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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
For more on porcupines, see:
Porcupines in Apple Trees
Porcupines Along the Salt Marsh Trail
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At first glance, this tawny feline looks like just another neighborhood pussycat visiting 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.
The 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.
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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Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Arthropods, Birds, Flora, Mammals, Trees, tagged canada, hope, nature, Nova Scotia, photography, spring, wildlife on April 17, 2012 |
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Canadian maple buds. Check.
Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror. Check.
Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops. Check. Check.
Creepy crawlies under the garden stones: Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander. Check. Check. Check. Check.
Red squirrel defending its territory. Check.
Snowshoe hare on the lawn. Check.
The first periwinkle of the season. Check.
Hope rekindled. Check.
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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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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
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.
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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Posted in Birds, tagged Birds, concussions, design, hockey, nature, Nova Scotia, safety, sports, woodpeckers on February 20, 2012 |
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Whether you’re a professional athlete or a parent just trying to keep an active child safe, concussions are a growing concern these days. Post-concussion problems endured by football players and other brain injury survivors are not new. However, concussions sustained by local hockey wonderkid Sidney Crosby have brought more attention to the potential danger of head injuries over the past year.
Recently, researchers in China decided to answer a question asked by scientists and birdwatchers around the world: Why aren’t woodpeckers harmed by their head banging? They discovered that there were three factors that enabled woodpeckers’ brains to survive intact after repeated blows to their heads:
1. The top and bottom parts of a woodpecker’s beak are uneven in length, and the longer bottom beak deflects force away from the bird’s brain on impact.
2. Unlike us, the woodpecker brain is encased in spongy plate-like bones. These are arranged unevenly around the brain and leave no space between the brain and skull.
3. A seatbelt-like hyoid bone connects the beak to the skull where it then surrounds the brain.
Together, these factors ensure that the woodpecker’s brain is affected as little as possible by the constant impact of head banging.
Unfortunately, even if these factors were incorporated into the design of sports safety helmets, there is no way to get around the fact that human brains are separated from our skulls by a gap that is non-existent in woodpeckers. And it’s the motion of the brain within this space that would still remain a factor in potential injuries.
So, unless you’re a woodpecker, the best way to avoid head banging injury to your brain is to not bang it in the first place.
For more information, see Why Do Woodpeckers Resist Head Impact Injury: A Biomechanical Investigation.
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Posted in Arthropods, Fungi and Lichens, The Salt Marsh Trail, tagged English, Hallowe'en, idioms, Inspiration, language, nature, Nova Scotia, photography, speech, spiders on October 25, 2011 |
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You may already be aware that nature inspires and refreshes our spirits but did you know that it also influences our speech? Here are a few idioms (words and phrases that hold a special meaning in a given language) that have their roots in the natural world:
A hornet’s nest <Potential trouble> ~ I don’t think anyone would care to poke this nest, even with a ten foot pole.
All that glitters is not gold < Attractive appearances can be deceiving> ~ In this photo of rocks found along the Salt Marsh Trail, it’s pyrite aka fool’s gold.
To mushroom <To grow or develop at an exponential rate> ~ This enormous shelf fungus seems to be growing more quickly than normal on a decaying tree in my yard. It’s about a foot in width, an unusual find in my neck of the woods.
Thanks to Karma at Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog who challenged her readers to use photographs to illustrate three idioms from the English language. A photo showing ‘Hallowe’en’ was also part of her request. To me, Hallowe’en implies something scary, and to many people, next to death and public speaking, the scariest things on the planet are spiders.
Living near boggy woods, we have a lot of spiders near our home, especially around Hallowe’en. Sometimes they cross the threshold uninvited and visit us indoors. This one is probably the biggest I’ve ever found in the house. After the photo shoot, it was promptly sent on its merry way outdoors while I cleared out the cobwebs.
If you’d like to participate in Karma’s idiom challenge, you have until October 31st 2011 to do so.
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Posted in Arthropods, tagged butterflies, caterpillars, destinations, determination, direction, hope, insects, momentum, motivation, nature, Nova Scotia, perseverance, wildlife on October 17, 2011 |
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Some days just seem to crawl along don’t they? So little progress is made towards our intended destination that it’s difficult to stay motivated and enthusiastic about the task set before us. Take heart. The caterpillars are here to shed some light on a situation that befalls us all at times.
The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Though we’re already well into the fall season, caterpillars can still be seen roaming the trails. They seem more determined than usual as they motor along. Yet compared to us humans, their speed is still painfully slow. Don’t they get discouraged? How do they keep their sense of direction intact while crossing such wide expanses?
