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Archive for March, 2018

Exploring With Senses

4-6-18 black bear yearling on back 1058The yearlings were constantly engaged in exploration and play that makes use of all of their senses – playing with sticks, needles and anything else they can find to manipulate with their huge paws, chewing saplings, smelling everything from chewed sticks to each other’s scat, clawing, biting and rubbing on tree trunks, and even approaching me in order to see exactly who and what I am. (Several times I had to shoo one of them away, for fear their mother might object to its close proximity to me.) Some of this exploration serves as the beginning of scent-marking that they will use to communicate with other bears their entire lives, while some of it appears to be just plain fun.

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Tolerant Black Bear Mothers

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The yearlings continually challenge their mother’s patience as well as each other’s to see just how much will be tolerated. They climb on, bite, claw and test their mother in much the same manner as toddlers do their (human) mothers. At the same time, when she demands that they follow her instructions, such as climbing a tree when danger approaches, they immediately obey. (Photo: mother bear (lying down) indulging her playful yearling)

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Black Bears Emerging From Hibernation

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A year ago, in April 2017, while following Black Bear tracks in New Hampshire, I had the good fortune to encounter the bears themselves. Because Black Bears have started coming out of hibernation (April is when most do so) I felt it was timely to share some of my photographs and observations of that encounter. (I did not do so a year ago for fear of bringing attention to and thereby disturbing these bears.)  As I followed the bear tracks, I eventually came upon a refuge, or “babysitter,” tree – where bears rest and cubs/yearlings take refuge when their mother goes off foraging or when she senses danger. I had read about such trees, but never discovered one myself. It was very recognizable — a very large White Pine surrounded on the ground by bear scat and gnawed saplings – fresh signs that bears frequented this area. At the base of the tree were several large “bowls” or indentations in the pine needles that looked as if large animals might have bedded down repeatedly in them, forming nests.

I continued tracking, eventually turning around to head back to where I entered the woods. On my return I passed by the babysitter tree again. To my utter delight I discovered a mother bear with her three yearlings fast asleep in the beds at the base of the tree. It was snowing lightly, and I surmised that this family had recently emerged from their deep winter’s sleep and was still a bit groggy. (Adult males are the first to emerge; females with cubs are the last.) While the yearlings slept on, the mother opened her eyes and decided to tolerate my presence for the next couple of hours. In Naturally Curious posts this week and next, I will share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with you as well as the behavioral observations I made.

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Bald Eagles On Eggs

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Thanks in large part to the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative, seeing eagles in Vermont is not all that unusual these days, even in winter. The open water of Lake Champlain (as well as ice fishermen and White-tailed Deer carcasses in other parts of the state) allow them to survive here during our coldest months. Vermont’s mid-winter Bald Eagle Survey documented 84 eagles in January, 2018.

Equally as encouraging is the growing breeding population of eagles in this state. This past year 21 adult Bald Eagle pairs successfully produced 35 young in Vermont. The return of eagles to their nest site is always a much- anticipated event, which often coincides with the opening up of the Connecticut River for at least one pair that nests on its banks (see photo).

Eggs have been laid and eagles (both male and female) are engaged in incubating them for the next month.  One can’t help but be impressed by their perseverance — recently they endured three Nor’easters in 10 days while incubating their eggs (note snow on rim of nest)!

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“Animal Ears” Released

Animal Ears

The fifth book in my children’s series on Animal Adaptations, Animal Ears, has just been released. Like Animal Eyes, Mouths, Tails and Legs, this book introduces the reader to the diversity of design and use of one part of their body. Ears are used to find prey, escape predators and locate a mate, sometimes in total darkness. See how birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects detect sound in very different ways. The entire Animal Adaptation series is geared to three to eight-year-olds. Activities are included in each book. To order from the publisher, go to the Naturally Curious blog (www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com) and click on the Animal Ears cover on right hand side. Also available from independent bookstores and online.


Silver Maples Beginning To Flower

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Early in spring, often in March, long before trees begin to leaf out, the swollen red buds of Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) begin to open, revealing the flowers within.  Typically, most of the buds on a given tree bloom at the same time; in fact, if there are several Silver Maples in an area, they will usually all flower within days of each other. Most of the flowers on any given tree are of the same gender, so there are male and female trees.

The flowers of maples are wind-pollinated and lack petals (which would hinder dissemination of the pollen).  Therefore, the flowers are not large and flashy, and often escape notice. Flowering before leaves emerge also enhances pollen dispersal. The flowers are generally either male or female. If you look closely at the male flowers, what you will see are bundles of stamens, sometimes red and sometimes yellowish-green, tipped with yellow pollen.  Female flowers have reddish clusters of pistils forming clumps of bristly little balls along the branches. The pistils develop petal-like extensions at the tips called stigmas, which are receptors for the pollen. (Photo: Silver Maple buds opening; inset = male Silver Maple flowers)

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Naturally Curious Posts During The Next Few Weeks

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I’m writing this post to let Naturally Curious readers know that there may be days in the coming weeks when my Naturally Curious posts don’t appear at their usual early morning time, or perhaps, even at all. I am going to make every effort to not have this happen, but I will often be posting away from home, and not being technologically gifted, I may well have computer-related (or other) issues.

The reason for my being away from home is that my daughter Sadie, who lost her husband last July, discovered a month later that she was pregnant with their baby. The baby is due in two weeks, and I will be with her and Otis and the baby for much of the next month or so. I will keep the blog going during this time, but there may be glitches for which I wanted to apologize in advance! Thank you so much for your patience, understanding and support over the past year and during this time. (Photo: Otis with doting grandmother)