An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Archive for May, 2015

Spotted Salamander Larvae Feeding

5-28-15 spotted salamander larva-May  IMG_6665A few short weeks ago spotted salamanders gathered at vernal pools to breed and lay eggs. Since then their eggs have started hatching, and gilled spotted salamander larvae can now be found in these pools. The larvae are major predators and consume many insects and crustaceans, including mosquito larvae and fairy shrimp. During the next two or three months, these larvae will develop lungs, absorb their feathery gills and begin life as terrestrial amphibians, assuming the temporary pools they are in don’t dry up prematurely.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Fringed Polygala Flowering

5-8-12 fringed polygala IMG_7780Thank you so much for all of your warm, welcoming emails regarding my first and only grandchild. Naturally Curious blog posts may be intermittent for the next week or so, but eventually will resume five posts a week.

Fringed Polygala looks a bit like a miniature orchid, but it is not — it is in the Milkwort family. The structure of its ¾-inch bright magenta-pink blossoms is well-suited for its bumblebee pollinators. The bee lands on the pink fringe at the front of the flower and its weight triggers the white “keel” to drop down. A slit at the keel’s top opens, exposing the reproductive parts of the flower. Pollen from the stamens is rubbed onto the bee’s hairs while it probes deeply into the base of the flower for nectar, while pollen from a previously visited Fringed Polygala is scraped off onto the stigma, where it needs to be in order for fertilization to take place.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


The Bee’s Knees

baby bee brown IMG_4365Had to share the good news that my grandson Otis arrived. His bee-keeping mother announced him to the world with this photograph, which, of course, totally thrilled his maternal grandmother. Regular Naturally Curious posts should resume soon!


Spring Birth

Yam  470In addition to mallards, star-nosed moles, chipmunks and a host of other animals, my daughter Sadie is about to give birth. I will be taking a few days off to be on hand for her. I apologize for the lack of posts for the next week or so, but nature calls.


Great Horned Owlets Soon To Fledge

great horned owl 454Great Horned Owls are said to have a wider range of nest sites than any other bird in the Americas. Most commonly they use tree nests of other species, particularly Red-tailed Hawks as well as other hawks, crows, ravens, herons (Great Blue Heron nest pictured), and squirrels.

These month-old young owls have grown rapidly, from a weight of roughly an ounce at birth to about two pounds. They will weigh approximately 2 1/2 pounds when they fledge. By six weeks of age, young Great Horned Owls are climbing out of the nest and perching on nearby branches, and by seven weeks they are taking short flights.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Female Big Brown Bats Forming Maternity Roosts

5-7-15  big brown bat 022Big Brown Bats have emerged from hibernation and have been active for several weeks. It is in the spring that a female Big Brown Bat becomes fertilized with sperm she has stored in her uterus over the winter. Reproductive female Big Brown Bats collectively form a maternity roost at this time of year and each bat typically gives birth to a single pup in June, after about a 60-day gestation period.

While both Little and Big Brown Bats were affected by the fungus causing White Nose Syndrome, the Big Brown Bat population has not been decimated like the Little Brown Bat population. In some locations, Big Brown Bats have even thrived, taking over summer roosting spots formerly occupied by Little Brown Bats.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Male Pickerel Frogs Snoring

5-18-15 pickerel frog IMG_3937Next to the Green Frog, the Pickerel Frog is the most abundant frog in New England. It is often confused with the Northern Leopard Frog, which it closely resembles. The spots on a Pickerel Frog’s back are squarish and aligned in rows, whereas the Leopard Frog’s spots are rounded, and randomly scattered over its back. In addition, the male Pickerel Frog has bright orange on the inner surface of its hind legs, which the Leopard Frog lacks.

Recently male Pickerel Frogs have started calling to attract mates. Each species of frog, just like each species of bird, has its own distinctive call. Spring Peepers “peep, “ Wood Frogs “quack” and Pickerel Frogs “snore.” Their snore isn’t long – it only lasts a second or two — but it is unmistakable. Pickerel Frogs call from under water, as well as on top of mounds of vegetation, so if you hear one, and then search for it, you may not find it. To hear a Pickerel Frog, go to http://langelliott.com/mary-holland/pickerel_frog_VA.mp3. (Sound recording © Lang Elliott – langelliott.com & miracleofnature.org)

Starting with today’s post, my blog will occasionally be enhanced with the sound recordings of Lang Elliott. For those of you who may not be familiar with his work, Lang Elliott has made world-renowned recordings (that are commercially available) of the vocalizations of birds, mammals, insects, frogs and toads. If you’ve ever wondered what out-of-sight creature was singing, screaming, trilling or buzzing, his CDs and books will give you the answer. To learn more about the work of this author, speaker, cinematographer, sound recordist, and nature poet, visit http://www.langelliott.com.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Cliff Swallows Building Nests

