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

Uncategorized

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)

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


Squirrel Corn’s Pollination & Seed Dispersal Strategies

Finely dissected leaves, white heart-shaped flowers and small, yellow clustered underground bulblets that look like corn kernels – these are the characteristics that identify the early ephemeral Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).  

Sometimes a plant’s strategies for accomplishing pollination as well as seed dispersal can boggle the mind. Squirrel Corn’s fragrance, nectar and pollen attract queen bumblebees who are out gathering food for the first of their larvae. It is a win-win arrangement: young bumblebees are nourished and pollination is accomplished.

Later in the season Squirrel Corn (and many other ephemerals) achieves seed dispersal by once again attracting insects.  Each seed has a tiny packet attached to it (elaiosome) which contains fats and proteins, a highly prized source of food for ant larvae.  Ants collect the seeds and bring them underground where they extract the elaiosomes and feed them to their young.  They then deposit the seeds into their waste pile, a perfect site for germination as it contains fertilizer in the form of ant frass. This type of mutually beneficial seed dispersal is known as myrmecochory.

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.


Great Blue Heron Ingenuity

I had to laugh this morning about what I witnessed just after posting about male Great Blue Herons collecting and delivering sticks for their nest. It occurred to me that I have seen hundreds of sticks being brought to nests, but I have never actually seen a heron in the act of collecting a stick. Lo and behold, today was my lucky day. At least one heron came up with an extremely efficient and energy-saving strategy for accomplishing this task.

Being largely fish eaters, herons typically raise their young in wetlands where food is plentiful. Many of these wetlands are created by beavers, who set up housekeeping there as well. Herons owe not only their habitat to beavers, but also, in this case, their nesting material. A veritable goldmine of sticks is right underneath the heron nests, free for the taking right in the middle of the heron rookery in the form of a beaver lodge. Fortunately for the beavers, there is a limit to the size of the stick a heron can carry.

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.


Great Blue Herons Renovating & Building Nests

Great Blue Herons are colonial nesters – up to 500 platform nests or more may be built in dead snags and trees bordering or in swamps, ponds and woodlands. Where trees are not available, they will nest on the ground (this usually occurs only on predator-free islands).

The nests of Great Blue Herons are built of sticks, usually gathered by the males from nearby trees and shrubs as well as the ground.  The male heron flies with a stick in his bill back to the nest (see photo) where the female awaits and presents her with the stick. She takes it from his beak, pokes it into the nest and eventually lines the nest with pine needles, moss, reeds, grasses and small twigs.  Although nest building and repair is at its height right now, nesting material is added throughout the nesting period.

Nests are often re-used for many years, but not necessarily by the same pair of herons. While nest fidelity is not strong, Great Blue Herons do tend to show a preference for the species of tree in a colony in which they build their nest. Nesting colonies can be used for just a few years, or for as many as 70.

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.


Spring Beauty Rust

Spring Beauty is one of the early woodland ephemerals that greet us before tree buds have opened and released the leaves that will soon shade the forest floor. With April showers plentiful the ground is often damp, encouraging the growth of Spring Beauty Rust (Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae), a species of rust fungus that grows on both species of Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana and C. virginica) that we have in the Northeast. There are approximately 7,000 species of rust fungi, all of which are parasites of plants from which they obtain nutrients and on which they reproduce and complete their life cycles.

Spring Beauty Rust can be recognized by the scattered clusters of reddish-brown sori (clusters of sporangia, structures producing and containing spores) that cover the surface of Spring Beauty’s leaves, stems and the sepals on the outside of flower buds. 

If you survey a patch of Spring Beauty you will see that some are quite white while others have deep pink nectar guides and pollen.  As a rule, Spring Beauty Rust infects plants with pinker flowers.

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.


Male Red-bellied Woodpeckers Calling & Tapping To Attract Mate

One of the best ways to determine if Red-bellied Woodpeckers have chosen to nest nearby is the presence of their persistent and distinctive “kwirr” call.  It is given most often now, during the breeding season, when males try to attract a mate to their roost cavity or a partially completed excavation by calling to them.  Drumming and soft taps are also performed by males as part of the courtship ritual. 

When attracted, the female flies to the male and indicates her acceptance of his cavity by perching beside him while they both engage in tapping behavior. If the cavity is partially completed, the mutual tapping behavior also appears to stimulate the female to help the male finish excavating the cavity. (Photo: male Red-bellied Woodpecker at nest hole; inset: male (left) and female (right) tapping at nest hole.)

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.


Black Bears Waking Up & Ejecting Fecal Plugs

Black Bears spend their entire hibernation with what is referred to as a “fecal plug” in the last foot or so of their intestines. Scientists used to theorize that bears ate lots of roughage and indigestible plant material in order to form this plug that essentially prevents them from evacuating all winter. This theory has been proven wrong, as investigation has shown that the fecal plug consists mainly of intestinal secretions and cells that have sloughed off the inside of the digestive tract. After stopping eating in late fall, bears do produce a small amount of feces, which are in the plug along with hair and leafy bedding, both accumulated from increased grooming (licking of fur and then swallowing) that takes place before entering hibernation. During winter bears shed the calloused soles, or footpads, of their feet and it’s not uncommon to find pieces of them in a plug, as well.

