Now you see it, now you don’t: something brown in or near the water, hopping, swimming, or doing something else that catches your eye. The suspect list includes mink, muskrat, beaver, and otter. Listen here as I discuss what to look for and how to tell the difference in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze.
Posts Tagged ‘Small Mammals’
“She’s so cute!” a little girl coos to the snowy white owl. The owl blinks languidly, ignoring her admirer. No doubt she is used to human attention, as she is one of the more popular raptors housed at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science Nature Center (VINS) in Quechee, Vermont. She likewise ignores the decapitated rat in her food bowl, chirruping softly as if dissatisfied with what’s on the menu. I wait patiently, hoping to witness the moment when she gulps it down.
Owls eat their smaller prey whole, or tear larger prey into chunks with their beaks and talons. Sooner or later, that owl will grab the raw rat out of her food bowl with her sharp beak and knock it back like a shot of whiskey. It will slide down her esophagus and into her two-chambered stomach. The first chamber, called the proventriculus, or glandular stomach, secretes digestive enzymes to break down all the easily digestible parts. Much like our own stomach, this chamber will liquefy the soft tissue (the gooey stuff, including muscle, fat and organs). Whatever isn’t digested in the first chamber, such as the bones, fur and teeth, will pass through to the second chamber, called the gizzard. » Continue Reading.
Around a beaver pond, we sometimes catch a whiff of beaver odor. People have described it to me as smoky, woody, or like tobacco. It may waft over from the lodge, or it might emanate from scent mounds – little piles of mud by the water’s edge. Beavers make scent mounds by dredging up mud from the bottom of a pond, then carrying it up on land in their front paws while walking upright. The beaver drops the mud, then squats over the mound and applies castoreum from glands near the base of the tail.
The smell means: keep away! In some neighborhoods, this territorial advertisement works remarkably well. I’ve been involved in studies where human-made scent mounds effectively deterred free-ranging beavers from settling in unoccupied beaver habitat. » Continue Reading.
The light was poor and it was nearly 5:30 on a dim winter afternoon. What was this strange beast in the driveway? Find out in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze. » Continue Reading.
Beware! Pictured here are your adversaries—the official enemies of the state. Don’t be distracted by the pretty colors, lovely feathers, or furry critters. These are vermin, and citizens are urged to kill them at every opportunity. The poster, by the way, represents only the top nine targets from a group of notorious killers, presented here alphabetically: bobcat, Cooper’s hawk, crow, English sparrow, goshawk, gray fox, great gray owl, great horned owl, house rat, “hunting” house cat, lynx, porcupine, red fox, red squirrel, sharp-shinned hawk, snowy owl, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. Kingfishers and a number of snakes were later added, and osprey were fair game as well.
While some of the phrases used above—“official enemies … kill them at every opportunity … new job requirement”—might sound like exaggerations, they were, in fact, official conservation policies of New York State a century ago.
It was all part of a Conservation Commission campaign in the early 1900s to eradicate undesirables (their word, not mine) from the food chain. The above-named animals were deemed undesirable in the realms of farming and hunting. They were just doing what comes natural—killing to eat, or gathering food—but those foods included barnyard animals, garden and field crops, and the vaguely defined “sporting” game that hunters treasured, particularly grouse, pheasant, and rabbits. Lest you think eradicate is too strong a word, the actual order in one state pamphlet was, “Destroy the Vermin.” » Continue Reading.
I sat outside most of the afternoon, relaxing in a lawn chair enjoying a good book. As I sat there soaking up the sun, the snow melted around me. The chicken coop roof is clear after being baked in the sun all day, and the snow fossils of old footprints are melting away.
The chickens have been enjoying the warmer weather and are basking in the sunlight. For a couple of months, I hadn’t gotten more than an egg per day from the three girls, and sometimes not even that. But in the last week, I’ve gotten more than a dozen. » Continue Reading.
Harry Houdini was a great break-out artist: handcuffed, straight-jacketed, chained and submerged in water, he’d always emerge. Raccoons are famous break-in artists. No chimney flue, garbage can, or campground cooler is safe from their prying hands.
Like Harry Houdini, it’s partly clever hand work that makes the raccoon so good…and so bad. Raccoons have remarkably sensitive hands, with five long, tapered fingers and long nails. They lack thumbs, so can’t grasp objects with one hand the way we can, but they use both forepaws together to lift and then acutely manipulate objects. Thanks to this tactile intelligence, raccoons are problem solvers that adapt easily to cities, suburbs, and other manmade habitats. » Continue Reading.
It was perched across the road, maybe 30 yards away, its chest puffed up against the cold. It appeared to be eyeing the activity at our birdfeeder.
As I was trying to decide if it was a female sharp-shinned hawk or a male Cooper’s hawk, the bird launched from its perch, and in an instant had threaded its way through a dense tangle of road-side branches while in hot pursuit of a blue jay.
It all happened so quickly that I wasn’t even sure if the jay had been captured, although I was able to identify it as a Cooper’s hawk. » Continue Reading.
Some of us find it easier than others to rise and shine on frigid winter mornings. Sunshine comes late if it comes at all, and the temperature at times hardly rises above zero. What to do? Listen as I tell of one cold morning and what I did and what I saw in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze.
The wild winter weather is continuing. Friday it was so warm that even several hours after the sun went down, there was still a steady drip-drip-drip coming off the roof. In the forties Saturday, the season just can’t seem to make up its mind.