5-19-15 cliff swallow 719You may have heard of “lining” bees – following one honeybee after another, tracking them to their honey-laden hive. Recently I lined Cliff Swallows. My initial observation was of several swallows on a mud flat in the middle of a river, loading their beaks with mud and taking flight, all in the same direction. Knowing that their nests are made of mud pellets (900-1,200 of them), I knew that they must be nesting somewhere in the vicinity. The length of time between their departure from and return to the mud flat was quite short, so I deduced that the distance they were carrying the mud and depositing it couldn’t be too great. After heading off in the direction that the swallows were flying, I eventually discovered the very beginning of a colony of Cliff Swallow nests under the eaves of a nearby barn.

The building of a nest requires not only finding a source of mud, but also ferrying lumps of it (in their beaks) back to the nest site many, many times. Once a source has been found, its location is made known to all members of the colony, and they all make use of it. Cliff Swallows belonging to the same colony not only use the same source of mud, but gather it together as a group, and return to work on their nests all at the same time. They work in roughly half-hour shifts, after which they all take a break and forage for insects for ten minutes or so before resuming work.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Black Bear Yearlings Soon To Be On Their Own

5-19-15  black bears 067Female Black Bears become sexually mature at three-and-a-half years of age. They breed in June and give birth in January or February (delayed implantation). Black Bears have a 2-year reproduction cycle: the cubs remain in the custody of their mother for roughly a year and a half, during which time the mother doesn’t mate. In May or June of the year following their birth, when they are 16 or 17 months old, the yearlings become independent and go off on their own — – just prior to black bear mating season. (Thanks to Jill and Bryan Marquard for photo op.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Red Baneberry Flowering

5-15-15  red baneberry & goldenrod crab spider  087Red Baneberry is most noticeable in mid-summer, when its flowers have developed into bright red (poisonous) fruits. At this time of year, its delicate white flowers look very much like those of its close relative, White Baneberry (which eventually bears white poisonous fruit). The easiest way to differentiate the two species at this time of year is to notice the shape of the flower cluster. Red Baneberry’s cluster is more or less spherical, whereas White Baneberry’s is more cylindrical.

A Goldenrod Crab Spider, capable of changing color from yellow to white or vice versa, depending on the color of the flower it’s on, perches on Red Baneberry flowers waiting to pounce upon an unsuspecting pollinator.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Eaglets Hatching

bald eagles2  254When eagle chicks hatch they are covered with light gray down and have brown eyes and pink legs. One parent, usually the female, spends most of the day in the nest with her young for the first three weeks, brooding and keeping them warm. The male provides most of the food during this time. After he delivers prey, she tears off small pieces and feeds them to the nestlings. The chicks gain weight rapidly – roughly ¼ pound a day – so that in three or four short weeks the young are nearly the size of an adult. Eaglets are roughly six weeks old before they are capable of tearing off food and feeding themselves, and at least eight weeks old before they leave the nest. (Note corn stalk that’s been incorporated into nest; photo: one-week-old eaglet & its mother)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Red Fox Kits Romping

5-14-15  red fox kits IMG_7313After spending their first month or so underground in their den, red fox kits emerge and discover the great outdoors. This is the most carefree time of their lives – days are spent playing tag, “king of the mountain,” and “hide and seek.” Engaging in mock fights, pouncing on each other as well as on insects (learning how to capture their own food) and tumbling in the dirt are the norm. Food is delivered to them, coats are groomed and life is good.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


ANIMAL MOUTHS: Second Book in Children’s Series Released

5-12-15 AnimalMouthsSome of you may have seen Animal Eyes, which was the first of a series of children’s books I am writing about animal anatomy. Just as Animal Eyes took a look at the adaptive differences among different animals’ eyes, Animal Mouths describes the wide range of animal mouths. From birds to butterflies, different mouths and mouth parts are illustrated with photographs and their adaptations for different diets are discussed. Carnivores, herbivores and omnivores are included, as well as an educational section at the end of the book which provides children with photographic/textual “mix and match” activities that reinforce information presented in the main text. Available from the publisher (click on cover image to the right), independent bookstores (most will order if it’s not in stock), online and from me (from those of you nearby). This fall the third book of this series, Animal Feet, will be released.


American Bitterns Calling

A. bittern calling 814Because they live in marshes amongst dense vegetation where sight is restricted, American Bitterns communicate with each other largely through their calls. These calls are made at a very low frequency which allows them to be audible at great distances.

