An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

December

River Otter Brown-out

12-2-16-river-otter-roll-1093

River Otters have latrines on land where they come to defecate, urinate and roll around, all in the same area. This area is used over and over and is referred to as roll or brown-out. The latter name is derived from the fact that much of the vegetation dies as a result of the urine and acid build-up. Most otter scat (also referred to as spraint) disintegrates fast and consists of piles of fish scales, with little form. However, if you come upon a recently-visited brown-out, or if the otter has consumed prey other than fish, such as crayfish, tubular scat can be present (see photo insert). Look for River Otter brown-outs on narrow strips of land that stick out into ponds, or a strip of land between two bodies of water. (Thanks to Squam Lakes Natural Science Center for rolling otter photo op.)

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Mystery Photo

mystery-photo-049a1982Who has been here and what has it been doing? Hint: blue in upper left is water, not sky. (Difficulty: 9 out of 10, 10 being the most difficult)  Please post answers under “Comments” on my blog.  Thank you.


Merry Christmas!

12-25-15 Merry Christmas MH_20091011_004737_4A very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to all of my readers! Having spent the past two years writing a sequel to Naturally Curious (Naturally Curious Day by Day, due out next fall), and having just submitted the manuscript, I’ve decided to recharge my batteries in the coming days. I hope that my readers will understand and tune in when posts resume on January 4, 2016. Thank you for your support, your comments, your corrections, your loyalty and most of all, for providing me with the opportunity to share my passion with kindred spirits.

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.


Beavers To The Rescue

12-23-15 beaver dam & pussy willow IMG_5739With peepers peeping and pussy willows starting to poke their heads out of local willows in mid- late December, it is clear that in the coming years humans will need to adapt to the effects of climate change. Help with that mission may come from many sources, including beavers, whose landscape alterations have been shown to mitigate many of the more extreme conditions caused by climate change. Where beaver dams are persistent, they may sequester sediment and create wet meadows that can moderate floods, augment early summer baseflows, sequester carbon in soils and standing biomass, decrease ecological problems posed by earlier spring stream recession, and potentially help cool early summer and post-wildfire stream temperatures. (Jeff Baldwin, California Fish & Game) How fortunate that silk hats became fashionable in the early 1800’s, decreasing the demand for beaver pelts and rescuing beavers from extinction.


Meadow Vole Nests

meadow vole nest  089Meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), tiny mouse-like rodents, spend a majority of their time on the surface of the ground, particularly in moist fields filled with grasses and sedges. They have elaborate runways through the vegetation – well-worn trails about the width of a garden hose which they keep mowed down with their incisors. Latrines of small brownish-green pellets can be found intermittently along the trails.

Most meadow vole nests are constructed out of dried grasses, also on the surface of the ground, although they are sometimes built at the end of shallow burrows. When above ground, the nests are often located in the center of a grass tussock, where they are less apt to be flooded. When there is snow on the ground they are a bit easier to find, as the heat of the voles inside the nest melts away the snow, forming a chimney that sometimes reveals the nest below.

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Promethea Pupae Parasitized

12-21-15 promethea cocoon 257Although a lack of snow makes tracks difficult to find, there are other, more permanent, animal signs such as bird nests and cocoons that are visible this time of year. Among the more obvious is the cocoon of the Promethea Moth – a giant silk moth. When the time for pupating arrives the Promethea caterpillar selects a leaf and strengthens its attachment to the tree by spinning silk around the petiole of the leaf as well as the branch it grows on (to assure that it doesn’t fall off the tree). With more silk it rolls the leaf up into a tube and then proceeds to spin its cocoon inside the rolled-up leaf, leaving a valve-like structure at the top of the cocoon through which the adult moth exits in the spring.

Unfortunately for silk moths, many are parasitized by flies and wasps (there are nearly 100 natural parasites that affect the 24 species of silk moths east of the Mississippi River). Frequently flies or wasps lay their eggs in silk moth caterpillars and then develop inside them. Eventually the fly or wasp larva secretes a substance that causes the caterpillar to pupate, at which time the fly or wasp also pupates and then exits the moth pupa and cocoon (see exit hole in smaller photo), causing the death of the moth pupa. Silk moth populations are decreasing, in part as a result of these parasitoids. Among others, a non-native parasitic tachinid fly, Compsilura concinnata, is wreaking havoc on silk moths.

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.


Live Web Cams Bring Wildlife to You

12-18-15 sandhill crane IMG_3025With no snow to reveal wildlife tracks and traces, and cold, rainy weather that after a certain point discourages even the most ardent naturalists, there comes a time when the computer can almost compete with the great outdoors. Want to see Tawny Frogmouths in Australia? Green-headed Tanagers feeding in Brazil? Bald Eagles nesting in Florida? Bananaquits feeding in Bonaire? All this and more is available with one or two taps of your finger.

Live webcams have been set up to record activity at hundreds of sites that wildlife frequent. To view feeders and the avian visitors they attract, go to http://www.viewbirds.com/feeders.htm and choose what part of the world or which species of bird you wish to observe. Some birds in warmer climates are nesting now, and archived highlights as well as live nest coverage from all over the world can be found by going to http://www.viewbirds.com/. Activity at an African watering hole can be monitored at http://www.apl.tv/explore-watering-hole.htm (11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. EST is best time to watch). The possible viewing opportunities are endless. You may wish to consult Audubon’s list of the 10 best wildlife webcams at https://www.audubon.org/news/top-10-wildlife-web-cams — cranes, wolves and birds are just some of the creatures that serve as the focus of these webcams. (Photo: Sandhill Crane. Migrating birds stopping to refuel at the Platte River in Nebraska in March can be seen at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/rowe-sanctuary-s-crane-cam.)

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.