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Archive for the ‘Mammals’ Category

Easter bunny Spring 2014

Local bunnies are quickly changing their winter coats for brown ones these days.  Though they may still be streaked with white above their noses and along their backsides, soon the snowshoe hares will be wearing solid brown.  Make that, solid chocolate brown.

snowshoe hare spring coat

Peter Rabbit on the runActually, it’s more like tawny brown.  But let’s not split hares :)

Why you ask?  Well, it’s neither because brown is the new white in the Spring fashion world.  Nor is it because Peter Rabbit wore brown in Beatrix Potter’s children’s books.  Though naughty as he was, he did look quite charming.

They’re not wearing brown because the snow has *finally* disappeared from our neck of the woods and with it, all winter season apparel.

No, the reason why the local hares are wearing brown this week is because the daylight hours are getting longer.   Snowshoe hares have the most sensitive of eyes when it comes to differences in light.  Perhaps this is why they respond so readily with a change in fur color in spring and fall.

Easter bunny in woods

And since Easter takes place in late April this year, I’m sure the Easter Bunny will also be wearing a tawny coat.  However, in years when Easter takes place in March, he may very well be wearing white.  It’s all about camouflage with bunnies, whether they’re keeping a hop ahead of predators or sneaking around to hide Easter eggs.

bunny thinking

Wondering where the best places might be to hide eggs in the yard.

Hoppy Easter to all!

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

 

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ravaged partridge berry bush

Who’s been nibbling all the leaves off the partridge berry bush?  Have the snowshoe hares been at it again?  I’m sure its evergreen leaves are tempting, especially in early spring, after yet another snowfall has covered the ground.

browsed euonymus

And who ate all those leaves off the euonymus branches right next to the house?  Despite a long, harsh winter, this plant was still lush green and thriving until… this morning.

ravaged euonymus branch

As if the tracks weren’t enough of a tell-tale sign…

deer tracks on snow

Further evidence was waiting to be discovered along the trail in the backyard…

deer droppings on snow

Oh deer!  (Maybe they’ll be back!!)

White-tailed deer photographed in Eastern Passage by Linda Hulme

White-tailed deer photographed in Eastern Passage by Linda Hulme

Update April 15th, 2014

Early this morning around 1:30 am, I was able to see half a dozen white-tailed deer moving slowly around the open area in the front yard.  They looked so calm.  Two were much smaller than the rest.  Three approached the house and began ‘pruning’ what’s left of the evergreen leaves on the  euonymus.  They were just a foot away from my vantage point on the other side of the living-room window. 

Guessing they’d soon be moving to the backyard, I slowly opened the back door.  The last one to leave flashed his white tail as he entered the path into the deeper woods.  Suddenly he stopped and turned back.  As I stood there at the half-open back door, I watched him walk around the deck for a few minutes and then just quietly go into the deeper woods by an alternate path.  It seemed like a dream.  I’ve waited all these years to finally see one deer in my yard, and then I see half a dozen all at once!

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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snowshoe hare eating spruce needles

‘Eat your greens’ we’re told from a young age.  Young snowshoe hares need not be reminded.  Nothing green seems to get overlooked by their taste buds.

hare nibbling on spruce branches

Once new growth emerges on the lower branches of fir and spruce trees in the yard, the tender needles replace dandelions on the hares’ seasonal menu.  Hungry bunnies reach the higher branches by standing on their hind legs, carefully balancing themselves in order to grab a bite.  Who knew snowshoe hares could eat standing up?!

Snowshoe hares are amazing runners whose reproduction rates are legend.  Could the greens in their diet be a key to their boundless energy?

