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North American River Otters Sliding & Gliding

North American River Otters spend much of their time foraging.  They often have a circuit they travel along rivers and lakes which takes them up to a week or more to complete.  In between bodies of water, they travel overland on well-used paths, often during the day in winter.

These circuits are miles long, and for much of the time otters lope along in typical weasel fashion.  However, in winter the snow permits them to occasionally flop down on their bellies, tuck their front feet next to their chest and push off with their hind feet as they slide effortlessly on top of the snow, both down slopes as well as along flat surfaces.  Once they obtain a certain speed, they give their hind legs a rest and lift them off the ground so as not to slow them down as they slide (see photo).  Otters have been clocked up to 17 miles per hour running and sliding in this manner.

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American Goldfinch Plumage Anomaly

Molting, the replacement of all or some of a bird’s feathers, occurs in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by seasonal changes. This process serves to replace worn feathers (they cannot repair themselves) and can play a part in seasonal camouflage as well as attracting a mate.

All of our small songbirds have a complete molt, replacing all of their feathers in late summer. In addition, many species have a partial molt (replacing body feathers but not wing or tail feathers) in the spring.

According to David Sibley, American Goldfinches begin to molt all of their (alternate/breeding plumage) feathers in September, with the males replacing their brilliant gold feathers with much duller feathers by November.  Come spring and the breeding season, male goldfinches replace their dull (basic/non-breeding) body feathers (but not the wing or tail feathers) with new, bright feathers.

Imagine my surprise when I spied a brilliantly colored American Goldfinch at my feeder this week.  According to ornithologist George Clark, it’s usually March before one starts to see an American Goldfinch in breeding plumage. One can only wonder what prevented this individual from molting its breeding plumage in the fall. (Photo: male American Goldfinch, winter plumage; inset – male American Goldfinch in breeding plumage in January)

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Bobcats Foraging

Bobcats are active all winter, particularly at dawn and dusk, when their primary prey (hares and cottontails) are active.  Mice and voles are also a significant part of their diet, and occasionally larger-bodied male Bobcats successfully prey on White-tailed Deer.  The pictured tracks reveal that while foraging for food, a Bobcat discovered the remains of a Porcupine that had been killed and skinned by a Fisher.

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River Otter Scat

Because fish make up a large part of their diet, North American River Otters live along streams, lakes and wetlands.  Although crayfish, hibernating frogs and turtles, insects and other aquatic invertebrates are also consumed in the winter, the telltale identifying feature of otter scat (spraint) this time of year is the presence of fish scales.

Look for otter scat on raised areas near water, especially the shortest distance between two water bodies or on peninsulas.  It is usually found on the ground, but occasionally on logs and at the intersection of two streams. Otters frequently form large latrines of multiple scats.

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Mystery Photo

Do you know what is responsible for the two parallel lines that run diagonally across the bottom of this photograph?  If so, enter your comment on the Naturally Curious blog.  Scroll down and click on “Comments.” Hint: there are numerous clues in photo.  Answer will be revealed on Wednesday’s (1/8/20) blog post.  (Photo by Mike Hebb)


Seeing The World Through A Naturalist’s Eyes

There are innumerable resources for anyone interested in identifying any part of the natural world — field guides to feathers, fungi, tracks, butterflies, mosses, bird nests — the list goes on and on.  What has been lacking, in my opinion, is an introduction to the art of discovering what it is that you may then wish to identify.

If you are very lucky in your lifetime, you may cross paths with someone who heightens your awareness of the natural world that surrounds you and teaches you how to look at it and ask the questions that will provide you with insight into it.  These are skills that one rarely finds in a book.  To the good fortune of all who open the pages of The Naturalist’s Notebook – An Observation Guide and 5-year Calendar Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You, this book does this and more.  Not only does it present the reader with the keys to observing the natural world around them, it provides the means to record these observations so that the daily details one observes are preserved for posterity and for comparison in years to come.

I can’t think of a better way for a budding or experienced naturalist to start a new year than to open the pages of this book and delve into the words that will allow them to connect themselves more intimately to the world that is right outside their door. Not only would they reap the benefit of the morsels within this book, but all royalties from the sale of The Naturalist’s Notebook are donated to conservation and environmental education. Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich have given the world a true gift – one that could ultimately affect the future of this fragile planet we live on.

NB:  In addition to this publication, Nathaniel Wheelwright has produced an exceptionally informative and entertaining series of short videos about the natural history of eastern North American plants and animals: https://research.bowdoin.edu/nature-moments/.

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.


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My Very Best Wishes For A Joyous Holiday Season !