Most fecal plugs measure 1 ½” to 2 ½” in diameter and 7”-15″ long. Fluids have been absorbed from the plug by the intestinal walls, leaving it relatively dry and hard. Its light scent is reminiscent of fermentation. Should you be fortunate enough to find a plug, it’s likely you’re quite close to its owner’s overwintering den, as bears eject their plug soon after emerging from hibernation. (Many thanks to Metta McGarvey and Stephen Brown for sharing their 9″ x 2″ fecal plug with me.)

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.


Northern Leopard Frogs Emerging From Hibernation And Males Are Starting To “Snore”

Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs and a variety of salamanders steal the early bird show when it comes to amphibians, but now other species are beginning to appear, including Northern Leopard Frogs which are emerging from the mud at the bottom of the ponds, marshes and streams where they spent the winter.  These frogs migrate to their breeding grounds soon after becoming active and before long the males’ sonorous courtship calls will be heard. 

During the breeding season males advertise on land and in the water for females with a hoarse snore-like croak followed by two or more clucks.  A chorus of them can be fairly deafening. Both males and females also give aggressive calls, males when grasped by another male and females when grasped by a male after they have finished laying their eggs.

To hear a male Northern Leopard Frog’s mating call, go to  https://musicofnature.com/calls-of-frogs-and-toads-of-the-northeast/  and scroll down. It’s as distinctive as the Spring Peeper’s “peep” or the Wood Frog’s “quack.”

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.


Red Maples Flowering

Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are celebrated in the fall for their vibrant foliage, but they produce equally vibrant reds and yellows in early spring when they are flowering. Most Red Maples have dense clusters of either male flowers or female flowers (dioecious). Under certain conditions, a Red Maple tree can sometimes switch from male to female, male to both male and female (hermaphroditic), and hermaphroditic to female.

The showier male, or staminate, flowers contain between four and twelve stamens, with long, slender filaments and red (young) or yellow (mature) anthers at their tips. Both red sepals and petals can be seen at the base of the stamens.  A staminate Red Maple in full bloom is a blaze of gold and red. (Photo: mature staminate Red Maple flowers)

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.


Woolly Bears Awake, Feeding & Soon To Pupate

Isabella Tiger Moths (we call their larvae Woolly Bears) are one of the few moths or butterflies that overwinter as caterpillars. In the fall they produce a chemical which acts like anti-freeze and protects them against damage from freezing and thawing. The caterpillars remain curled up in a protected spot, such as in leaf litter or under loose bark, nearly frozen solid all winter.

When spring arrives and the temperature reaches the high 40’s and 50’s they become active again, feed for a few days, and then pupate inside a cocoon made with their own bristles. Adult Isabella Tiger Moths emerge in about a month, anywhere between April and June, mate, and lay eggs. Within two weeks the eggs hatch. In New England a second generation of woolly bears will be produced and these are the larvae that overwinter.

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.


Which One Doesn’t Belong?

When you find a large flock of migrating Canada Geese, examine them closely — you can often find a goose of a different species hanging out with them. In this case, a Snow Goose (blue morph) was in a flock of several hundred Canada Geese.  Its white head made it an easy discovery.

 Perhaps injury, loss of a mate, or disorientation encouraged the lone goose to join a large flock of another species in order to have an easier time of finding food or avoiding predators.  Whatever the reason, it’s always fun to come across one of these loners.

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.


Amphibians On The Move

According to Jim Andrews, Director of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas Project (https://www.vtherpatlas.org), the recent warm rain triggered a significant movement of many amphibians in the Lake Champlain Basin as they left their hibernation sites and migrated towards their breeding grounds.  Blue-spotted Salamanders (& hybrids), Four-toed Salamanders, Spotted Salamanders, Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, Eastern Newts, Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs were among those seen emerging from their hibernacula.  

Keep your eyes peeled on warm (40°+), rainy evenings and see if you discover a popular amphibian road- crossing location.  Check local resources to see if there is a local volunteer group that assists these slow-moving migrants across the road. If not, you could start one yourself – be sure to wear reflective clothing, have a flashlight and report your findings to a local nature center or conservation organization. (Photo: Blue-spotted Salamander by Erin Talmage)

 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. 


Northern Harrier

One of the easier hawks to identify in flight, Northern Harriers sport a white rump at the base of their tail which is readily visible as they glide low over fields and marshes seeking prey. 

Unlike other hawks, Northern Harriers possess an owl-like facial disc of short, stiff feathers which direct sound towards the bird’s ears; they use their sense of hearing as well as their acute vision to locate small mammals and songbirds. Another distinction between Northern Harriers and most hawks is their sexual dimorphism – males are grey and females brown.  (Photo: juvenile female Northern Harrier – note dark brown eyes which will become yellow with age)

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.


Spring Has Sprung!

