Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sandcastles in the sand

Dan found several of these freshly-excavated sand tunnels near the shore
at the Delaney Project in Stow. The holes are about the same diameter
as a nickel.

Can you identify what made them?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Black toad, scrub oak, and hawk pellets

Some interesting finds today in the woods in Concord, MA.  Down at the edge of a swamp, I was pulling branches off of a large, rotting pine log, so I could get over it without impaling myself, when I realized I had destroyed someone's shelter.  I saw a small, dark blob move, and at first thought it was a rodent.  I was surprised to see that it was a toad!  Although the American toad (Bufo americanus), is usually some shade of brown, gray, or olive green, it can also be black (so I have read) .  I have not been able to determine how common this is, but I cannot find an online photo of a solid black one, so it must not be terribly common.

Several sources say that these toads are capable of changing color, in response to temperature, humidity, and stress level.  One experiment confirmed that the "stress" appears to be perceived predation risk: the toad changes color to match that of its surroundings in order to improve camouflage and reduce the predation risk.  Interestingly, younger toads are able to change color more quickly than their elders.  Older toads, which can change color only slowly, are more likely to seek an environment that matches its color.

The toad in the photo was large.  Did it turn black because it was in a cool, dark, moist shelter, or did it choose this shelter because it is black?  In any case, I put the branch back in place, to help keep its house cool, dark, and moist.

A bit further from the swamp, in the upland forest, there was a shrubby area dominated by clumps of scrub oak, Quercus ilicifolia.  I snapped a quick photo because this is only the second time I've ever seen it.  It is common on Cape Cod and in Plymouth County, but, as far as I know, it's not very common in most of the rest of Massachusetts.

Finally, I never would have noticed the 3 hawk pellets in the 3rd photo if my face hadn't come within 6 inches of them.  That would be one of the few benefits of having the grace and athleticism of a clod.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fox and Scat ID

Just got back from The Balsams in Dixville Notch NH. I'm VERY new to this blog/site so I have no clue what kind of animal made this pile but was wondering if it was bear or moose maybe? Never saw either one but we did get treated to a fox sighting while my husband was playing golf

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sign and Scenery

Now for some mammal sign from the Kayak on the Ausable River in the
Adirondacks (actually, this was a dammed portion of the river, called
Lake Everett). Otter tracks (I think) on the shore, and beaver poops
seen through the clear, calm water. The scenery was magnificent in the
early morning light.

Osprey and Turkey Vulture

Here are a few more photos from our Adirondack adventure. These were
all taken from a kayak, and as far as I know, neither the osprey nor the
turkey vulture was a graduate or escapee from the local rehab center.

I learned that after the young fledge, osprey families continue to use
the nest site for reunions for weeks before abandoning it entirely.
During the first few days of our stay, there were three of them, all
strong fliers, hanging around the nest, making a lot of noise. (They did
not obey "no more screeching!" in case anyone was wondering.) By our
final day, only one at a time would quietly return, every now and again,
as if to reminisce.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wild Imaginings

Janet writes: We just returned from an amazing family vacation in the
Adirondacks. In the comfort of a beautiful river front home, we fell
asleep each night and awoke each morning to the howling of wolves.
Ducks paddled right up to our kayaks, and, out in the yard, coming
within 10 feet of us, a merlin chased a kestrel which I held in my hand
after fear had immobilized it.

Unbelievable? All of that happened.....but we had to imagine that these
animals were wild. We rented a house just upstream from a wildlife
rehab center, where the howling wolves reside. It was fun to picture a
pack singing joyously to the moon after a fine cervid meal, but such
imaginings were sometimes interrupted by a woman yelling "no more
howling!"...And, so like dogs, the wolves would stop!

I fancied myself a duck whisperer, until we visited the rehab center,
and met a suspiciously similar looking pair of ducks who were so
friendly that I had to be careful not to step on them. They had just
been released, we were told, and keep coming back to the rehab center
looking for food.

The photos are from our final day. We were packing up the car, when I
spotted the kestrel on a branch about 20 feet above us. I was stunned
at how calm and still he was as I frantically snapped photo after photo,
expecting him to vanish at any moment. But then we remembered the rehab
center and noticed that something appeared to be wrong with one leg.
And then a wing didn't look quite right. And then we noticed the little
strap hanging from his leg. And so we were not surprised to see that
his flight wasn't quite normal when he made his way towards a shrub at
the side of the driveway. Initially, however, we were astonished to see
the merlin swoop towards the kestrel and pursue him among the trees.
The merlin gave up and flew up onto the house when the kestrel landed on
the ground a few feet away from us, trembling. I carried the poor
creature down to the rehab center and asked if they were missing a
kestrel. Indeed, he had slipped out that morning when someone went in
to clean his cage.

Finally, our excitement over a close encounter with a merlin was
deflated when the rehabber asked what kind of hawk it was that pursued
the little kestrel. "Was it him?" he asked, pointing to a merlin
perched on the top of his old cage. "We just released him a few days
ago, and he keeps coming back."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Turkey Vulture Nest and Roost

Janet writes: Turkey vultures nest in a rock crevice, burrow, hollow
tree, or thicket. A friend of mine found a single turkey vulture egg in
mid-late May in the rocky shelter shown in the first photo, in Boylston,
MA. While there is often no nest construction, in this case there was a
bit of leaf litter under the single egg. We returned to the site in
mid-June, disappointed to find the crushed egg shell. It must have been
eaten before it hatched, since there were no droppings at the nest site.

I found the roost in the 3rd photo one morning while kayaking the
Ausable River in the Adirondacks of NY. Notice the bird at lower left,
with spread wings. It is said that they do this to dry the wings, warm
the body, and bake off bacteria.