Moonlight on ‘Possums

I was out late the other night, when I heard a rustling in the bushes behind the garage.  I froze, not sure what I’d see, and found myself 10 feet away from a large, gray, moonlit opossum.  We had an intense staring contest that lasted about 2 seconds before it turned and disappeared.  I know there is a good number of opossums living in my neighborhood, but I’ve only seen 3 or 4 ever.  They are so secretive, so shy, that they leave almost no trace of existing, and when you do see them they scurry away in a heartbeat. It also doesn’t help that they are nocturnal, and seem to avoid not only daylight, but street- and lamp-light as well.  I don’t know much about these little guys, but they’re awfully exciting to see!

Hey!

This rather ugly critter was so weird-looking I wondered if it wasn’t some sort of duck-goose hybrid – an ugly guckling?

Looking up from a Metro station in Washington, D.C. 

The jellyfish at the National Zoo are amazing. You can actually see electricity coursing through them.

This orangutan made me sad. She looked right at me, and her eyes were so human – she doesn’t belong in a cage.

Coming out of Mammoth Caves. Located in Kentucky, it’s already the largest cave in the world, and only a tiny fraction of it has been discovered.

Magnolias

I’m Back, and better than ever!

This last month I was on vacation all over America. Here are a few pictures:

Wild Rodents

As fall comes, the rodents start getting crazier, hurrying to get ready for autumn. Squirrels bustle back and forth between yards, or running across the streets. They get hit by cars a lot, but the crows like it (ugh). Other animals  are more active too. Raccoons and mice are stocking up on nuts, fruit, and seeds. Soon several of them will be settling down to hibernate, but for now some new wildlife is exciting.

White Squirrel

Recently an albino squirrel has shown up in the neighborhood. It’s exciting to watch these pure white, pink-eyed rodents scurry around with all the other ordinary gray ones. The other squirrels don’t treat it any differently, although it seems a little more shy than most. Albino animals generally don’t live very long,  since not only are they easier to spot, but the same mutant gene that makes them white often comes with diseases. But when they’re around, they are definitely fun to have!

Winter/Spring Wildlife

As winter turns into spring (or begins to, anyway – we still have a good month to go) the wildlife begins to change. The cardinals are becoming more common. Their bright colors & distinct song (wheet, wheet, wheet – click on the link to hear it: http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=3) make them easy to spot. I’ve also seen quite a few white-tailed deer. But as the weather gets warmer, some of the variety of birds & other animals begins to get smaller. Many animals go back to forests or parks where they can find easier food without having to risk coming near people.  

Squirreling Around

The squirrels are quite active during colder days, searching for food to keep warm. They’re about half the size they were this fall, & during the winter, when they are weaker, many of them get a disease called Mange. Caused by mites, the squirrel’s fur becomes patchy & begins to fall off. But so far most of the squirrels are still healthy.

A Late Mouse

It appears that not all the rodents that usually hibernate have gone to their dens yet. Yesterday I saw a mouse (likely a house mouse, but I couldn’t identify it clearly) running to its den somewhere in the walls of a building with a large leaf in its mouth – as likely a plastic leaf as a real one. Quite a bit of the snow has melted, & warm air has probably lured many animals from their dens, especially the ones that live in buildings or garages. Or it could be that this mouse was waiting for it to get a bit colder before curling up for the winter.

Trees & Tail Waggers: More Alike Than You Might Think

At first, dogs  & trees might not seem to have much in common, but actually, their bodies work in similar ways. Nearly everyone knows that trees lose their leaves in the autumn, & it might seem obvious that dogs shed in the spring & fall, but have you ever wondered why some dogs shed all year long? Also, wild animals only shed seasonally. The answer is that an outdoor dog – one who spends most of it’s days in the yard or some other place outdoors, will only shed in the spring & fall, while an indoor dog, one who spends it’s life inside, only going outdoors for walks, will probably shed all year round.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This is directly related to the amount of sunlight the dog gets, i.e., how much of the change in the air surrounding the autumn & spring the dog experiences.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This same thing happens to trees & bushes in the fall. If you look closely at a bush that has begun to change color, you will notice that the top leaves change first, & when leaves are over lapping, parts of the lower leaf that are under the other will not change until later in the fall.

