Thirty thousand years before Harry Potter immortalized the snowy owl in popular culture, our European ancestors were drawing them on cave walls.
Snowy owls breed on the treeless northern tundra of Alaska, Canada and Eurasia, using scrapes on snow free boulders, hummocks or rises as nests. Males select and defend their territory, while females choose the nesting site. » Continue Reading.
The opposum is the only marsupial living in North America, and they’re one of the oddest-looking, slowest moving mammals around.
They’ve become sort of a folk hero in America, because of their penchant for annually devouring an average of 5,000 of the lyme bacteria carrying black legged ticks, which make the mistake of hitching a ride on the the possum’s low slung body. » Continue Reading.
Sometimes I wonder if the Biblical plagues of ancient Egypt have lingered in one form or another. Blooms of toxic algae, which occasionally turn water a blood-red color, are on the increase. Gnats and lice have been supplanted by deer ticks, which I’d argue are even worse, and there is no shortage of hail in season. Frog outbreaks may not have occurred since Pharaoh’s time, but poisonous cane toads imported to Australia are now running amok there, decimating all manner of native animals. And currently, swarms of locusts are causing great hardship in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Here in the Northeast, we are blessedly free of the kind of swarm-feeding grasshoppers that continue to cause suffering in Africa. Nonetheless, locusts have become such a problem that in 2014 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) declared the locust a Regulated Invasive Species, meaning it “cannot be knowingly introduced into a free-living state.” In other words, locusts are only legal in an environment from which they can’t escape. » Continue Reading.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that invasive zebra mussels were discovered in late January 2020 in Delta Lake, which supplies water to DEC’s Rome Fish Hatchery. Subsequent water testing at the hatchery confirmed the presence of zebra mussel veligers (larvae) in an outdoor raceway.
The Rome Hatchery is one of DEC’s largest hatcheries with annual production totaling nearly 160,000 pounds of brook, rainbow, and brown trout. » Continue Reading.
Every once in a while, as I’m tramping through the winter woods on my snowshoes, it occurs to me that I am walking on top of frogs.
In winter, our thoughts naturally turn to the species who remain within our sight – the chickadees at our feeders or the foxes who leave records of their travels in the snow – but any creature whose life spans more than one season, and who cannot fly away to warmer climes, must find a way to endure the cold. In February, our amphibians are all still here. They’ve just tucked themselves away for safekeeping. » Continue Reading.
On a walk one winter afternoon, I spotted two white objects darting across a snow-covered field. White on white, they were difficult to identify at first. It was a short-tailed weasel chasing a snowshoe hare!
Apart from the snowshoe hare, short- and long-tailed weasels are the only animals in the Northeast whose coats turn white in preparation for winter. The smaller short-tailed weasel, also known as an ermine, is more common than the long-tailed weasel. It lives in a variety of habitats, is an adept hunter, and has a reputation for being curious and bold. » Continue Reading.
I have always admired nature’s mutineers: animals and plants that thwart the recognized system and do their own thing. As a child I was the sole member of my own duck-billed platypus club, endeared to this creature with the bird-like bill, beaver-style tail, and shocking ability to lay eggs.
Other charming eccentrics: the tamarack, a conifer that loses its needles every winter; male seahorses that give birth to thousands of live babies; and the short-tailed shrew, a tiny mammal that uses a lizard-like venom to paralyze its prey. » Continue Reading.
North American porcupines are large rodents whose ancestors apparently crossed from Africa to South America on floating trees and logs some 30 million years ago. Their most prominent feature are the approximately 30,000 quills which grow individually everywhere out of the skin musculature, interspersed with bristles, under fur and hair.
The quills help the porcupine defend themselves from attacks by predators. The only quill free areas are the face and underside. » Continue Reading.
The Eastern coyote is found in many habitats, from rural farmland and forests to populated suburban and urban areas in New York State. Coyotes are well adapted to suburban and even urban environments, but for the most part will avoid conflicts with people.
However, conflicts with people and pets may result, particularly during the spring denning and pupping period. If coyotes learn to associate food, such as garbage or pet food with peoples’ homes, they may lose their natural fear of humans and the potential for close encounters or conflicts increases. » Continue Reading.
Whenever I spy a pileated woodpecker traversing the sky, I pause to watch its weird undulating flight. The jerky rise-and-drop movement of this large woodpecker is endearingly gawky – like a mini pterodactyl visiting from the Cretaceous period. This time of year, the bird’s bold crimson crest flashes in stark contrast to the mostly-muted colors of winter.
Pileated woodpeckers – Dryocopus pileatus – take their common and scientific names from the Latin word for “capped.” Both male and female sport the namesake red crest, as well as black streaks across the eyes. Measuring about 18 inches long, they have wingspans that can stretch past two feet. » Continue Reading.
Whenever the subject of fishers comes up, you hear they’re mean, nasty and vicious – a smaller wolverine with attitude. Fishers get a pretty bad rap, but when they do, there’s a great deal of projecting and anthropomorphizing going on.
Fishers aren’t mean or evil, and they don’t really eat many house cats at all. » Continue Reading.
Beavers are the great architects of American ponds and streams. The North American beaver competes with the Eurasian beaver to be the 2nd largest rodent in the world, after another semi-aquatic mammal, the South American Capybara. The average weight of a beaver in New York State is 42 lbs, though 60 pounders are not that unusual. Beavers have an average body length of 2 and ½ feet to 3 feet, and a flat swimming rudder tail of 8 to 14 inches. The tail doubles as a warning device, used to loudly slap the water when predators, dogs or people are sighted.
Beavers can stay under water for about 15 minutes, with their ears and nostrils sealed, and can live to be twenty years plus. » Continue Reading.
Close encounters with wildlife have always fascinated me. But the behavior of wild animals can be, at best, difficult to understand and, at times, totally unpredictable. I once grappled with a robin who returned year after year, only to spend the entire summer flying into my office window in a seemingly endless war with its reflection.
Just last month, I was outside beside the woodpile, getting ready to bring in some firewood, when a male ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) stepped out from under a small spruce tree, fearlessly strutted right up to me, and steadfastly stood there on the ground, literally underfoot. I was actually afraid that I’d accidentally step on him. » Continue Reading.
As we leaned over a bog boardwalk, a student asked, “What’s that black stuff on the water?” I suggested gently poking it with a twig. This elicited the expected response: as though ejected from James Bond’s Aston Martin, tiny black flecks scattered, landing inches away and on my student’s hand.
Springtails, the Tiggers of the invertebrate world, are often seen bouncing out of footprints and depressions in snow; hence another moniker: “snowfleas.” Although they have six legs and hop, they’re not actually fleas. They’re not even insects. Taxonomic revisions have alternately kicked them out of and accepted them back into the insect club for decades. Springtails, who, as far as we know, don’t much care how they are classified, are now in a class of their own: Collembola. » Continue Reading.
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