An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Uncategorized

North American River Otters Foraging For Fish

11-30-18 otter with fish_U1A2403

Whether or not North American River Otters made the original holes evident in Wednesday’s Mystery Photo, they were responsible for keeping them open by frequently poking their heads up through them for some air. Congratulations to Noel K. for being the first to correctly identify their surface holes.  This was a tricky Mystery Photo, as there were none of the usual signs of otter activity (tracks, fish remains, etc.) on the ice surrounding the holes.  This is probably because the ice was too thin to support the weight of an otter.  To find the most humorous response, scroll down on Wednesday’s Mystery Photo comments until you get to Peg Emerson’s.

These semiaquatic members of the weasel family are active year-round and while they are mainly nocturnal and crepuscular during the summer, they are frequently spotted during the day in winter.  If otters encounter open water, they rarely resist the urge to enter it and pursue resident fish.

Thanks to their webbed feet and streamlined body, otters are accomplished swimmers and divers. They are able to reach a depth of around five feet and remain submerged for up to four minutes as they hunt underwater. Top swimming speed is seven miles per hour. (They can achieve a speed of up to 18 miles per hour when running and sliding on snow or ice.)  While fish are their mainstay, these carnivores also consume frogs, snakes, turtles, insects, birds and bird eggs and the occasional mammal (mainly muskrat).  Though called “river” otters, they forage in fresh, salt and brackish waters. (Thanks to Rita and Dave Boynton for photo op.)

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.


Some Of My Favorite Natural History I.D. Guides

12-3-18 books IMG_5296 (002)I have a fairly extensive natural history book collection which is heavily used for research.  It occurred to me that if there’s a naturalist, or a budding naturalist, on your holiday gift-giving list, or if you would like to expand your own natural history library, you might appreciate some suggestions.  The three books I’ve chosen are not fresh off the press.  One was published 15 years ago.  But they are all in print, and each of them has solved many an identification mystery for me.

March Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks & Sign covers a wide range of categories – photographs and extensive text regarding North American mammal tracks, scat, trails and a million other signs.  David Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America has never failed me when I’ve found an unfamiliar caterpillar.  He includes photographs and information on habitat, range, common food plants and more.  And who hasn’t found a bird feather and wondered what species it came from?  In addition to Scott and McFarland’s photographs of feathers in Bird Feathers, they go into the history, structure and types of North American bird feathers.

Any one of these books would answer most identification questions in their respective fields.  If you have a naturalist in mind to give one to, you might want to subtly check to make sure these aren’t already in his or her possession.  Of course, this post was written with the assumption that the lucky person who receives your gift already has Naturally Curious and Naturally Curious Day by Day! I hear the author also writes children’s nature books for the very young (3-8).

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.

 


Promethea Moth Cocoons

11-28-18 promethea moth cocoon_U1A2802

At this time of year, most deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Bare branches make looking for cocoons and finding them much easier. A single leaf dangling from an otherwise barren branch of a tree might very well turn out to be the winter domicile of a Promethea Moth (Callosamia promethea) pupa.

These giant silk moths construct their protective two-inch-long silken cocoons while still in their larval/caterpillar stage.  First silk is spun around the stem of the leaf (petiole) as well as where the petiole attaches to the branch, in order to reinforce the attachment of the leaf to the tree.  The cocoon is then spun, with the leaf serving as its outer covering. The result is a perfectly disguised shelter that looks like a dead leaf hanging from a branch.

The caterpillar pupates after completing the cocoon.  After spending the winter in the pupal stage, the adult moth will emerge in early summer through a valve-like opening at the upper end of the cocoon.

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.


Bothersome Ads

E- Greta & snow dog -iphone image of snow and real GretaIMG_5270 (003)

I apologize for no post today.  Central Vermont had a wet and heavy snow storm and the  power went out for two days. I just got it back – regular posts will resume Friday.

It has been brought to my attention that WordPress has added advertisements to my posts for the past several weeks (without my knowledge).  This is something a blog writer and their readers must tolerate if one chooses to have the type of WordPress blog that I have. (I am currently looking into different options.) I have no idea what ads are put on my blog, nor do I receive any compensation for having them there.  I am sorry you have to put up with them, and I thank you very much for tolerating them. Hopefully I will find an alternative way to bring you Naturally Curious posts minus ads! (Photo:  how I amused myself with during the storm.)


An Owl’s Digestion Process

11-26-18 -barred owl coughing up pellet2 _U1A1839Most owls do not bother to tear small prey such as mice and voles apart but instead swallow them whole.  After eight to sixteen hours, all the nutrients available in the eaten prey have been absorbed by the bird.  Owls cannot digest the fur, feathers, bones, teeth and nails of their prey, so these parts remain in the bird’s gizzard (specialized organ that grinds up food in most birds but serves as a filter for holding indigestible parts in birds of prey).  This accumulation of indigestible parts takes on its pellet form (which is the shape of the gizzard) about eight hours after ingestion, but is sometimes retained by the owl for another six hours or so before being coughed up. As a rule, bones are on the inside of the pellet, and the fur and feathers form a soft coating on the outside.

The stored pellet partially blocks the entrance to the digestive system so it must be ejected before the owl can eat again.  This process takes anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.  The owl appears to “yawn” several times before regurgitating the pellet.  Note that the pictured Barred Owl has prey (a Deer or White-footed Mouse) in its talons, but out of necessity is getting rid of a pellet before devouring it.

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 Finch Forecast: Finch Irruption This Winter

11-23-18 common redpoll IMG_3634Things are looking up for those of us who look forward to winters when boreal finches come south in relatively large numbers in search of food.  This is an irruption year for winter finches in the East due to the poor cone and birch seed production in northern Ontario and Quebec.  Seed-eating birds such as finches, grosbeaks, redpolls and siskins will be frequenting our feeders.

Even at this early date, Evening Grosbeak sightings are up noticeably.  Pine Grosbeaks will be taking advantage of good Mountain-ash berry and cone production in New England.  Purple Finch numbers should also be healthy this winter. While Red Crossbills sightings may be scarce, White-winged Crossbills sightings may well be up due to the poor cone crops in the eastern boreal forest. Both Common and Hoary Redpolls should be numerous this winter due to poor crops of birch, alder and conifer seeds further north.

In addition to these finches, large numbers of Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings are predicted due to poor nut, conifer seed and berry crops, respectively, further north. (Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast, 2018-2019, http://jeaniron.ca/2018/wff18.htm )  (Photo: Common Redpoll)

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.


Grateful

Jan-NN-Birds-wild turkey track-CROPPED IMG_3278Thanksgiving presents us with the opportunity to stop and think about the things in life we’re really grateful for.  Today I’m most grateful for and give thanks to all of my supportive NC readers.