Rainbow of Squirrels

Yesterday I chanced upon a red squirrel, chattering angrily in a tree in it’s typical red squirrel way, infuriated by my intrusion upon it’s property. There aren’t a whole lot of reds around here – the forests are mostly deciduous, & they prefer pine & spruce forests to oaks, elms, & maples. But once in a while I see one, hiding in the forests by the river – they are shyer than their gray cousins.                                                                                                                    And while there is nothing new about seeing a gray squirrel searching for food under bird feeders, recently I have seen a couple of oddly colored ones. There is a resident albino squirrel, snowy white with bright pink eyes. I see her (or him) frequently enough, but a few days ago there was a black one hanging around, checking out the territory.                                                                                                                                                                                                     So while it seems at times that the variety of squirrels near in my yard will never differ, the truth is that there are probably enough squirrel colors out there to create an entire rainbow.

Fall Raccoons

As fall draws closer to winter many animals will be curling up in a tree hole to sleep through the cold weather, but yesterday I spotted a raccoon gathering food in the reeds by a creek. It was quite furry & fat, but I suppose when you will be sleeping for 5 months or so you can never have enough food. Raccoons often den for the winter with other raccoons, & unlike some other animals here, do not truly hibernate, but go through torpor – a state where their breathing & heart rate goes down, but every now & then they will wake up, & occasionally even leave their den. Mice, bats, & bears do this also.

Squirrels Gone Crazy

It’s fall, which means that the squirrels have officially gone crazy. They are desperate to get their little hands (or paws?) on anything they can, which can lead to a lot of flattened squirrels in the road. When they put their minds to gathering food, they really don’t think about anything else.

Sumo Squirrels

The squirrels in my yard have decided to begin training as professional wrestlers – they spend the whole day practicing on each other. They are probably worried about their supply of nuts running low, & since the competition is high, tolerance is low.                                                                The squirrels are also significantly plumper than they were earlier this year, as are the birds. Some of the animals must be about twice the size they were late last winter. In the fall & winter, squirrels appreciate foods high in protein such as nuts, to keep them warm & give them energy.

Beaver Lodge!

I spotted a beaver lodge on a lake a couple of days ago. It was large, & very messy; weeds & sticks all slapped together with a ton of mud, but it was amazing that an animal without thumbs could build anything like that. Beavers usually live in a lodge with their mate, & around 3 offspring, called pups, kits, or kittens.

Squirrel vs. Sparrow

A few days ago, I saw a couple of squirrels were having some kind of argument; they chased each around my yard & up a tree, which had a bird house on it that was home to a family of house sparrows. The squirrels weren’t interested in the chicks as far as I could see, only in chasing each other around & around the tree, but when the squirrel’s disagreement brought them close to the sparrow’s nest, the parents flew out of the bird house, & started dive-bombing the squirrels. The squirrels were startled, & quickly retreated. It was amazing how they wouldn’t stand up to an animal half their size & a fraction of their weight. The sparrows must have pretty sharp beaks.

Here is a video of a bird fighting with a squirrel:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2DaaE5PKKs&feature=related

& two squirrels fighting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcHXqvvWj8E&feature=related

The Smokies!

I was camping in the smoky mountains a few nights ago. It’s full of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, & even black bears! It was hot – somewhere over 100°.  I didn’t see any bears, but there were plenty of white-tailed deer. They were quite used to people, & in the morning there were always a few of them hanging around the campsite. I got to see a few of them at really close ranges – maybe 8 feet away. It stunned me how they can survive in the wild when they are SO noisy. They tramp through the woods making a huge racket, but they must be able to move quietly when they want to or how would they survive?

