An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Archive for April, 2019

Crab Spiders Active

4-29-19 crab spider on trailing arbutus_U1A7395Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is one of our earliest spring wildflowers. Sometime in April or May the creeping, leathery, evergreen leaves of this plant suddenly come alive with white or pink tubular flowers. While they are delightful to look at, their fragrance is what truly sets them apart from many other plants that flower this time of year.

Because there aren’t that many insects about this early, nor flowering plants, insect predators can have a challenging time finding prey. The pictured crab spider chose its perch wisely: bumble bees are the main pollinators of Trailing Arbutus, and queens are out scouting for food as they begin to establish their colonies.

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.


Muskrats Cohabit With Beavers

4-24-19 muskrat_U1A7137Muskrats, or “rats,” as they’re sometimes derogatorily called, are semi-aquatic, mostly plant-eating rodents that live in ponds, streams, lakes and marshes. During the winter they seek shelter in lodges that they build out of grasses, reeds, cattails and sticks. Muskrat lodges are much smaller than Beaver lodges, which are constructed out of mud and sizable branches, sticks, stones and mud.

In the spring Muskrats often build nests by burrowing into a stream or pond bank, which they enter under water. Muskrats are also known to set up residence in active Beaver lodges. After dining on aquatic vegetation, the pictured Muskrat made a beeline for the beaver-occupied lodge nearby, and dove under as it approached it. Beavers and Muskrats tolerate each other’s presence in the same pond (and lodge) even though they both consume much of the same vegetation. Unlike Beavers, Muskrats supplement their diet of plants with frogs, crayfish, clams, snails, and fish. It may be that when cohabiting a lodge, they may help one another keep an eye out for predators. (Photo: Muskrat eating pond vegetation)

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.


Belted Kingfishers Feeding

4-22-19 belted kingfisher_U1A6927If you’ve never witnessed what a Belted Kingfisher does to subdue its prey once it has caught it, you owe yourself this experience now that most bodies of water are open and kingfishers are present. Unlike many other avian fish-, frog- and crayfish-eaters, kingfishers don’t simply spear or clasp their prey with their bill and swallow. They beat the daylights out of it by pounding it repeatedly against the branch they fly to after they’ve caught something. Kingfishers will do this with their head turned sideways, and even upside down, as pictured in the photo inset. The frog in this photograph was not only stunned, it was beaten to a pulp by the time the kingfisher swallowed it. (Photo: male Belted Kingfisher with Wood Frog)

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.


Coltsfoot Flowering

4-22-19 coltsfoot_U1A6685Coltsfoot – a Dandelion look-alike, a harbinger of spring, and a medicinal as well as invasive plant. This early-blooming flower can quickly be distinguished from a Dandelion. Coltsfoot usually flowers and often goes to seed before its leaves appear (ignore young leaf in photo!), whereas a Dandelion’s rosette of leaves are apparent when the plant flowers. In addition, the flower stems of Coltsfoot are covered with woolly hairs and scaly bracts while Dandelion stems are smooth.

Coltsfoot, named for the shape of its leaves, is of Eurasian origin, but was introduced into North America as a medicinal plant over a century ago (for its expectorant properties). It has long since escaped culture and become a widespread weed, invasive in some cases, especially in clay and moist soils. A pioneer plant, Coltsfoot often appears in disturbed areas, and with its dense broad leaves it chokes out native plants. It’s a sun lover, though, and therefore tends to gradually disappear as trees and shrubs move in and create dense shade.

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 Emerging From Den & Growing New Coat

4-15-19 red fox kit IMG_7280After spending their first five weeks under the ground, young red foxes get big and brave enough to come out and see the world for the first time. The gray coat which they have had since birth will soon be replaced by a sandy-colored coat. This second coat matches the sandy soil outside of the den and thus helps camouflage them. A third reddish coat, the adult coat and one for which they are named, grows in when they are about three months old. (Note white hind foot on this wild red fox kit.)

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 Erroneous Hiatus Explanation

4-22-19 male green frog IMG_8058Greetings, Naturally Curious readers. I wish to clarify yesterday’s inaccurate “Hiatus” post. I had surgery scheduled on my shoulder for next week, which would have curtailed any photographic activity and blog-writing for quite some time. The improvement in my shoulder and the thought of a spring and summer without a camera in hand have convinced me that surgery could and should be postponed, hopefully for a long time, but definitely through the summer. I was in the middle of writing a post about having to stop the blog for a while due to surgery when suddenly, after typing in just the title, the post was sent to you without my even knowing it. In the time since that happened I made my decision to put off surgery. My apologies for the confusion. Here’s to more spring discoveries, photographs and uninterrupted blog posts!

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.


All Is Well

I’m not sure what happened, but the Hiatus post went out prematurely this evening (I’m not sure what caused that to happen.) There will most likely be a break in blog posts in May and I will elaborate at that time. Meanwhile, I continue to look for snappers in the snow and other delights to share with you! I’m so sorry for any concern I may have inadvertently caused. A technological whiz I obviously am not!



Snapping Turtles Emerging From Hibernation

4-19-19 snapping turtle1 _U1A6737Congratulations to Elizabeth Hall, the first reader to correctly identify the trail blazer in the previous NC post!

As you can see from the dirt piled on this Snapping Turtle’s head, it has just emerged from hibernation. After extracting themselves from their muddy hibernacula, Snapping Turtles have two missions: to raise their body temperature and to secure food. According to Jim Andrews, Director of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (https://www.vtherpatlas.org/ ), the first movement of the year for these turtles is often to seek shallow water where they can bask in the sun and heat their internal organs. They also are on the move in order to get from their overwintering site (shallows of ponds, marshes, and lakeshores, in a spring or a stream) back to a feeding area. It won’t be long before they will be searching for mates.