Even keen salad eaters wince at the idea of eating evergreen needles but we don’t need to eat an entire bough to benefit from such nutritious fare.

balsam fir new growth

A simple tea made by steeping a sprig of new growth needles in hot water will provide a good dose of vitamin C.  Balsam fir needles are used for colds, coughs and asthma according to my Peterson Field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs.  As wild as it sounds, it’s probably tamer on the body than most drug store decongestants.

fresh green growth

The Green shopping aisle

Spruce and fir needles can also be dried and crumbled for use as a wild accent in a variety of kitchen fare.  Think of adding a bit to rice, venison or even Christmas cookies.   At least the shopping aisle won’t be crowded and the Grocer’s selection will be a feast for the eyes as well.  Recent rains have encouraged so much evergreen growth that Nature’s bounty will be great enough for both humans and hares to have plenty to share and enjoy.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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snowshoe hare up close

Wild snowshoe hares are frequently seen in the yard.  They’re present year-round, but most visible during the spring and summer months.

Watching a hare through the window

Watching a hare through the window

We often watch them through the window as they munch on the lawn or rest under the trees.

Snowshoe hare resting under fir trees next to driveway

Snowshoe hare resting under fir trees next to driveway

One in particular often lays under some trees next to the driveway. It was looking especially relaxed yesterday afternoon.  If we are quiet as we come up the driveway and walk into the house, it will usually just open its eyes for a moment and then go back to its rest.

Hare with blended coat of brown and white fur in early spring

Hare with blended coat of brown and white fur in early spring

Unlike most rabbits, hares don’t make underground burrows.  When startled, they either freeze or leap out of sight.  Blending into the landscape is made easier by their varying coat color which is white in winter and brown in summer, a change dictated by daylight hours rather than how much snow is on the ground.  Consequently, a lack of snow cover in winter, or snow on the ground in late spring makes them vulnerable to predators.

snowshoe hare next to deck

Lately I’ve been looking for hare nests in the yard.  Unlike rabbits, hares are born with fur and open eyes, making them more alert to their above-ground surroundings.  In the past, I’ve replaced leverets (baby hares) back into their nest as they’ve jumped out after being startled by my lawnmower.  Leverets are left unattended during the day, visited by their mother only at night.

I haven’t found any nests yet this year, but it’s still early in the season.  Unfortunately, I’m not the only one looking…

Trespassing cat on the prowl

Trespassing cat on the prowl

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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Being Handy

The ‘Peel and Eat’ Buffet

While much human labor involves manipulating tools, most wild creatures depend solely on their hands to do the work for them. Imagine how finger numbing it would be to peel back a lawn using only your hands?  The raccoon whose handiwork this is must have been peeling for some time before he made such a mess of my lawn.

Maybe I’d be in a peeling frenzy too if I shared his appetite for worms.  Considering all the worms I found under the sod, it’s no wonder he keeps coming back for more.

Some of the worms that managed to not get eaten by the raccoon (yet)

Besides their awesome dexterity, raccoons’ compulsive hand washing is also a source of fascination.  One popular theory suggests that these ‘Little Washing Bears’ simply wash their food prior to eating it.  However, researchers Rasmusson and Turnbull discovered that wetting actually enhances the sensitivity of raccoons’ hand nerves (Sensory innervation of the raccoon forepaw: 2. Response properties and classification of slowly adapting fibers’ ).  This wetting process would certainly give raccoons more information regarding the edibility of their food and make it easier for them to catch food underwater.

If women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.
~ Red Green

Raccoons have managed to use their dexterity to repeatedly lift off my garbage can lid, pluck tomatoes from my garden and abscond with the suet balls I thought I had carefully tied to tree branches.

Considering how much their survival is linked to their handiwork, I wonder to what extent a raccoon’s handiness is considered in the choice of mates.

For more about raccoons see:
The Lawn Ripper and When Bandits Strike

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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Can you find the mouse in this picture?

This afternoon, a deer mouse climbed the vines that cling to the house and made its way to the window ledge.

Its scurrying movements back and forth along the ledge quickly caught the attention of everyone inside.

Deer mice are recognizable by their white underbelly which contrasts with the rest of their brownish grey fur.  They have big ears and beautiful dark eyes.  They can scale vertical surfaces and are extremely agile.  Especially hardy, they’re known to survive for 5 to 7 years, twice the life expectancy of most mice.

