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

Archive for May, 2022

Mourning Cloak Butterflies Mating

Often the first butterfly you spot in early spring is the Mourning Cloak butterfly.  Having overwintered as adults under loose bark, Mourning Cloaks are on the wing as early as March.  Due to the lack of nectar-bearing flowers at this time of year, these butterflies seek sustenance from the sap of broken branches.  They are still present in April and May when mating takes place, after which they die.  The next generation emerges as adults in late May or June, feed and then spend July and August in a state of torpor (estivate). They become active in late August or September and again feed before hibernating in the fall. 

Mourning Cloaks are referred to as the longevity champions of the butterfly world, as they live up to ten or eleven months.  The life span of a butterfly varies greatly among species, but on average most butterflies live about a month. (Note ragged edge of wings, due to old age.)

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White-breasted Nuthatches Nesting

White-breasted Nuthatches are one of the 85 species of North American birds that are classified as cavity nesters.  Although the young of birds nesting in cavities are protected from the elements, they are still vulnerable to predators.

White-breasted Nuthatches have an unusual strategy for discouraging uninvited guests.  They “bill-sweep” with an object, usually a crushed insect, in their bill, sweeping back and forth on the tree both outside and inside the nest, often for many minutes at a time.  It’s thought that chemical defense secretions from the crushed insect may discourage squirrels from entering the cavity.  (Red-breasted Nuthatches apply sticky conifer resin to both the inside and outside of their nesting cavity, which presumedly serves the same purpose.)

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Beaver Scat Anomaly

Finding an animal’s scat is usually pretty straight forward. The shape, size and contents (in this case egg-shaped, one-inch pellets of wood fibers resembling sawdust) of scat tells you who likely deposited it. But the location and amount of this beaver’s scat is highly unusual.

This pile was discovered on a road that passes between two large bodies of water. While beavers are commonplace here, finding their scat on dry land is an anomaly. Beavers are known to defecate only in water.

Often you will find beaver scat where they have been working, such as in the water right below a dam, but usually there are only a handful of pellets, if that —nowhere near the amount in this photograph. One can only wonder what might have caused this unusual deposit. (Photo by Jody Crosby)

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American Bitterns Mating

Trying to look like a reed so as not to attract human attention, but all fluffed out to impress a potential mate, this male American Bittern strikes a formidable pose.  While its impressive call earned it several descriptive common names such as “stake-driver,” and “thunder-pumper,” (to hear this call, go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Bittern/sounds) the sudden appearance of white feathers that are usually concealed beneath its wings signals copulation is imminent.

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North American River Otters Mating and Giving Birth

North American River Otters are induced ovulators – copulation releases the female’s egg from the ovary.  Once the egg is released and fertilized, however, there is a nine to eleven month delay before the embryo begins actively developing (delayed implantation). Actual gestation takes about two months. Thus, otters sometimes give birth up to a year after mating, just before their next breeding cycle.  April and May are busy months for this semiaquatic mammal.

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