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.


Mystery Photo

4-17-19 mystery photo_U1A6864Whose tracks are these? This is a loaded question, as these particular tracks are not something you come across every day in the snow. Hints: You would not find these tracks in the dead of winter. The width of the pictured trail is roughly 12” – 16”. It ends in a shallow, open wetland. The photograph was taken two days ago.

Responses may be submitted by going to the Naturally Curious blog site (www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com) and scrolling down to and clicking on “Comments.”

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.


Snow Fleas Emerging

4-12-19 snow fleas_U1A6604Yesterday was the kind of day when you could not take a step without knowing you were crushing hundreds of Snow Fleas, or Collembola, those tiny black specks on the snow. Their presence is a hopeful sign in northern New England, as it often signals the coming of spring, which we are more than ready for.

This non-insect arthropod is a type of springtail (not a flea). Springtails are no longer considered insects, but are classified as hexapods. These miniscule creatures sometimes come to the surface of the snow on warm winter days but are active year-round in leaf litter, feeding on algae, fungi and decaying organic matter.

Snow Fleas do not bite, nor do they sting. What they do do is catapult themselves impressive distances by means of an appendage on their underside called a furcula which snaps and propels them through the air. They have a soft landing due to three anal sacs that they evert from their anus just before launching themselves. (To see a photograph of these sacs go to a 2012 NC post on Snow Fleas: https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/snow-flea-mystery-appendage/) (Photo: Snow Fleas clustered in the track of a Black Bear that recently emerged from hibernation)

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.


April

4-10-19 bluebird 548The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

— Robert Frost, excerpt from Two Tramps in Mud Time


Bringing Home The Bacon (or frog)

4-8-19 mink and frog _U1A6079Mink spend much of their time foraging in saltwater marshes, swamps and small wooded streams. They are excellent swimmers, and can swim to a depth of over 18 feet and for a distance of 100 yards. Fish make up roughly 40 percent of their diet, but they also prey on frogs, snakes, rabbits, squirrels, mice, chipmunks, muskrats, crayfish, insects and snails, among other creatures. Like other members of the weasel family, mink kill large prey with a bite to the nape of the neck.

The pictured mink swam to the ice-littered bank of an open stream, crawled under a large slab of ice and emerged minutes later with a very muddy frog in its mouth. With a foot of snow on the ground and mostly frozen wetlands, it was unquestionably a hibernating frog that the mink managed to unearth.

Sometimes mink eat their prey on the spot, or carry it back to their dens. It’s possible (though fairly early in the season) that once this mink arrived at its den it was greeted by up to ten offspring (each the size of a cigarette when born). The parents typically raise their young in a stream bank cavity roughly a foot in diameter which they line with fur, feathers or plant material. The family stays together through the summer and can sometimes be seen foraging together prior to dispersing in the fall.

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 Resumption of Perch Cooing

3-18-19 mourning dove IMG_2091Many of New England’s Mourning Doves migrate down the Atlantic coast to spend the winter in more southerly climes and thus their persistent coo-ing is lacking during the winter months. However, even with feet of snow still on the ground in places, the relative silence has recently been broken by the return of these mournful-sounding birds.

The Mourning Dove’s primary song is referred to as a “perch coo.” Most of us are familiar with this song — a two-syllable coo followed by two or three louder coos. (“Coo-oo, OO, OO, OO”) Unmated males sing this song repeatedly during the breeding season, often from a conspicuous perch. (Mated males also sing, but far less frequently.) The song’s principal function appears to be the attraction of a mate.

You are most apt to hear Mourning Doves perch cooing half an hour before sunrise until roughly an hour and a half after sunrise, when it tapers off. Singing does pick up in the afternoon, but doesn’t begin to reach the fervor of the morning. Perch cooing reaches its peak between mid-May and mid-June.

Thank you to all who wrote in regarding Naturally Curious’s 9th Anniversary. Your kind words, wishes and donations were gratefully received.

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 Celebrates 9th Anniversary

4-3-19 9th year of NC IMG_4482Nine years ago Naturally Curious, the book, was published, and shortly thereafter this blog was conceived. The natural history events and curiosities of nine springs, summers, falls and winters have been documented on this site. While certain subjects which herald the arrival of a season appear annually, the goal is to introduce new discoveries with most posts. It is my fervent hope that readers have enjoyed traveling through the past 108 months with me, celebrating the diversity and beauty of this magnificent world of ours.

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.


Pussy Willows Peeking Out

3-27-19 pussy willow_U1A5143Nothing announces the arrival of spring more than willow flowers peeking their silver heads out of the bud scales which have surrounded and protected them all winter. What we call pussy willows are, in fact, the soft, silvery hairs that insulate the emerging spike of flowers, or catkin, within a willow flower bud. Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. A male willow has only male catkins; female willows have only female catkins.

An individual willow catkin consists of all male or all female flowers. The first catkins to emerge in the spring are usually males. The hairs, or “pussies,” that emerge when willow buds first open trap the heat from the sun and help warm the center of the catkins, where the flowers’ reproductive parts are located. This trapped heat promotes the development of the pollen (or in female flowers, the ovules) of the flowers deep within the hairs. Eventually the reproductive parts of the willow flowers – the stamens and pistils – emerge, but until they do, we get to enjoy their silvery fur coats.

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.