An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

Archive for July, 2021

Objective: An Empty Nest

Note that the adult Osprey in the air above its nest has no fish clutched in its talons – it is not bringing food back to its young.  Rather, it is doing everything in its power to entice its offspring to take off and catch their own meal. 

An afternoon of observing juvenile Ospreys taking short flights from their nest assured me that the process of fledging had begun.  In the Northeast, young Ospreys usually remain at or near their nest for at least 10 – 20 days after they can fly, during which time their parents continue to bring fish to them.  (This seems quite generous, given that for the past two months both parents (primarily the father) have provided their offspring with food.) Finally, when the young are roughly three months old, the parents go all out to encourage their young to become self-sufficient and secure their own food.

On this particular day, the parents repeatedly soared over their nest and landed in distant trees while the young called out to them over and over. After several of these attempts to lure the juvenile birds away from the nest had failed, one of the parents flew to the nest and proceeded to hover for at least 30 seconds directly above the nest (see photo) before flying towards the nearest body of water. Still, the young birds didn’t budge.  True independence would have to wait at least for one more day.

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.


Rabbit Ears: Double Duty

The first thing you notice about a rabbit is its oversized ears which, as one might guess, enhance its ability to hear. The two ears can move independently of each other and can be rotated 270 degrees.

In addition to being designed to catch sound from any direction, rabbit ears regulate a rabbit’s body temperature. There is a very extensive network of blood vessels in a rabbit’s ears that provide a large surface area for heat exchange. These vessels swell (vasodilation) when the rabbit is hot, and contract (vasoconstriction) when it is cool, so much so that they are barely visible in cold weather. In the summer, the increased circulation of warm blood from the body’s core to the rabbit’s ears, where heat is lost to the cooler surrounding air, provides internal air-conditioning for the rabbit. (Photo: Eastern Cottontail)

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.


Ebony Jewelwings

Damselflies, smaller and more delicate versions of dragonflies, are predatory aerial insects found near streams and wetlands. The male Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryzx maculata) damselfly is aptly named.  Its pure black wings (the only dragonfly or damselfly in the Northeast with entirely black wings) and iridescent green head and abdomen are a striking combination.  The female lacks the iridescence of the male and its wings are dark but not quite black, with a distinct white spot (pterostigma) at the outer edge of both forewings. 

Ebony Jewelwings only live about two weeks.  During much of this time they can be found resting on leaves or branches in sunny spots of the forest, often near the slow-moving stream in which they spent their youth (most dragonfly and damselfly larvae are aquatic).

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.


Northern Mockingbirds Wing-flashing

Occasionally one comes across animal behavior that has yet to be understood by humans.  If you watch Northern Mockingbirds for any length of time, especially females, you are likely to see them stop and raise their wings half to fully open, in several progressively higher jerky movements.  When they do this, their white wing patches are fully exposed. 

Ornithologists are not of one mind as to what this behavior achieves. Perhaps it is anti-predator behavior – an attempt to scare would-be nest raiders away.  It could be a way of startling insects enough to make them move and thus easier to see and catch.  It also could be a form of territorial display/defense. Interestingly, mockingbird species that lack the white wing patches also engage in this behavior.

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.


Young Raccoons Beginning To Venture Outside Of Den

Young raccoons usually will remain in their natal den until they are eight to ten weeks old.  Around this time they start to eat solid food, grow very rapidly and begin to explore at night with their mother.  Usually in late August and September they begin to go out on their own but the family gathers in the fall and dens together through the winter before dispersing in the spring.

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.


Turkey Vultures Staying Cool

On hot, humid summer days, consider the ingenuity of the Turkey Vulture.  When overly hot, this bird will often defecate on its own legs.  The water in its waste (feces and urine are eliminated simultaneously through a bird’s cloaca) evaporates and cools the blood vessels in the Turkey Vulture’s unfeathered legs and feet, which results in cooling the entire bird.

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.


Elm Cockscomb Gall

Galls, abnormal plant growths caused by a variety of agents including insects, come in myriad sizes, shapes and colors.  One of the most distinct is the Elm Cockscomb Gall which is caused by an aphid (Colopha compressa).  These galls, named for their striking resemblance to a rooster’s comb, are maturing and turning red this time of year. 

For much of the summer the aphids responsible for these galls live underground sucking sap from grass roots.  In the fall a new (sexual) generation is born, takes to the air, mates and heads for an American Elm (Ulmus americana) tree where each female aphid lays a single egg under the bark.  In the spring the emerging nymphs seek young American Elm leaves on which to feed.  As they do so, the aphid nymphs emit compounds that result in the formation of galls.  Each nymph matures inside a gall and then reproduces asexually, giving birth to hundreds of young within the gall.  The mature, reproductive adult aphid dies and the young aphids develop into winged adults that exit the cockscomb gall through a slit on the undersurface of the leaf.  These aphids then go down into the soil to feed on the sap of roots until the next generation is born.

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.


Snapping Turtle Seeking Sandy Soil In Which To Lay Eggs

Monday’s Mystery Photo leaves no doubt that Naturally Curious readers are among the most informed nature interpreters out there. There were many correct answers, but congratulations go to Susan Cloutier, who was the first to identify the tracks and diagnostic wavy line left by the tail of a female Snapping Turtle as she traveled overland seeking sandy soil in which to lay her eggs. The turtle eventually found a suitable spot, dug several holes and chose one in which to deposit her roughly 30 eggs, covered them with soil and immediately headed back to her pond, leaving her young to fend for themselves if and when they survive to hatch in the fall.

Unfortunately, there is little guarantee that the eggs will survive. Skunks (the main predators), raccoons, foxes and mink have all been known to dig turtle eggs up within the first 24 hours of their being laid and eat them, leaving tell-tale scattered shells exposed on the ground. Fortunately, Snapping Turtles live at least 47 years, giving them multiple chances to have at least one successful nesting season. (Thanks to Chiho Kaneko and Jeffrey Hamelman 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.