March is the absolute high point in anyone’s life who anticipates and celebrates the annual celebration of the arrival of spring.  For this reason, it is the first chapter in my book “Naturally Curious” – every day brings confirmation that no matter what is going on in the human world, you can depend on the natural world to observe the rites of spring. 

Mourning Cloak butterflies emerge from behind loose bark, migrating American Woodcock probe the mud, sleepy Eastern Chipmunks appear above ground, Red-winged Blackbirds return, Beavers see the sun for the first time in perhaps months, buds swell with newly accessible sap, Red Fox kits emerge from dens, Wild Turkeys mate, Spring Peepers peep, Painted Turtles emerge from hibernation and bask in the sun, Ruffed Grouse drum and Skunk Cabbage blooms. 

For at least a few minutes a day, we can lose ourselves in the natural rhythm of life that surrounds us.

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.


Virginia Opossum Tail of Woe

Congratulations to Rebecca Weil, the first (of many) NC readers to recognize Virginia Opossum tracks, tail drag and all!

Opossums are a southern marsupial that have extended their range into northern New England in increasing numbers since about 1900.  They are able to survive here, without hibernating, in part due to the fact that they store fat under their skin and in their tail which helps sustain them through long, cold winters. 

Opossums that live in the Northeast are vulnerable, however, to the cold and run the risk of having their relatively hairless ears and tails frostbitten. In fact, it is unusual to spot an opossum that has spent a winter here and not lost at least part of one of these appendages from frostbite (see pictured Virginia Opossum tail after losing its tip).

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.


Mystery Photo

The roughly 2-inch tracks of this animal are not very clear, but if you look closely, there is a clue that will help you determine the track-maker’s identity. Please go to NC website and scroll down to “Comments” where you can enter your solution to this mystery. Tracks will be identified Friday, March 11.

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.


Striped Skunks Out & About

If anyone wants to become familiar with Striped Skunk sign, now is the time to do so, especially if there is still snow on the ground where you live.  Both male and female skunks have been out searching for potential mates for the past month or two, but it hits a fever pitch in March, the peak of their breeding season. If you follow their tracks, be prepared for an extensive outing – they travel as much as two and a half miles a night in their quest for a mate!

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.


Winter Provides Predators With Access to Beaver And Muskrat Lodges

Foxes’ and coyotes’ sense of smell is such that they rarely miss an opportunity to check out inhabited beaver or muskrat lodges in the winter, when frozen ponds and marshes allow them access to these tempting sources of food. 

Beavers are well protected due to the amount of frozen mud in their lodges that provides an impenetrable barrier to visitors (inset photo: coyote investigates beaver vent in inhabited lodge).  Muskrats are not as well protected (even though the walls of their lodges can be up to a foot thick) as their lodges are made of vegetation, primarily cattails and grasses, with very little, if any, mud. In addition to lodges, muskrats build feeding platforms, called “push-ups,” where their scent is strong enough to attract attention from hungry predators (main photo: fox tracks investigate a muskrat push-up). 

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.


Long-tailed Duck

Congratulations to Margaret Curtin, the first NC reader to correctly identify Monday’s Mystery Photo as the tail feathers of a diving Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), formerly known as an Oldsquaw.  This Arctic sea duck spends the winter on both the east and west coasts of North America as well as on the Great Lakes. 

Long-tailed Ducks are known for their diving ability, where they use both their feet and wings to propel themselves deeper than most other diving ducks – as deep as 200 feet — in order to feed on invertebrates and small fish. Males have two slim and elongated central tail feathers that stream behind them (lacking in females) and are the last part of their body to vanish when they dive. (Unfortunately, these feathers are wet and under water in my larger photograph.) The other distinctive feature of this duck is its loud nasal-sounding call which can be heard quite a distance along the coasts of its wintering grounds as well as on its tundra breeding grounds.

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.


Happy Valentine’s Day !

May you enjoy the warmth of friendship today and every day!

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.


Female Bobcats In Estrus

The peak of Bobcat breeding occurs in February and March.  Blood at the site of this scrape, where both feces and urine were deposited, confirms that a female bobcat is in estrus.  For the past few weeks she has been rubbing on bushes and stumps, urinating frequently in order to mark her territory and vocalizing frequently in order to advertise her coming availability.  Once estrus is approaching, pairs of bobcats engage in all kinds of antics, from chasing each other to jumping up and surprising each other.

The female indicates when she is receptive (as well as when she’s not) to an interested male. Although the actual mating is only about five minutes long, it is performed up to sixteen times a day for several days. (Photo by Mary Landon)

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.


Horned Larks Aplenty In Vermont’s Champlain Valley

Along the sides of plowed roads flocks of brown birds called Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) may rise up as you drive by, fly in undulating fashion for a while and then settle back down on the roadside where they resume foraging for the seeds of ragweed, foxtail, crab grass and other weedy plants. 

With its tiny feather tufts looking like miniature devil horns, this winter visitor from the north and the only native lark of North America will rarely if ever be seen perched in a tree or even a low shrub, for it is a creature of the ground where it both feeds and nests.

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.