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Archive for April, 2019


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.

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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)

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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.

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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.