The Smokies

More Rabbits

Eastern cottontail rabbits are becoming much more common here. There are always a few around, but in the summer & winter they are usually much easier to find. They come & nibble on the plants & leaves on the ground, but they are more timid than squirrels, & they are quicker to run if they are startled. However, they will choose to forage for plants much closer to people than squirrels will, & if you do not move in their direction, you can pass by very close to them.

Squirrel Munchies

The squirrels love to sit in the grass in my yard & nibble away at fallen Elm tree branches. They strip the twigs of all their leaves, until nothing but a few veins of the leaves are left uneaten. The freshest ones they like the best, & hesitate to run if someone approaches, they are so intent on eating. It seems like in the summer they are less worried about their food supply, & seem more relaxed & less frantic in their search for things to eat. I’m sure this is because food is much more abundant. 

Squirrels eat almost anything, & are eaten by many predators too. They have a unique adaptation that helps to survive, however: if a predator grabs a squirrel by the tail, the squirrel’s tail will snap off, & the squirrel will run away. I’ve found squirrel tails lying on the sidewalk around my house several times, but with 

'this is the Elm leaf'

no trace of a dead squirrel nearby. After a while, the squirrel’s tail grows back, although it remains stumpy aft- 

'this is what the twig looks like after the squirrels have nibbled it'

erwards. 

Rain, Rain, & More Rain

It’s been raining hard here for several days now, & the sun is rarely out for more than a few moments a day. It’s also very cold, although it’s mid-May. I noticed that the birds really don’t mind though. They’re hopping around on the ground (& trying to get under the roof of the birdfeeder) with their feathers all fluffed out, searching for the least soggy seeds. The squirrels also are out, but I see them less often. I think they are mostly all curled up in their holes staying dry.

Red squirrel, Gray squirrel

Yesterday I saw a red squirrel running up & down a tree. I got pretty close to it, & it didn’t run away. Instead it looked at me & started shaking & chattering so loudly I started looking around to see if there were actually 2 squirrels – I couldn’t believe 1 tiny squirrel could make that much noise! Red squirrels are much tinier than gray squirrels, & less common. They mostly live in northern pine forests, although some live as far south as Iowa. They build their nests in the fork of a large tree, or if it’s available an empty tree cavity. Sometimes they will even occupy abandoned bird nests. Red squirrels do not hibernate, but they are less common in winter since they stay in their nests to conserve body heat. 

Cottontails

Lately there’s been an Eastern Cottontail hanging around my neighborhood. These common rabbits like all the vegetation & the bird feeders that spill seeds around here. (But not so much the hawks.) By the way, I’ve figured out that birds, if you put out sunflower seeds still in the shell, will actually crack the shell, swallow the nut meat, & then they will lean over the edge of the feeder, & spit the shell onto the ground. Talk about bad manners! The rabbits show up early in the morning & in the early evening, but you can still see them in the day. It’s amazing how cottontails have adapted to city life. They are quite different from the eastern cottontails in the wild. They are hardly afraid of humans at all, & they eat from underneath bird feeders like they’ve been doing it forever. The rabbits probably all have nests by now, as they have kits from Feb. to Sept. The mother rabbit, also called a doe, spends very little time at her nest, instead she forages for food away from the nest to draw attention toward herself & not her young. Interestingly, it’s for the same reason that male birds are so brightly feathered & spend so much of their time away from their nest. They are so often accused of being lazy, when actually they are sitting in a nearby tree, boasting their brilliant colors to all hungry eyes, & singing their hearts out quite selflessly. This way they call attention to themselves & not their precious nest, with the female & young with their drab coats that blend in perfectly with the things around them. Rabbits work the same way. The doe comes home to feed her kits for only a short time each day; the rest of the time the brood must fend for themselves, which they do just fine. If you find rabbit kits alone, they probably are in good shape & are waiting for their mother to come home. Many people see a brood of young rabbits alone &, thinking they’ve been orphaned, take them home. This is a bad idea. If you are worried they’ve been orphaned, put some unscented dental floss around the nest and check to see if it is disturbed in 24 to 48 hours to show if the mother has been there.  If not, call a wildlife rehab center.