Friday, February 27, 2009
Due to circumstances beyond my control, we are losing our internet service here at the VIC on 1 March. Hopefully it will only be for a couple weeks. But, this means I will be unable to blog for a while (until I visit the library again, which will be on the 8th or 9th of March).
I will miss keeping you all up to date on the latest nature happenings here (especially now that spring is just around the corner and things are happening), but I hope those of you who are my followers will not give up on me.
If anything really cool happens between now ad 5 PM Saturday, I will let you know. Otherwise, I will "see you" in a couple weeks at the library!
OH, and yesterday I had a redpoll at my office window bird feeder! It's the first one of those we've had since December.
This morning dawned sunny and mild, with the clouds scudding northward in the strong winds. It is ever so odd to see clouds moving in the opposite direction they usually travel. And the wind was gusting from the east - usually it's from the west. The sky is now dark grey. A storm is on its way.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
North Country Public Radio had another update yesterday morning on our local bats and white-nose syndrome. Our intrepid reporter (Brian Mann) was in a cave over in Vermont that "they" are now calling the epicenter of the disease (previously the signs indicated it started somewhere around Albany). Al Hicks (NYS Wildlife Biologist who is THE go-to guy for this problem) estimated there were 5-10,000 dead bats in the cave; they said the bodies were 3-4" deep on the floor of the cave! Sick bats were fluttering out of the cave, clinging to icicles and crashing into snow banks. The disease has been found in caves in New Hampshire and West Virginia now, too. It is an epidemic and it is spreading with lightning speed!
And there's still nothing that can be done!
The fungus has been identified (a new species), but they don't know how it got here, or from where. And they don't know why/how it is killing the bats, other than the fact that the bats are starving to death.
If we all thought the bugs were bad last summer, I fear we will be in for an even greater shock this year. Not only will we be facing more mosquitoes and blackflies, but agricultural pests will be on the rise as well. Which will probably mean a greater usage of pesticides. People will finally start to appreciate just how much we benefited from having bats around.
I feel so helpless! I love bats and they are so important. I want to help, but if all the experts can't figure it out, there's nothing a lone naturalist can do but spread the word.
So, if you should find bats in your house this year, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't kill them!!! The bats that survive this plague will need all the help we can give them to survive (afterall, bats reproduce at such a slow rate it will take years for their numbers to come back...if they ever do). Contact someone to remove them for you. If it is only one bat in your living room, open a window, close the doors, turn off the lights, and leave the room - the bat will fly out on its own. Alternately, you can gently place a large can over the bat, slide a card underneath, carry the whole thing outside and release the animal with your good wishes.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
But today the sun is shining and I snapped these photos from my office window ("Don't jump!" my co-worker said, as she walked by and saw me crouched on my desk leaning partway out the window.)
This first shot is the overall view (for now you will have to imagine this photo - I've tried for two days to post the pictures, and it's just not working - I'll keep trying and maybe someday they will show up): fox and bird tracks (surprisingly, no squirrels). As I tell the kids when they are here for tracking classes, I can just about always guarantee fox tracks here. The birdfeeders provide a cafeteria for the foxes: all sorts of small mammals are snarfing down the fallen seeds, day and night. Easy pickings for a fox - much easier than hunting through the deep snow in the woods!
But the really neat "tracks" are the wing prints made by the chickadees as they forage for the fallen seed, courtesy of the greedy pine siskins who hog the feeders.
Folks often bring us photos they've taken of bird prints (or animal tracks, or plants, etc.) that they want identified. We usually claim that bird prints are those of raptors, and certainly many an owl has left a gorgeous set of wing, body, and even face prints in the snow while hunting. But I know that the prints in my yard are not from raptors - most likely they are from blue jays or crows. Just like with footprints, size can be an important clue. Before you snap that photo, get a ruler into the shot.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Our big find (and not a camera in sight to record it) was one, probably two, and possibly even three, actual coyote mating sites! Coyotes tracks ran all over the golf course, and in one spot they unmistakenly showed that mating had occured (complete with blood drops on the snow). The second spot was also highly suggestive of the act, and a third area was a possible, but it could also be that the animal just sat down for a while and sifted about. Either way, it was all very exciting to find. Another peek into the secret lives of our local wildlife.