That’s not to say that it has been an easy winter. And to me, there has been a recurring theme out here at that cabin that demonstrates this better than anything else. I have had a steady supply of small rodents around the house looking for food. » Continue Reading.
Geological forces over millions of years coupled with the action of glaciers and weather have created massive piles of boulders at the base of towering rock walls and steep slopes in numerous locations throughout the Adirondacks.
Some of the more prominent accumulation of talus, sometimes called scree by climbers, occurs around Chapel Pond, throughout the Wilmington Notch, in the Cascades, around portions of Bald Mountain near Old Forge, and in many places near the shores of Lake Champlain. Talus is also present along the edges of some sections of rivers and larger streams that cut through substantial deposits of bedrock. » Continue Reading.
Happening upon this scene brought mixed emotions. I love the weasel family (Mustelidae), especially the American Marten (Martes americana), so I was naturally excited to be able to get so close to this one. That was only because someone had left a pile of dog food at a campsite. » Continue Reading.
Fat gets a bad rap in the medical world, for good reason. Excessive body fat is linked to a litany of health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Yet in the realm of nature, fat is a lifesaver. If certain mammals that hibernate did not get fat, they would be dead by spring.
The woodchuck is something of a fat specialist. As many an irate gardener can attest, the woodchuck’s diet consists of perishable greens. Because these can’t be stored, the animal stockpiles all the food energy it needs to survive winter in a thick layer of body fat. » Continue Reading.
The vast expanses of wilderness forests that cover the Adirondacks serve as home to many forms of wildlife adapted for survival in areas where visibility is limited by trees and grasses, and grains are nearly non-existent.
Large open areas scattered throughout the Park serve to support the collection of creatures that require much greater visibility and food sources that exist on the soil’s surface. Among those animals drawn toward these open spaces is the snowy owl, which regularly migrates southward from its arctic breeding grounds in autumn to establish a winter hunting territory in more hospitable surroundings. » Continue Reading.
In November, as the last colors of autumn are fading, the stark outlines of tree branches are revealed. During this time you might be lucky enough to see an occasional dark mass, looking from a distance like a burl.
Recently, on a hike through a dense forest, I spied one such anomaly high up in a white ash tree. Walking closer, I saw that this shape was a porcupine. It seemed asleep. After circling the area looking for quills and other markings, I shuffled noisily away. When I turned back, the porcupine was heading further up the tree. The branch it clung to bent precariously as the wind picked up, but the tenacious climber hung on. » Continue Reading.
The powdery layer of snow covering the forest floor across the Adirondacks is still too thin in many areas for back country skiing and snowshoeing; however, several inches of fluff is ideal for noting the tracks of wildlife. Among the most common of mammals that populate the Park is a miniature predator, whose tracks typically appear from beneath an old stump, a rotted log, a surface boulder or a pile of brush and zigzag in an erratic pattern for roughly a dozen feet before disappearing under some other chunk of debris.
In our mixed forests and woodland edges, the short-tailed shrew is a prolific, but rarely seen, member of the wildlife community, yet its abundance becomes evident by the presence of its tracks in the snow, especially in late autumn and early winter before an increased snow depth reduces this creature’s visits to the surface. » Continue Reading.
The arrival of weather with temperatures favorable for snowmaking, blustery northwest winds, and damp, unstable air that produces periodic bouts of flurries forces many forms of wildlife into a less active routine and causes them to spend more time in some type of shelter. As the length of their daily confinement to a nest or den increases, there is an expansion of the population of tiny organisms that make their home on the skin of many forms of wildlife.
While vast stretches of wilderness serve the ecological needs of numerous warm-blooded animals, the microenvironment that exists at the very base of a mammal’s dense coat of fur provides countless invertebrates with the space they need in which to carry out their life cycle. » Continue Reading.
Hard mast, the term used to refer to the nuts wild trees produce, is humbling this way. We know that, generally speaking, trees require a lot of energy to produce nuts, and so a tree won’t produce them every year. The books say every two or three years for beech nuts and three to seven years for oaks, but take it all with a grain of salt.
There are advantages, from a tree’s perspective, to being unpredictable. Abundant years followed by lean years keep seed predators in check. (Biologists call this predator satiation.) In a good year, the woods are flooded with nuts – more than any squirrel or mouse can eat. The next fall, when rodent populations are high thanks to all the easy living, the trees take the year off and the surplus rodents starve.
» Continue Reading.
Feeling blue one morning, I headed into the woods and found my thoughts full of bobcats. Listen to what the cats had to teach me in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze.
The podcast is produced by Mountain Lake PBS’s Josh Clement. “All Things Natural” has been published continuously since 1987 and approaches its one-millionth published word. It currently appears in the Bedford, NY Record-Review. Listen to past episodes by visiting Mountain Lake PBS’s Borderless North webpage at mountainlake.org/bn.
On a morning walk around the pond, the dog and I encountered a dead shrew – perhaps the unfortunate casualty of a neighborhood feline or a red fox (shrews are well-known for being distasteful to mammalian predators). When I picked it up and noticed its velvety black fur, long tail, and unusually large hind feet, I realized that this was a species I did not recognize. I tossed it on the passenger seat of the car so I could identify it later at work.
Like all shrews, this small, mouse-like mammal lying on my desk had a long pointed snout and tiny eyes. Its minuscule ears were barely visible, covered by short velvety fur. As I stroked the soft black hair, I noticed that the fur offered little resistance no matter which direction my finger passed over it, a perfect adaptation for life underground, permitting the animal to slide easily through a tight tunnel in any direction. » Continue Reading.