An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

December

Happy New Year!

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A sincere thank you to all Naturally Curious readers for your patronage, comments and contributions in 2018.  I have loved sharing the past year of discoveries with you, and look forward to seeing what 2019 presents us with!


Merry Christmas!

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This  Black Bear cub and I wish you the happiest of holidays! May the magic of  natural discoveries enrich your life today and every day.

Naturally Curious posts will resume on Wednesday, January 2nd.

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Winter Solstice

12-21-18 winter solstice IMG_1706The tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation gives different parts of the planet exposure to the Sun at different times of the year, providing seasons.  In December, the Earth’s North Pole turns away from the Sun, giving the Southern Hemisphere the most sunlight.

The annual winter solstice brings us the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The date and time of the solstice vary each year, though it typically falls between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23.  This year’s winter solstice is at 5:23 p.m. Eastern Time today. At that moment, the sun appears directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees south latitude. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun takes its lowest and shortest path through the southern sky. The day will feature just 8 hours and 49 minutes of daylight — compared to our typical 12 hours or so.

This year’s winter solstice won’t be quite as dark as usual (weather permitting). On Saturday, the first full day of winter, a full moon will brighten the long, dark night. The December full moon, also known as the Cold Moon or Long Night’s Moon, arrives less than a day after the solstice, at 12:49 p.m. on Dec. 22. The last time the full moon and the winter solstice occurred less than a day apart was in 2010, and it won’t happen again until 2029.

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.


Pileated Woodpeckers Foraging For Last of Wild Grapes

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Carpenter Ants and wood-boring beetle larvae are the mainstay of the Pileated Woodpecker’s diet.  Long slivers of wood in trees and logs are removed in order to expose ant galleries, creating large rectangular excavations.  The woodpecker’s long, pointed, barbed tongue and its sticky saliva enable it to catch and extract ants from the ants’ tunnels.

While ants and beetle larvae are consumed year-round, fruits and nuts are eaten when available. A study that took place in the Northeast found seasonal shifts in primary food items: fruit in fall, Carpenter Ants in winter, wood-boring beetle larvae in early spring, and a variety of insects in summer.

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.


Distinguishing Small Weasels

12-21-18 ermine_U1A8001New England has two small weasels: Long-tailed and Short-tailed.  Both of these predators molt twice a year, from brown to white in the fall, and white to brown in the spring.  The name “Ermine” can refer to either of these two species, but it is most commonly used when referring to the Short-tailed Weasel.

Telling the two species apart can be challenging. Long-tailed Weasels are the larger of the two (head to tail = 12-14 inches), while Ermine are slightly smaller (head to tail = 7-13 inches).  Unless you have both species in front of you, however, their size is hard to assess.  A more helpful distinguishing characteristic is the length of their tail relative to their body length. Long-tailed Weasels have a tail longer than half their body length with a black tip. Ermine have a tail length which is around a third of their body length — it also has a black tip. (Photo:  Ermine (Short-tailed Weasel). Thanks to Sharon and Chad Tribou 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.


Foxes Scent Marking

12-14-18 fox tracks_U1A8060Foxes, like all canids, tend to mark their territories frequently with both scat and urine.  Both convey information to other foxes regarding hierarchy and sexual status, in addition to marking territory. As these Gray Fox tracks crossing a pond illustrate, it’s rare for an elevated object in a fox’s line of view not to be visited and anointed. Research shows that when scavenging, foxes urinate up to 70 times an hour, allowing just a small amount of urine to be left in any one place.  In addition to rocks, stumps and other raised objects, the remains of a meal are often urinated on, indicating that the nourishing portions have already been consumed.

Red Foxes are generally solitary animals, except during their courtship period, which occurs any time between December and February.  At this time mates pair up, so it is not unusual to see two sets of fox tracks together.  This is also the time of year when the males’ urine acquires a strongly pungent, skunk-like odor detectable from hundreds of yards away.

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American Basswood Buds

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Bark, silhouettes and buds are the three keys to identifying trees in winter. Buds of different tree species are so distinctive they are an excellent identification tool. American Basswood, also known as American Linden,  (Tilia americana) has plump, oval, asymmetrical reddish or green buds, which bear only one or two bud scales.

The bud that forms at the end of a branch is referred to as the terminal bud and those along the length of the branch are lateral buds.  In the case of Basswood, the bud at the tip of the branch is a “false” terminal bud, because it is actually a lateral bud that has assumed the function of the terminal bud.  When the growing tip of the branch withers or falls away, the closest lateral bud to the twig tip substitutes as a terminal bud.

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.