The birds can feel that spring is in the air as well. Chickadees have been singing their spring-time song for about a week and a half now. And this morning, when Toby and I headed out for our constitutional, the quality of the sunlight, combined with the chorus of birds (bluejays, pine siskins, chickadees), made it seem that at any moment a daffodil would erupt from the ground by someone's foundation! There are even patches of bare ground under trees and along south-facing slopes!!!
But, alas, it is not to last. Snow is in the forecast for the rest of the week. So, today we shall revel in the last of the sunshine and file it away in our memories to get us through a few more weeks of snow.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Apparently seeking companionship (?), the deer set out in hot pursuit.
The turkeys were not impressed. They turned around and beat a hasty retreat back upstream.
Bambi followed. "Maybe if I casually cross the ice, they won't notice."
Finally, the Feathered 13 made their escape.
Friday, February 13, 2009
As you come into town from the east (on Route 28N, about 6 miles from the turn-off to Tahawus and the Blue Ridge Road), you see a turn to the right for the High Peaks Golf Course. Take this road to the end (about half a mile). At the end there is a building with some interpretive panels about the Hudson and its role in local logging operations. Feel free to sign the visitor register. But the best part is the view of the river. This is what it looks like about now, looking upstream:
As you can see, it has become significantly deeper and wider than it was at the Swinging Bridge. Well, actually you can't really see that here, what with all the snow, but come back in the spring after the snow has melted...it is impressive.
(these were taken last night, so you see a bit of sunset there).
Thursday, February 12, 2009
And finally, today I had a group of 6th graders in who were phenomenal! And they were here long enough that I could not only go into great tracking detail indoors, but we could also do our one-mile trail! I didn't have high hopes for good finds today, thanks to the rain and melting snow of the last 36 hours. I was pleasantly surprised. We saw otter trails, fresh beaver chews, and even followed a large canid (probably coyote) down the trail, marvelling at its footprints,
It starts with an “s” and it ends with a “t”,
It comes out of you and comes out of me.
I know what you’re thinking, you can call it that,
But let’s be scientific and call it scat.
You’re walking through the woods and your nose goes “ooooo”;
Must be some critter’s scat’s near you.
It may seem gross, but it’s okay,
They ain’t got no place to flush it away.
Down the trail something’s lying on the ground;
Nature’s tootsie roll all long and brown.
Don’t wrinkle your nose, don’t lose you lunch,
Break it apart, you might learn a bunch.
Don’t use your fingers, use a stick;
Keep sanitary now that’s the trick.
If you wanna find out what animals eat,
Take a good look at what they excrete.
Stuck in the scat are all kinds of clues,:
Parts of the food their bodies can’t use
Like bones and fur (2x)
Hard berries and seeds (2x)
Crawfish shells, ouch! (2x)
Grass fibers and weeds (2x)
'Possum up in a ‘simmon tree
Eating all the ‘simmons he could see,
Backed his butt into the weeds,
His scat was nothing but ‘simmon seeds.
Down by the creek on a hollow log,
Scat full of berries and bones of a frog.
Late last night he was out with the moon;
Wading the creek it was Mr. Raccoon
You’re driving your car by a woods or a field,
Scat goes splat on your windshield.
It’s full of seeds, all purple and white;
You just got bombed by a bird in flight
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold,
Scat on the trail two minutes old.
Two minutes old, is this a joke?
No, it’s still warm, look at it smoke!
Cat scat, rat scat, bat scat, too;
All god’s chillun do scat a lot, too.
Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold,
Scat in the woodlot nine days old.
Nine days old, how can you tell?
Getting kinda dry and not much smell.
Dog doo, frog doo, hog doo, too;
All god’s chillum do a doodley do.
Pease porridge hot, peas porridge cold,
Scat in a cave 1000 years old.
1000 years old, could that be right?
Sure that’s no jive: petrified copralite.
Mole scat, vole scat, bear scat, more;
There’s so darn many kinds of spoor.
Sneaking through the woods, be quiet now, shish!
Take a quiet step—something goes squish.
Don’t put it in your mouth, it ain’t delish.
Let’s put some in a Petri dish.
Look through a microscope, what do you see?
Microscopic organisms 1, 2, 3.
