the i.d. before consuming any.) Thanks to Ginny Barlow for photo op.

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Avian Parents Hard At Work

robin with food 077To appreciate the parental demands on birds, consider the feeding habits of a pair of American Robins with a nest full of young. Both parents feed their 3 – 4 nestlings, delivering 6 – 7 feedings an hour, each one to a single nestling. (Parents tend to arrive with food at a particular location on the nest rim, so there is much jockeying for a position near this spot on the part of the nestlings.) Each nestling gets 35-40 feedings per day. This amounts to almost half a pound of food delivered to the nest every day for the 13 days that young are in the nest. Even then, the parents’ work is not done, as they continue to feed their fledglings for up to three weeks after the young leave the nest.

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Painted Turtle Nest Predation

5-21-14 painted turtle nest 016Painted Turtles mate in March or April, soon after emerging from hibernation, and females leave their ponds in search of a sandy spot in which to lay their eggs between May and July, usually in the late afternoon. Often they dig several 4-inch deep holes, choosing one in which to lay their 2 – 20 leathery eggs. Many turtles dig numerous “false” nests, in what is thought to be an attempt to mislead predators. If so, this tactic doesn’t appear to work very well, as skunks, foxes and raccoons have little difficulty locating Painted Turtle (or any other species of turtle) eggs, as seen in this photograph. Even though the nest is covered with soil and is well camouflaged by human standards, predation of turtle nests is very high and usually occurs within twenty-four hours of nest construction. (Thanks to Jeannie Killam and Joan Hadden for photo op.)

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Porcupette Clarification

porcupine3 IMG_3065Naturally Curious blog reader Catherine Fisher provides a more complete and more accurate description of the relationship between a porcupine and its offspring.

Uldis Roze, who has spent a lifetime studying porcupines, describes a lactation period of, on average, 127 days – or slightly more than four months. While it is true that, from birth on, mom leaves her youngster alone during the day while she rests nearby, she nurses the the porcupette at night and, as for its first six weeks her youngster is too weak to travel far and is unable to climb, she never travels far . Once the porcupette is strong enough to travel and climb, it spends three months following mom and learning where food trees are located. After three months, mother porcupines and porcupettes begin to spend occasional evenings apart, and by December, separation is complete, leaving the young porcupines to, as Roze describes it, “set out energetically to survive the biggest test of their lives: their first winter alone.”


Porcupettes Being Born

5-20-14 porcupine IMG_3143This newborn porcupine is about a foot long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, weighs roughly a pound and has quills about one-inch long. It will nurse from its mother for the next two months, but within two weeks will be feeding on vegetation as well. Because its offspring is precocial (capable of traveling and feeding on its own soon after birth), the porcupine’s mother provides care for her one offspring only for a week or two before leaving it to fend for itself.

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Waves of Warblers

5-19-14 -A. Redstart 012Birders wait with great anticipation for the waves of warblers that pass through New England in May. Flocks, or waves, often consist of several species, with the males’ plumages presenting a variety of brilliant colors, making the search for these fast-moving, tiny birds well worth the effort. Returning from their wintering grounds in Central and South America, some warblers make non-stop flights covering more than a thousand miles at a time. When they stop to refuel, their search for insects is incessant. As they hunt for insects in the canopy, often amongst flowering trees such as this Red Oak, American Redstart males (pictured) often flash their wings and tail, both of which have brilliant orange feathers on them, startling an insect long enough to give the Redstart a chance to consume it.

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Spring Azure

spring azure IMG_8425I inadvertently stated that Celastrina lado was the scientific name for Hobblebush. It is not! Hobblebush is a Viburnum, Viburnum lantanoides and Celastrina lado is the scientific name for the Spring Azure, one of Hobblebush’s pollinators. Thank you, readers, for catching this!


Hobblebush Flowering

5-17-14 hobblebush flowers 070When scouring the forest floor for spring ephemerals, don’t forget to look up – one of the most dramatic flowers of spring can be found on a woodland shrub called Hobblebush, Celastrina ladon. (The common name comes from the fact that its branches often bend to the ground and become rooted at the tips, making a walk through the wood somewhat treacherous…hence, one of its other common names, “Trip-toe.”) Hobblebush’s flowers are cleverly designed to attract pollinators — the large, showy, white flowers along the margins are actually sterile, their sole purpose being to lure insects, such as the tiny, blue Spring Azure butterfly. The smaller, less conspicuous flowers in the center of the cluster (just starting to open in this photograph) have reproductive parts and are the beneficiaries of visiting pollinators.

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Shorebirds Migrating Through New England

5-15-14 greater yellowlegs 286Many of the shorebirds that overwinter in Central and South America, as well as southern North America, migrate through New England during the month of May, on their way north to their Canadian breeding grounds. Although Greater Yellowlegs (pictured) are more solitary than most shorebirds, they tend to migrate in small flocks as they head for the bogs and coniferous forests of northern Canada and southern Alaska. They are recognizable by their upright stance, bright yellow legs and piercing alarm calls (nicknames include “telltale,” “tattler,” and “yelper”). During the early 20th century, before they were protected, Greater Yellowlegs were considered an important game bird, and according to Arthur C. Bent, an ornithologist at the time, this species was often shot “by an angry gunner as a reward for its exasperating loquacity.”

