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Archive for May, 2017

Muskrats Busy Feeding Young

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Birthing time for Muskrats is late April/early May, so this year’s young are roughly a month old. Weaning begins now and young Muskrats, who have been able to swim since they were two weeks old, begin foraging for themselves. Parents continue to supplement their offspring’s diet during this transition.  Although Muskrats are omnivores, the majority of their diet consists of the roots, stems, leaves and fruits of aquatic vegetation. However, when you’re feeding half a dozen offspring, you harvest whatever is available, including bedstraw (see photo).

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Northern Mockingbirds: Aggressive Defenders of Nest & Young

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Besides being known for their vocal repertoire, Northern Mockingbirds are famous for pugnacious defense of their territory, nest, and young. Even more than most songbirds, Northern Mockingbirds aggressively stand guard over their nestlings as well as their young fledglings. Potential predators risk being mobbed and chased by nesting mockingbirds. While the female incubates, the male spends most of his time perched high on trees or rooftops, acting as a sentinel, and will chase away any animal (including humans) that approaches the nest. Northern Mockingbirds have also been known to join forces with other birds, including cardinals, thrashers and doves, to chase away potential nest predators.

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White Ash Flowering

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In 1935 Walter Rogers wrote a book on tree flowers (Tree Flowers of Forest, Park and Street) in which he described White Ash (Fraxinus americana) in the following words. “The Ashes are important trees with interesting features of form and foliage, but their flowers are among the least interesting.” I am of a different opinion, at least regarding White Ash’s male, or staminate, flowers.

White Ash is dioecius – individual trees have all male or all female flowers. Just before and as the tree is leafing out, the flower buds, located on the shoots of the previous season, begin to open. Male flowers are more noticeable than female flowers, partly because of the size of their clusters — there are between 200 and 300 flowers in each cluster – and their vibrant color (which resembles the fall color of some White Ash leaves). Being wind-pollinated, White Ash’s flowers lack petals as they would impede pollination. The stamens are a purplish-red, raspberry-like color until they mature, at which time the pollen’s yellow color is predominant.  The flowers are soon hidden by emerging leaves, so now is the time to see if you agree with Mr. Rogers!

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Barred Owl Chicks Fledging

5-25-17 barred owl fledging2Unlike most young birds, Barred Owls fledge before they can fly. On average, they leave their nest when they are around eight weeks old, and don’t master flight until they’re about 12 weeks old. Fledging for a Barred Owl consists of climbing up out of the tree cavity where they spent their first two months, onto a nearby limb where its parents will tend to it. More often than not there is a nearby branch which it can hop to.

In the fledging depicted, the closest limb was a good 10-15 feet above the nesting cavity. With the help of its strong talons, beak and wings, the fledgling managed to scale the tree trunk up to a somewhat horizontal stub where it could get a good purchase. It may not have been the most graceful ascension, but the fact that it could manage to climb straight up for this distance without the assistance of any grasping fingers was impressive, to say the least.  Fledged Barred Owls continue to be fed by their parents until they can fly and capture their own prey.  (Photo: Barred Owl chick fledging – clockwise, starting from upper left)

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American Dog Ticks Can’t Give You Lyme Disease

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With the plethora of ticks this spring, it is perhaps comforting to know that not every tick you extract from your body has the potential to give you Lyme disease (or the powassan virus or many of the other diseases carried by Blacklegged Ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also known as Deer Ticks).

The American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is the most commonly encountered tick in northern New England. It is found predominantly in areas with little or no tree cover, such as grassy fields and scrubland, as well as along walkways and trails. This species of tick feeds on a variety of hosts, ranging in size from mice to deer and humans. Despite the fact that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease has been found in American Dog Ticks, tests prove that the tick can’t transmit the organism to its hosts. Therefore, the American Dog Tick isn’t involved in the spread of Lyme disease. (It does transmit Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever, however, but there are relatively few cases of it in the Northeast.)

The UNH Extension Service has such a succinct description of this tick’s life cycle that I am sharing it here. It is a “three-host tick,” so named because it must find and feed on an animal three times to complete its two- year life cycle…The dog tick begins life as an egg, one of hundreds laid in a mass on the ground by a female tick. The egg hatches into a larva, which has six legs. The larva remains on the ground in leaf litter, or in low vegetation while waiting for a small mammal (usually a rodent) to brush by. It attaches to the animal and feeds for several days. Then it drops off and molts to the nymph stage, which has eight legs. Again it waits for a host (usually a rodent) to brush by. When that happens, the tick attaches and feeds on it for several days. When fully fed it drops off and molts to the adult stage. Adult ticks wait on shrubs or tall grass and attach to larger mammals such as people, deer, or pets. They also take several days to fully engorge (feed). A female fully engorged with a blood meal can be almost the size of a dime, appearing smooth and shiny. Mating takes place on the host, and when fully fed, the females drop off and lay eggs. The life cycle can be as short as three months. (Photo: American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis)

CDC TICK PREVENTION TIPS:

Use repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin.

Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, including boots, pants, socks and tents.

Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

Check yourself, your kids, and your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors in areas where ticks may be found.

Remove attached ticks as soon as possible. The preferred method of removal is to grasp the tick close to the skin with tweezers or fine-tipped forceps and gently pull upward with constant pressure.

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Baltimore Orioles Building Nests

5-26-17 b oriole building nest2 243Although male Baltimore Orioles have been known to partake in nest building, usually it’s the female who selects the specific site within the male’s territory and builds the nest. Located at the tip of a slender branch, this pendulous nest provides its occupants with as much protection from predators as is possible.

The material with which the nest is started usually consists of flexible plant, animal or human-made fibers, and provides support. “Springy” fibers are then woven into the inner bowl and downy fibers are used to line the nest.  The oriole usually brings only a single fiber at each visit, and works it into the nest with a complex series of bill-weaving techniques. The nest is completed in roughly one week.

Construction material includes hair (especially horsehair), twine or string, wool, synthetic fibers (one oriole nest was made entirely of cellophane), various types of plant fibers including grasses, milkweed stems and grapevine bark, cottonwood or willow seed “cotton,” milkweed seed plumes and feathers. Females have been observed flying more than a quarter of a mile in search of construction material. (Photo:  Female Baltimore Oriole on her first day of nest-building)

YESTERDAY’S MYSTERY PHOTO: Once again, Naturally Curious readers outdid themselves with creative solutions to a Mystery Photo. If you want a thoroughly enjoyable 5 minutes of entertainment, read yesterday’s comments! I will let you know if this mystery is ever solved.

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Mystery Photo

5-23-17 blue scat by Adam Riquier IMG_3657 (002)Normally I am well acquainted with the natural history of any Mystery Photo I post, but today is an exception.  I have no idea whose scat this is, nor the origin of its color.  A forester, Adam Riquier, discovered it in Lake Placid, NY. He writes that “The forest type is hardwoods (maple beech, birch with some red spruce) right at an edge where it transitions to a cedar forest. It was taken three or four days ago, so there are no berries out yet. There is some blue stain fungus on downed hardwood nearby. The scat is roughly golf ball sized.”

In hopes that a Naturally Curious reader might be familiar with this oddity, I secured Adam’s permission to post his photograph.  If you think you know whose scat it is, and/or the origin of its color, please share your expertise with us!  (The scat was found at least a mile from any houses, not eliminating the possibility of (blue) rat poison having been ingested, but making it fairly unlikely.)

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