Bacillus, streptococcus, and E. coli,
They eat scat and then they die.
Don’t you worry, no need to cry,
They ain’t that different from you and I
If you want to know who was out and around,
Take a long hard look at the scat on the ground.
It tells us what they eat, tells us who they are;
That’s what we know about scat so far.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
How cool is that!?!
But taking the family pooch along when you are tracking isn't always the best idea because Rover will do his best to be in the photos.
But who could say "no" to this face?
Friday, February 6, 2009
Today was almost tropical by current temperature standards! But sadly it's been snowing (about half an inch) since early morning, so many of the cool tracks from the last couple of days have been filled in. Still, I was able to get a few new shots.
We came across this little nest today. I've been passing it all winter and it wasn't until today that I saw it...with the second group of the day! Some time between the first group passing it and the second group reaching it, something knocked a bunch of debris on the ground right underneath it, which drew all our eyes. Looking up from the debris, we saw this cute little nest.
After looking through the nest ID book, I think this might be the nest of a black-throated blue warbler. It was about three feet off the ground, and has lots of birch bark woven into it - both good clues for this warbler. I couldn't see if the inside was lined with fine black rootlets and hairs, though.
Today I went into greater detail about hare browse with the kids. This track, right near the snowshoe trail, was ideal for discussing browse: as you can see, the hare stopped and sat here (the two smaller front feet stick out in front of the larger back feet), and snipped the tip off the right-most branch of this woody plant. (I need to work on my track photography skills - what I know from using the "old-fashioned" SLR with film must now be adapted to the digital SLR. So, my apologies for having so many dark track photos.)
Rabbits and hares have very sharp incisors, and when they nip off twigs, they leave a perfectly cut 45 degree angle behind. This compares to deer (or moose), who, because they have no upper incisors, cannot make a nice clean cut. Instead, deer (and moose) cut through partway with their lower incisors and then tear off the remaining bit, leaving a ripped strand of bark behind. I'll see if I can scrounge up some shots for visual comparison.
I also "recorded on film" today the details of our mink ID from yesterday. First, we came across a series of 2x2 tracks (as noted yesterday).
After narrowing down our choices to marten or mink (otter are too big and heavy for these tracks; ditto for fisher, plus fishers tend to use a different gait more often; and the short- and long-tailed weasels are too small to have made these tracks), we continued down the trail, where we found a tunnel under the bridge and more tracks. I was leaning towards mink at this point because a) it is near water, and b) yesterday we could see toe prints here, and martens have feet that are way too furry to show much in the way of toe prints.
Then we had the lovely slide, seen here with the ruler so that you know it is too small to be an otter slide.
As Mark Elbroch wrote in his book Mammal Tracks and Signs: "Animal tracks are an animal's story." This is what I love about tracking: trying to tease out the story of the animal that left the tracks behind. What was it doing? Where was it going? What was its goal when it passed through here? Like learning the trees and birds, it makes being in the woods familiar. When you know all the neighbors, visiting is a lot more interesting.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Still, I had a good time out in the 1*F weather, because I found red fox scat on a fox trail that was scatless yesterday (and we so seldomly find scats here):
Fox scats are pretty easy to identify. They typically end in a narrow taper and often have a bit of a curlicue at the end. This one didn't show those traits, of course, but I knew it was fox because it was smack in the middle of the fox trail. This particular fox visits our bird feeding station nightly - must be hunting the mice and voles that snack on the fallen seeds. A regular fox cafeteria, I imagine - easy hunting.
And then we found a mink slide:
At first we just saw the "mystery mustelid" tracks (2x2, like a series of colons : : : : :). By process of elimination, we narrowed it down to mink or marten. Next we found where the animal had come up from under a bridge, where a little snow cave marked the end of a pseudo tunnel. This made me lean even more strongly toward mink, since minks live near water and I've seen mink tracks in this particular area in the past. But then we encountered the slide - and what a beautiful slide it was! You could see where it bounded (: : : :) over the crest of the hill and then, whheeeeeee, down it slid to the trail packed by snowshoers!
Of course I made them all sniff the fox scent post. I suspect, however, that 90% of them just went through the motions and did not really take a sniff. Oh, well. You can lead a horse to water...