Unfortunately, these mice are also carriers of the hanta virus and lyme disease.  The best way to appreciate them is through glass.  Care should also be taken to avoid their nests and droppings.

This little mouse was quite busy checking out the vine leaves during its short visit.   It seemed to be eating little translucent granules that were clinging to some of the stems.  It was very active and managed to even climb a few of them.

Hang in there baby!

Before we could say ‘Appley Dapply’ our cute little visitor was gone, but not before it managed to give us one good look through the glass.  It was probably wondering what all the fuss was about.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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porcupine quills

We all know about porcupine quills, but what about this creature’s other parts?  Like humans, there’s a lot more to porcupines than first meets the eye.

Their lovely coat for example…  Due to the odd quill embedded with the fur, bristles and hair, it doesn’t necessarily invite petting, but certainly appears quite thick and warm.  Porcupines don’t hibernate, so this heavy coat would make our cold winters more tolerable.

porcupine coat

Look at those shiny black claws.  They’d come in handy for climbing and digging up roots.  And see that soft underbelly?  This is the tender, vulnerable part of porcupines that predators such as coyotes and fishers try to expose by flipping them over.  No wonder they keep it hidden.

porcupine claws

A quick whack of a porcupine’s tail will embed quills into an unwary predator.  The quills are barbed and a likely death sentence to an animal that gets a mouthful of them and becomes unable to eat.  Yikes!

porcupine tail

Though its orange teeth may leave something to be desired by the whitestrips crowd, this is a winning smile if ever there was one.  Like the beaver, a porcupine’s ever-growing rodent teeth are kept sharp and short by constant chewing on trees.

porcupine smile showing orange teeth

Who knew there was so much more to porcupines than just their quills?  This porcupine was more than generous with its willingness to pose before 6 am, especially while doing chin-ups for its early morning exercise routine.  Oops!  Since porcupines are nocturnal, better make that a late night exercise routine.

porcupine doing chin-ups

For more on porcupines, see:
Bark Nibblers
Porcupines in Apple Trees
Porcupines Along the Salt Marsh Trail

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Bobcat Tale

Bobcat in Cow Bay

At first glance, this tawny feline looks like just another neighborhood pussycat visiting the yard.

Bobcat in the Yard

Posing among the spring flowers it almost seems to smile for the camera.  But there’s something a little wilder than usual in its expression and the size of its cheek ruffs and paws.

Bobcat HeadThe facial markings are a bit more pronounced than those of a domestic cat and then there are those black ear tufts and bobbed tail…

Ryan Shaw was surprised early one evening when he realized he had spotted a  bobcat (Felis rufus) in his yard.  Though his first thoughts raced to the whereabouts of his own housecat, he couldn’t help but be mesmerized by this wildcat’s awesome beauty.  He wondered if perhaps he was the one trespassing on the bobcat’s territory.

In January 2010 I spotted two bobcats in the backyard.  Besides this recent spotting on Green Bay Road, they’ve also been seen on Orion Drive.  They seem to be on the prowl throughout Cow Bay and it’s no wonder why.

Bobcats feed on snowshoe hares, squirrels, porcupines and ground birds which are all plentiful here.  They’re also comfortable climbing among the trees blown down in our backwoods by Hurricane Juan in 2003.

Bobcat litters of one to six kittens are born at this time of year.  Since they breed in the first year, it likely won’t be long before there are more of them in our neck of the woods.

Nova Scotia Bobcat

If you see a large tawny cat in your yard, especially one with a bobbed tail, don’t approach it. They may look friendly, but wild animals are best admired from a safe distance.  

Photo credits:  Ryan Shaw

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.

