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Moose Beds

In winter, Moose prefer to use powder snow areas in mixed forests, under large conifers, as bedding sites. They can rest while standing or when bedding on the ground. When standing, a moose’s head and neck are relaxed but its ears are constantly moving in order to detect sound coming from any direction.  When bedded on the ground, a moose’s legs can be tucked under its body or extended (when laying on their side).

A favored resting and sleeping position of antlered bulls is on one side of their body, with legs stretched and one antler touching the ground. Moose have the ability to nearly disappear if they bed down in snow. A bedded moose does not move and looks very much like a stump or rock.  When they rise, they often leave shed hairs and scat in the depression they’ve made in the snow.

A large bed with one or two smaller ones indicates a cow and her calves have bedded down together.  (Thanks to Kit Emery for photo op.)

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Black Bears Scent Marking In Winter

Congratulations to Rinky for being the first person to correctly identify that a Black Bear had been rubbing its back side against a utility pole in Monday’s Mystery Photo!  A vast majority of responses were correct! Because of the relatively warm fall we’ve had and the ample food supply, Black Bears are still active in much of northern New England.  There is a limited amount of time when bears are awake and snow is on the ground, allowing you to see what they’ve been up to.  This year they are still feeding fast and furiously and, as the tracks in the snow confirm, scent marking.

Black Bears of all ages and both sexes engage in scent marking – rubbing their scent on trees and telephone poles (as well as biting and scratching them) that are often located along travel corridors.  Scent marking typically occurs during the breeding season in June, when males, especially, announce their presence by standing with their back to a tree or pole (often one that leans) and rub their shoulders, neck and back against it, leaving their scent.

The tracks in Monday’s Mystery Photo were discovered recently at the base of a utility pole in New Hampshire.  One look at the tracks’ position, pointing away from the pole, tells you that the bear that made them was facing away from the pole and rubbing his back side against it – proof that scent marking is not limited to the breeding season. (Photo: Black Bear scent marking the same pole in mating season, taken by Alfred Balch)

(If you are feeding birds, it would be wise to bring your feeders in at night until we’ve had enough cold weather to drive Black Bears into hibernation.)

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Coyote Breeding Season Beginning

Female Eastern Coyotes only experience estrus once per year for up to ten days and male coyotes only produce sperm during the time females are receptive.  This usually occurs sometime between late December through March.

One unusual aspect of the coyote breeding season is the coyote’s ability to change its breeding habits according to its population status. When their population is threatened and/or pressured, coyote litter sizes go up. They use their howls and yipping to assess coyote populations — if their howls are not answered by other packs, it triggers a response that produces large litters. (I have yet to understand the biological specifics of  this adaptation.)

The normal size of a coyote litter is five to six pups. When their populations are suppressed, their litters get up as high as 12 to 16 pups. Research shows that the number of coyotes in a given area can be reduced by 70 percent but the next summer their population will be back to the original number.

(Photo: blood droplets where a female coyote in estrus urinated. Photo taken 12/4/19)

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A Hungry Bear & A Larder-less Chipmunk

Many readers had partially correct answers to Monday’s Mystery Photo, but congratulations go to “adaniel”, the first person to correctly identify the visitor (Black Bear) as well as the object of the visitor’s desire (Eastern Chipmunk’s winter food supply).

Between the relatively warm fall we’ve been having and the plethora of acorns and beechnuts this year, some, if not all, Black Bears have yet to enter hibernation.  They are still actively consuming as much as possible to insure their winter survival.  A bear’s sense of smell is extremely good – it is estimated that it is about seven times greater than a bloodhound’s. This particular bear located (with its nose) an underground storage chamber off the underground tunnel system (see red circle) of an Eastern Chipmunk.

Up to half a bushel of nuts and seeds are stored 1 1/2 to 3 feet underground in the fall by chipmunks and then consumed throughout the winter during their roughly bi-weekly arousal from sleep. The bear smelled this cache of acorns and proceeded to dig into it.  Unfortunately for the bear, it was disturbed before it had a chance to consume the nutritious meal it had unearthed.

Many guessed correctly that a bear had dug up a cache of acorns, but attributed the storage of acorns to squirrels.  While squirrels do cache food for winter retrieval and consumption, their technique differs from that of chipmunks. Eastern Gray Squirrels engage in what is called “scatter hoarding,” burying nuts individually, about an inch below the surface of the ground.  Red Squirrels, on the other hand, store their winter food supply (typically cones of hemlock, fir, spruce, and pine trees) in a single stash or pile referred to as a midden, usually located above ground.                                                                                      

Thanks to Ashley Wolff who discovered and photographed the scene of the attempted ursine robbery. (Photo Inset:  Black Bear grasping and eating an acorn by M.Holland.) Illustration by Meg Sodano – https://msodanoillustration.com.  Thanks to Forrest Hammond, VT Fish & Wildlife Bear Biologist, for sharing his expertise.

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Mystery Photo

Can you tell who has been here and what they were doing?  If so, share your explanation on the Naturally Curious website by scrolling down to “Comments.”  (Hint:  those are acorns scattered on the dirt.) Answer will be revealed on Wednesday, December 4. (Photo by Ashley Wolff)

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Naturally Curious Order Deadline Extended

Due to several calendar orders I’ve received since the November 10th deadline, I have ordered additional calendars, but only have about ten extra ones.  If you would like one, please email me at mholland@vermontel.net and state the number you would like.  You can mail a check made out to me ($35/calendar) to 134 Densmore Hill Road, Windsor, VT  05089.  They should arrive on your doorstep well before Christmas. Thank you so much.


Red Squirrel Belly Flop

Congratulations to Mary Pratt, the first reader to correctly identify the impression a Red Squirrel left in the snow.  Red Squirrels are fiercely territorial, and will chase each other furiously in order to defend their territory and their food caches. The photographer, Susan Bull Riley, witnessed this behavior as she watched two Red Squirrels racing after each other in the crown of a maple tree.  Suddenly one of them fell to the ground, where sleet and wet snow cushioned its fall and recorded the belly flop landing.  No time was lost in the resumption of the chase!

There were many “Flying Squirrel” responses, which makes great sense as they are approximately the same size as a Red Squirrel (just an inch or two shorter in length) and are gliding from tree to tree or from tree to the ground.  My assumption is that a Flying Squirrel’s landing impression might show some of the patagium, or membrane, that stretches from a squirrel’s wrists to its ankles, due to the fact that it is extended as the squirrel glides. (Any firsthand Flying Squirrel landing-in-snow impression observations welcome.) Thanks to all who submitted an answer to this Mystery Photo.  Many were very amusing!

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.