An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide


Budding Naturalist Library

blog-post-photo-animalmouthsI thought I would mention that my children’s (4 – 8 years) series on animal adaptations currently has three books (ANIMAL MOUTHS, ANIMAL EYES, ANIMAL LEGS) available, in paperback and hard cover. ANIMAL TAILS, EARS and NOSES are in the works. Might be a good way to start a budding naturalist’s library this holiday season! (Available on my blog, from publishers, or local bookstores and online.) Happy to sign any copies if you can come to me! (Please excuse self-promotion!)

River Otter Brown-out


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.

Mouse Meals


Deer and White-footed Mice are viewed negatively due to their association with Deer, or Black-legged, Ticks, carriers of Lyme Disease.  However, these mice are also beneficial, not only as a staple prey food for many predators, but as a vital contributor to the health of our forests.

Mice help spread various kinds of fungi by eating the fruiting bodies (which contain spores) and eventually excreting the spores.   Certain fungi colonize the root system of trees, creating a symbiotic relationship called mycorrhizae. The fungus provides increased water and nutrient absorption capabilities to the tree while the tree provides the fungus with carbohydrates formed from photosynthesis. For many temperate forest trees, these fungi have been shown to be an essential element in order for them to prosper. By consuming fungi and dispersing their spores, these small rodents are inadvertently contributing to the vitality of our forests. (Note: look for the tiny incisor marks of mice in the devoured fungus.)

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Modern Technology Reveals Snowy Owl Winter Behavior


With the arrival of this winter’s first Snowy Owls in New England comes a renewed interest in the winter ecology of these birds of prey. An organization called Project Snowstorm ( ) gathers detailed information every 30 seconds on the movement of Snowy Owls that they have outfitted with a backpack harness containing a solar transmitter. These transmitters use the cellular phone network, not a satellite, and when they are out of range of a cell tower, they store information which is transmitted when the bird is back within cell coverage territory – even if it’s years later.

The information that has been gleaned from this modern technology is stunning, and has allowed us to know far more about the behavior of Snowy Owls in winter. Some Snowy Owls stay within a quarter mile of where they are banded; others cover hundreds of miles within a few weeks. Some Snowy Owls spend much of the winter out on the frozen Great Lakes, where they prey on waterfowl they find in the cracks in the ice that open and close repeatedly.   Not only has it been confirmed that Snowy Owls feed heavily on birds in the winter (especially ducks, geese, grebes and gulls), but their use of channel markers and buoys as hunting perches while they seek prey over the open ocean at night has been documented.

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Fall Beaver Lodge Renovations

11-24-16-beaver-lodge-049a1681Beaver lodges undergo a great many renovations in late fall. If the water level is high, the floor of the lodge and the roof of the sleeping chamber are raised. The lodge is strengthened with the addition of new material to the roof. Long, debarked sticks are pulled up vertically to the apex of the lodge and shorter sticks are then jammed into the lodge in order to pin it all together. When the roof of the lodge is two feet thick or more, mud and vegetation are applied on top of it.

Most of the decomposing plant material used to reinforce the roof of the lodge is dredged up from all around the base of the lodge (increasing the area’s water depth). The lodge is then coated with mud gathered at the bottom of the pond. This final coating of mud is of utmost importance – eventually it will freeze as hard as cement, providing protection from predators such as coyotes that can walk across the pond to the lodge once the water freezes. (A layer of mud is applied to bank lodges (see photo), as well.)

A beaver reaches all portions of the roof by holding the mud beneath its chin with its front feet, and walking upright on its hind legs, using its tail as a brace. The mud is then applied and smoothed over with its front feet. At the top of the lodge, an area about 15” wide is not coated, allowing fresh air to filter down into the roof of the sleeping chamber. On very cold winter days, the escaping moist warm air from the beavers’ breath can be seen drifting from this “chimney” at the apex of the lodge.

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Fishers Crossing Logs

11-25-16-fisher-tracks-049a1848The first snow that sticks on the ground is cause for celebration, if only because it allows you to know so much more about what goes on in the woods and fields that surround you than you would know if it never snowed. At this point the snow isn’t deep enough to distinguish tracks very well in the leaf litter, but thanks to the fisher’s propensity for crossing logs (which are relatively smooth, an excellent substrate for tracks, and retain scents well), one resident’s presence was announced loud and clear recently.

Fisher have large, wide feet with five toes on each foot and semi-retractable claws. This makes them well adapted for walking on snow, climbing trees and grasping and killing prey. (They are also capable of rotating their hind feet nearly 180 degrees, which allows for a headfirst descent from trees.) Their track is very distinctive, and can be quite common in forested areas of the Northeast.

Usually, if given the option, fishers will choose walking on a log over walking on the forest floor. Why would they have developed this preference? There often is no water where this occurs, so it’s not done in an effort to avoid wet feet. My best guess as to the purpose of this behavior is scent-marking. Fishers have been observed sliding along logs on their bellies, as they rub the scent of their anal glands along the top of the log. The fisher scent-marks with cheek, abdominal, neck, flank, and plantar (feet) glands, in addition to anal glands. A fisher leaves its scent with every step of its hind feet, and if rotting logs are superior scent-absorbers, it may be why fishers choose them over the forest floor.

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