The call heard most often, especially early in their breeding season, is low, resonant, and composed of three syllables that sound something like “ pump-er-lunk ,“ preceded by a series of clicking and gulping sounds. The male bittern accomplishes this by inflating his esophagus while simultaneously contorting himself quite violently. He repeats the call up to ten times, and uses it to establish his territory as well as to advertise for a mate. You can hear the American Bittern’s call by going to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_bittern/sounds.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


“Reflections” on Solitary Sandpipers Migrating

email-solitary sandpiper, shadow, reflection2 070Solitary Sandpipers (although not truly “solitary” birds, they do migrate in smaller flocks than most shorebirds, sometimes even alone) are passing through New England as they migrate to the boreal forests of far northern Canada and Alaska, just south of the tundra, to nest. One of the more fascinating oddities about this bird is that it is one of only two sandpipers (out of 85 species worldwide) that nests in trees in the abandoned nests of songbirds, and not on the ground.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Wood Turtles Becoming Active & Mating

5-7-15 wood turtle  088After spending the winter hibernating in small streams and rivers, Wood Turtles awaken, become more active, mate (usually in shallow water), and eventually leave the water to begin foraging for food. Summer is spent mostly on land, traveling along streams — rarely do Wood Turtles stray farther than 1,000 feet from the water. In a few weeks, females will deposit between four and twelve eggs in a nest they dig in sandy soil.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Ospreys Laying Eggs

5-5-15 osprey 266Ospreys are late-season breeders compared to other raptors of their size, and are just starting to lay and incubate their eggs in the Northeast. This is thought to be an adaptive delay to allow ice to break up and to allow fish to move into shallow waters. (In years of late ice-out, ospreys may not breed.)

Both male and female ospreys incubate their 1 – 4 eggs, but the female generally does a majority of it, and nearly always is the incubator at night. The male typically brings the incubating female food, which she takes to a nearby perch to eat while he sits on the eggs. Once the eggs hatch (in about 5 weeks) the young are brooded by the female. The male does the fishing, bringing his prey back to the nest, eating his fill and then giving it to his mate to tear into small bits and feed to their nestlings.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Beaked Hazelnut Flowering

beaked hazelnut 400The blossoms of many shrubs are not necessarily big, flashy, strong-scented flowers, especially if they are wind-pollinated and have no need to attract insects. Beaked Hazelnut’s flowers are now blooming – pendant male catkins loaded with pollen and ¼ “- diameter female flowers. The female blossoms should be examined through a hand lens – they are exquisite little maroon flowers with magenta highlights and pistils that curl this way and that, in hopes of catching pollen grains. One advantage to flowering now, before leaves are out, is that the wind-dispersed pollen has fewer obstructions.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Common Gartersnakes Mating

4-30-15  common gartersnake IMG_9163Common Gartersnakes begin mating in the spring as soon as they emerge from brumation (a reptilian state of dormancy similar to hibernation in mammals, but involving different metabolic processes). The males leave the den first and wait for the females to exit. Once the females leave the den the males surround them, forming what is called a mating ball (one female and many males). The males give off pheromones that attract the female. After the female has chosen her mate and mated, she leaves. while the males stay to re-mate with other available females. The females have the ability to store the male’s sperm until it is needed and thus a female may not mate if she does not find a proper partner.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Naturally Curious Blog Begins 6th Year

DSC_0064Once every year, usually in April but this year in May, I celebrate the passing of another year of the Naturally Curious blog. April, 2015 marked the completion of five years of posts, many of which will be incorporated into the book I am currently working on, Naturally Curious Day by Day. (It won’t be published for at least another year or two.) I’d like to thank all of my readers, old and new, for tuning in so faithfully, sharing comments and questions, and supporting this endeavor. In this day and age, finding five minutes a day to read a blog is a major accomplishment, and I am very grateful to you for making the time to do so. I hope you will continue to enjoy the next five years (and hopefully many more) of my Naturally Curious blog as well as make many discoveries of your own. It’s so rewarding to be in touch with so many kindred spirits.

Most of the time, photographing for my Naturally Curious blog is pleasurable. Occasionally, however, one has to endure hardships in order to capture the desired photograph. One warm, windless day in the month of June I was attempting to photograph moose in northern Maine and was overcome with black fly bites as I sat in my canoe for hours waiting for the perfect shot (yes, I was woefully unprepared – that’s my t-shirt pulled over my head and ears). My misery was recorded for posterity by my camera-carrying companion. I’m only sharing her humorous/embarrassing photograph because I want you to know the lengths to which I go to find interesting subjects for the blog! (Photo by Mary Sue Henszey)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.