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Turkey, anyone? How Red Fox Kits Entertain Themselves

5-14-14  red fox kit with turkey feather  147This two-month-old Red Fox kit (blue eyes turn brown after the age of two months) amused itself for several minutes with this Wild Turkey tail feather – tossing it up in the air, pouncing on it, chewing it and just carrying it around to impress/taunt its litter mates. Kits are old enough to spend much of their day above ground now and their antics are entertaining, to say the least. While parents are off during the day hunting and/or getting a rest from rambunctious offspring, said offspring amuse themselves by digging, scratching themselves, chasing each other, grooming themselves and chewing on any and everything, from sticks and leaves to the remains of past meals, such as feathers and bones.

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Colorful Breeding Season Changes in Heron Family

5-13-14  snowy egret3  300The changes birds experience in their appearance during the breeding season sometimes include a partial molt, resulting in a more colorful or ornate plumage in the spring. In addition, some species, such as those in the Heron family (herons, egrets and bitterns), undergo changes in the color of their bills, legs, feet and lores (area between eye and bill) during their brief period of courtship. As an example, Snowy Egrets (pictured), during most of the year, have featherless yellow patches of skin, or lores, at the base of their bill and greenish-yellow feet, but in the spring, their lores turn red and their feet a bright yellow-orange.

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Unequal Cellophane Bees

5-12-14  cellophane bee  205Ninety percent of bees are solitary – the fertile females create their own cells and feed their own young, with no help from a colony of worker bees. They often nest underground, rarely sting and are excellent pollinators, even though they don’t store honey. Colletes inaequalis, a type of Plasterer Bee also known as the “Polyester Bee,” and “Unequal Cellophane Bee,” is a solitary bee. It derives its common names from the practice of lining its underground nest cells with a secretion that, when it dries, forms a smooth, cellophane/polyester-like lining. This cell holds one egg suspended above a collection of pollen and nectar on which the larva will feed. The Unequal Cellophane Bee is crepuscular, which can be deduced by the large size of its eyes. It is one of the earliest species to become active in the spring, sometime between March and May, when adults bees emerge from underground chambers off a vertical tunnel dug by their mother last spring. (Why it is called an “Unequal” Cellophane Bee I have not been able to determine.)

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Trout-Lily’s Pollinators

5-7-14 trout lily pollinator IMG_1725Like Bloodroot and many other spring ephemerals, Trout-Lily (also known as Dog-tooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue) remains closed at night and on overcast days. On sunny days, bees are its main pollinators, but it is visited by many other insects, including Red-necked False Blister Beetles that feed on both its pollen and ovules.

When a bee visits a Trout-Lily flower, it usually removes half of the available pollen in one visit. In no apparent hurry, it often pauses in the middle of collecting to groom itself and pack pollen into the pollen baskets on its hind legs. It then heads directly back to its hive to unload the pollen. Unfortunately for the Trout Lily, this hampers cross-pollination, as it severely limits the amount of pollen that reaches other Trout Lily flowers. As compensation, Trout Lily has two sets of anthers – one set opens one day, the other opens the next, preventing a bee from collecting all the pollen from a given flower in one day, giving other insects the opportunity to cross-pollinate. (Photo: Red-necked False Blister Beetle)

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Male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks Return

5-7-14 rose-breasted grosbeakIMG_6053Many of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks that breed in New England are thought to spend the winter in Panama and northern South America. When the time comes in the spring for their nocturnal migration, adult males depart first, flying northward at an average of 49 miles per hour (this rate includes stopovers). Upon arrival, they establish and maintain their two-acre territories primarily through song. When females arrive and one approaches a singing male, he is initially very aggressive and often attacks the female, but if she persists he eventually comes around and wins her over with courtship displays.

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Eastern Tent Caterpillars Hatching & Building Tents

eastern tent cat. FINAL 090The adult Eastern Tent Caterpillar moth lays her eggs in late spring or early summer on a tree whose leaves its larvae will eat (black cherry and apple trees are favorites). Two to three hundred eggs are deposited in a mass that encircles a thin branch. Within three weeks fully formed caterpillars develop inside the eggs. The caterpillars remain there until the following spring, when they chew their way out of the eggs just as the buds of the host tree are starting to open. As soon as the caterpillars emerge, they construct a silk tent within which they reside, enlarging it as they grow in size.

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Bloodroot A Fair-weather Friend

bloodroot in rain 336Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), utilizes contrasting white (petals) and yellow (pollen-bearing stamens) colors to attract insects and achieve pollination. The blossoms have no nectar, only pollen, and in order to protect the pollen, the petals of this member of the Poppy family close on overcast days and nights, a time when most pollinators are inactive. The reopening of the flowers depends on temperature and cloud cover. If it’s sunny out, the flowers will open when the temperature reaches 47°F. Native bees, which are Bloodroot’s main pollinators, don’t usually fly until it is 55°F., so flies, capable of flying at slightly lower temperatures, do most of the cool weather pollinating.

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American Bitterns Displaying

5-3-14  American Bittern3  058American Bitterns are very secretive marsh-dwelling birds and have coloration so cryptic that you can be looking right at one and not see it, especially if it employs its “look like a reed” stance, with bill raised towards the sky. Like other members of the Heron family, American Bitterns possess plumes. These large, white shoulder feathers are visible only at this time of year, during territorial and courtship displays and just prior to copulation, when they are erected. Not only do these plumes impress female bitterns, but they make it much easier for humans to spot the displaying males.

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