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

Archive for May, 2022

Black-crowned Night Herons Feeding

Black-crowned Night Herons employ a number of techniques for capturing a wide variety of food, from standing stock still for a considerable amount of time waiting for prey to swim by to securing prey while swimming.  They feed mainly from evening until early morning. Because they are crepuscular (feeding at dawn and dusk) as well as nocturnal (as their name implies), feeding competition from other (diurnal) herons is minimized.

The diet of opportunistic Black-crowned Night Herons includes earthworms, insects, crayfish, mussels, fish, amphibians, snakes, turtles, birds, small mammals and plant material. They have been observed actively manipulating bait (bread in one case, dragonflies in another) to attract and catch fish. As can be seen in the inset photograph, they grasp, rather than stab, their prey.

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Water Snakes Mating

True to its name, the Northern Water Snake is seldom found far from water. These three- to four-foot snakes are excellent swimmers, both on the surface and submerged, and commonly forage along the water’s edge for fish, frogs and salamanders.  This particular Water Snake’s tongue was sensing its surroundings almost constantly as it patrolled the shore of a fresh water lake.  When not swimming, Water Snakes can often be found basking on river banks, beaver dams and lodges, and on branches overhanging streams and ponds.

Northern Water Snakes mate in May and June. Females give birth to 12-60 live young in August and September.

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Double-crested Cormorants In Their Prime

In New England, if you don’t live on the coast or in a couple of inland locations, you will probably only see Double-crested Cormorants as they pass through during migration.  At first sight, these birds aren’t especially eye-catching – blackish-brown, somewhat prehistoric-looking, often seen perched with wings stretched out to dry. Hardly worth a second look, some might say, but in the spring they would be mistaken.

During their breeding season Double-crested Cormorants’ eyes are a brilliant turquoise color, and they develop the tufts of feathers, or crests, on their head for which they are named. Should you see one in the spring, watch for it to open its beak – the inside of their mouth is also bright turquoise at this time of year!

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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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