 

 

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loup garou

Loup-garou howling under a full moon

Although wolves were made extinct in much of Eastern Canada in the 1800s, there may still be wolf-like creatures prowling our woods at night, especially under the light of a full moon.  When I was a child, my French-Canadian grandmother would warn me about the dangers of staying outside after dark, especially near forested areas.  What was to be feared above all was a creature she called the loup-garou.  I knew that loup meant ‘wolf’ in French, and since the meaning of the word garou was unknown to me, it fueled my imagination by amplifying the cunning, bloodthirstiness of the feared creature.

Would you venture into these dark woods alone at night?

Reluctant to come indoors at the end of the day, I discounted my grandmother’s stories as nonsense.  After all, she was in the habit of telling other far-fetched tales, ones of horses acting strangely around men of questionable character or of ghostly hands pulling on your hair at night while you were asleep.  It wasn’t until I read about the loup-garou in my French reader in elementary school that I realized there might be more to her tales than I had previously thought.

That account of the loup-garou was far more detailed than anything my grandmother had told me.  It explained how the transformation from human to wolf took place when a person missed Easter Sunday communion for seven years in a row.  The only way such a wretched soul could be ‘saved’ was to go to confession and ask forgiveness from the priest.  Once they then took communion on Easter Sunday, they would no longer be doomed to transform each night into a ravenous wild animal.  So much for the silver bullets used to destroy werewolves in English stories.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there were numerous convictions and executions of loup-garous among the French during the 16th century.  I wonder if any loup-garous came to Canada back then to escape such persecution.

A full moon is expected for tomorrow night.  If you’re out walking near woods after sunset, do consider taking an extra look over your shoulder.  If you’re a loup-garou reading this, and have grown tired of having to be on the prowl at night when others are tucked in their cozy beds, you might want to find out this weekend if there’s any truth to the Easter Sunday remedy.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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porcupine ball

Why would a porcupine go so far out on a limb?  Wouldn’t it be safer closer to the trunk?  Although porcupines are quite good at balancing themselves, many fall to their death by venturing out on limbs.  I’ve seen porcupines on trees in the salt marsh before, but they were always clinging to thicker branches or resting on top of large evergreen boughs.

You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.
~ Will Rogers

porcupine head alb
Rogers’ quotation might apply to porcupines in apple trees, but this porcupine wasn’t on a fruit tree.  Porcupines will eat the inner bark of fir trees in winter when other food is more scarce, but although there are many fir trees in the marsh, this wasn’t one of them.  The porcupine was also hanging out on an island that’s a common roost for bald eagles in the marsh.  Eagles, coyotes and bobcats, all marsh residents, are known to prey on porcupines.   

porcupine on a limb

Why is this porcupine so far out on a limb?

This tree looks like a maple and it does appear as though some of its bark has been chewed.  Perhaps, with its acute sense of smell, the porcupine was lured by the scent of tender leaf buds that might be just beginning to emerge at the tips of the branches.  I can only wonder.

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“Stop the car!” my passenger shouted from the back seat as we neared the turnoff to Martinique Beach.  My friend Sybil had caught sight of her first seal and there it was, lying in the sea grass to the side of the road:  an adult harp seal.

Most of us can quickly recognize baby harp seals.  They’re the ones with the big dark eyes and completely white fur.  Once they become adults however, they acquire a silver coat with a black head and markings, looking very little like the photogenic youngsters they once were.

Harp seals are mammals that spend most of their time eating fish in the ocean.  This one seemed to be enjoying the brief interlude of sunshine in the sea grass. 

I’m not sure how frequently harp seals visit our local shores.  They are usually found in the waters off Greenland and Newfoundland.  Apparently when they are seen here in Nova Scotia, they are solitary.  This one certainly seemed to be alone.

Last April I spotted a lone harbor seal in the salt marsh.  Though some people claim to see seals regularly on our shores or in our waters, this is only the third time I’ve seen one.     

The sighting was the highlight of the afternoon for not just me and Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage, but also our accompanying friend and blogger Lynne of Five Good Things who is visiting from England.  Today’s scenic trip along the Eastern Shore certainly managed to get our collective seal of approval.

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