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Male Wood Frogs Calling

Usually it’s your ears that tell you that Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) have emerged from hibernation.  They are one of the first amphibians to announce themselves, often appearing before snow and ice are completely gone.  Male frogs congregate in shallow ponds and vernal pools, where their ardent courtship ensues.

Unlike most frogs, which have a single vocal sac below their mouth, Wood Frogs have two paired sacs, called paired lateral vocal sacs, located on either side of their body just behind their head (see photo). With their mouth and nostrils are closed, male frogs pump air back and forth from their lungs to their inflated vocal sacs which vibrates their larynx and produces a duck-like quacking sound.  The vocal sacs act as resonating chambers, amplifying the frogs’ calls so as to attract females from far and wide.

Vocal sacs serve a dual purpose for some frogs. As soon as the eggs of Darwin’s Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), found in Chile and Argentina, hatch, the male scoops the tadpoles into his mouth and they spend the next six weeks metamorphosing inside his vocal sac.  The male does not eat until the tadpoles have matured into adults and exited his mouth.

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Naturally Curious Blog Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago, on April 4, 2010, the Naturally Curious blog was launched, not because I was suddenly inspired to have a blog but because the publisher of my recently published book, Naturally Curious, insisted on it!  My wonderful editor, Rebecca Didier, offered to design it — I just had to provide the photos and texts.  Reluctantly, as I’m extremely technologically-challenged, I plunged into the Internet, starting the blog with seven posts a week.  After a few years I paired it down to five and then a couple of years ago, when life became a bit more complicated, I went to three posts a week. I envision continuing this schedule indefinitely (with a brief hiatus while I move across the state this summer).

This blog which I agreed so reluctantly to has become the focal point of my life. I love every aspect of it, from spending hours in the woods and fields in order to find something “blog worthy” to photograph, to researching the subject photographed, to writing about it and posting it in a timely manner.  Ask anyone who knows me — I am almost never without my camera, and am never not looking for something I think might hold readers’ interest (even while driving).

You have been there through the thick and thin of my personal life, and supported me and my family every step of the way. Your comments and questions have fueled my curiosity and increased my knowledge about natural history.  I feel a very strong connection with you because we share this curiosity about and reverence for the natural world. Thank you for inspiring the past ten years of peering and poking in every nook and cranny.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share my discoveries with kindred spirits.

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American Toad Succumbs To Winter Challenges

Last fall most American Toads burrowed below the frost line, digging backwards one to two feet into the ground before beginning their winter hibernation. This spring, as soon as the temperature is consistently above 40°F., they will emerge.

Unfortunately, it seems that the pictured toad emerged too early during one of our warm spells this winter (of which there were many). One can’t know for sure, but it looks as though this is what happened, and without an adequate food supply it died of starvation or froze when the temperature dropped back down.  To the left of the desiccated toad is some scat which looks very much like American Toad scat to me.

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American Crow Diet & Hunting Techniques

One would be hard pressed to name all of the different types of food that American Crows consume. The diet of these omnivorous birds runs the gamut —  small birds, bird eggs and nestlings, tadpoles, frogs and toads, snakes, turtles, small mammals, fish, insects, clams, nuts, fruits and carrion.

Crows use a number of techniques in obtaining their food. They find most of it as they’re walking on the ground, occasionally they probe just under its surface.  You often see them lifting and flipping leaves, cow pies, sticks and small stones to see what creatures live beneath them.  Crows have also been known to stand belly-deep in water as they hunt for fish. In addition, they sometimes hunt from a perch, pouncing on prey they see, and catch flying insects and small birds on the wing. Crows have even been observed using “tools” such as pieces of wood to probe for insects.

If their prey is large, crows will place it under one or both feet and tear pieces off with their bill (see pictured American Crow with road-killed Eastern Chipmunk it retrieved).

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Wild Bird Seed

Humans have a long history of feeding birds. As early as 1500 BC Hindus provided birds (as well as dogs, insects, “wandering outcasts” and “beings of invisible worlds”) with rice cakes.  In 1825 one of the first bird feeders was constructed out of a modified cattle trough.  Bird feeding grew in popularity in the 1900’s and by 2019 roughly 60 million people in the U.S. were feeding birds, spending more than $4 billion annually on bird food. Bird feeding has become such a common practice that many people may wonder how seed-eating birds survived long, cold winters before humans fed them.

In fact, birds do very well without a helping hand from humans. A large number of winter bird species in the Northeast, especially sparrows and finches, are seedeaters (granivorous) and there are multiple wild sources of food for these birds, many found along roadsides and in fields.  These plants, called weeds by some, are known for the copious amounts of seeds they produce.  Ragweed, Pigweed, Bindweed, Thistle and Smartweed are some of the plants that are popular with seed-eating birds.  Some of the more familiar flowering plants such as Sulphur (or Rough-fruited) Cinquefoil, Mullein, St. John’s Wort, Black-eyed Susan, Evening Primrose, Queen Anne’s Lace, Yarrow and Goldenrod also feed a host of birds with their bounteous seed crops.

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A Feathered Visitor

For the past six winters a Barred Owl has been a daily visitor at my house.  For most of these years, he roosted (and slept) all day every day from December through February on a White Birch tree just outside my door.  Although I usually try not to interfere with the natural rhythm of things, one year when the snow was exceptionally deep, making hunting quite challenging, I decided to offer the owl a daily treat – one small rodent.  Enough to entice him but not to satiate him or make him dependent upon this source of food. (I once opened up the gizzard of a road-killed Barred Owl and discovered five small rodents – they average about this amount per day.) Thanks to the Listserv in my town, I could appeal to residents for small rodents (trapped, not poisoned) which they generously deposited in a specially marked box outside the Town Hall, freshly frozen.

 

Every afternoon like clockwork the Barred Owl would become alert and open his eyes.  If he had left his perch during the day, he would return at dusk, precisely at 4:30 p.m. His timing appeared to be in sync with the amount of daylight, as he arrived a bit later as the days lengthened.  Most mornings I would take a mouse from the freezer and let it thaw (when I forgot, the microwave came in handy!).  I would take the mouse outside, dangle it by its tail to alert the observing owl, and place it on the railing of my porch. Practically before my hand released the mouse the owl would fly in, grasp the mouse on the fly in its talons and disappear into the woods. More than once I felt the tips of his wings brush against me.

Six years, 60 days a year, comes to 360 days…this owl has spent nearly a year, one-tenth of its life, outside my door.  I came upon the remains of a Barred Owl not even a quarter of a mile from my house this week.  I can only hope it wasn’t my friend.

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The Peace of Wild Things