Don’t they ever second-guess their goals as they plod along, and wonder if it’s all worth the tremendous effort?
Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum.
~ Tom Watson
No, I don’t think they dwell on the length of the journey or sink into spirals of despair at their slow progress. They know deep inside that they’re called to a higher purpose. Their butterfly heart tells them this with each small step they take.
They trust that there will be time enough to fly at the speed of light later. For now, their focus is on the next step, however small it may be.
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Posted in Birds, The Salt Marsh Trail, tagged autumn, Birds, canada geese, communication, fall, geese, migration, nature, Nova Scotia, september, talk, wildlife on September 30, 2011 |
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Canada geese may be just barely visible beneath a cover of marsh mist but their morning talk is unmistakable. Their communication is not just limited to their signature honk but to a medley of sounds as they wake to another day in another marsh.
According to Ducks Unlimited, Canada geese may be only next to humans in their talkativeness. Greetings, warnings and contentment are all communicated from the time a gosling is still in its shell.
However, as there are some humans who like to talk more than others, there are probably some geese who are also more talkative than the rest. I wonder if some geese put their heads underwater to get away from the
nagging chatter under the pretext of finding food.
Don't even think of flying next to her today!
Considering the amount of effort that goes into planning a trip abroad for a large group, it’s probably the communication skills of geese that allow them to be so successful in their migrations year after year.
Geese are known to share the responsibilities of leadership, especially in flight. Also, if a member of the flock is injured, two will stay behind to nurse it back to health, rejoining the larger flock together after it recovers. Any of these actions would require a great deal of planning and discussion. No wonder they’re so talkative!
Once the geese have breakfast, make their flight plans and leave, quiet returns to the marsh until the next flock arrives to spend the evening.
For more information about these beautiful and talkative birds, see Facts on Canada Geese at Ducks Unlimited.
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Posted in Birds, Humor, The Salt Marsh Trail, tagged dawn, marsh, morning, nature, Nova Scotia, salt marsh, seagulls, whining on September 26, 2011 |
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The sun may be lighting up the sky in a spectacular display of color, but there’s another reason why nobody’s sleeping in this morning. Some mother’s child is upsetting the peace and quiet of the marsh with incessant whining. Good grief!
Despite its camouflage plumage and the low light, it’s easy to see from where the annoying whining is originating. I’ve caught this act before. It’s not unusual to see immature seagulls pestering adults for food. It’s an odd sight as some of these juveniles appear just as large as the parent.
The whiner’s mother is of course ignoring it and pretending it’s someone else’s offspring that’s waking up the entire neighborhood.
What’s a parent to do, especially with a child that should be old enough to fend for itself?
‘Feed the brat!!’ the cormorant suggests. But is that really the best solution?
Don’t give in to whining. Giving in teaches a child that whining is the sort of behaviour and tone of voice that will generate a result.
~ Jo Frost aka Supernanny
Okay, so you don’t give in. But surely there has to be a way to make it stop. Late last week I came across the carcass of a juvenile gull along the trail. Did the eagles take matters into their own
hands talons that day?
Who knows? Unfortunately, what goes on in the marsh stays in the marsh. The cormorants certainly weren’t disclosing anything on that story.
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The first time you see a bird ravaged by avian pox, it’s a bit disconcerting. Accustomed to seeing pretty, fluffy-feathered birds at your feeders and birdbaths, one that looks more like a vulture than a songbird easily stands out from the rest.
Over the years I’ve frequently caught a glimpse of blue jays afflicted with avian pox, but until this year, never managed to be quick enough to capture a photo. They do tend to keep a low profile and seem more reticent than healthy birds. The one at left was by itself, which is odd for blue jays, as they usually make the feeder rounds in pairs or small flocks.
Afflicted birds have no feathers on their heads. Some may have nodules around their beaks, eyes and feet. These may interfere with sight, breathing and eating. Not only do these poor birds look miserable, they probably feel that way too.
A healthy blue jay visiting the same birdbath.
Avian pox can be transmitted from one bird to another directly or indirectly wherever birds share surfaces, such as birdbaths, feeders and tree branches. Mosquitoes are also known to play a role in the transmission. Once a bird survives a bout of avian pox, it acquires immunity for life and is no longer a carrier.
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Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Wild Edibles, tagged berries, Cow Bay, garter snake, nature, Nova Scotia, snakes, Wild Edibles, wilderness on September 17, 2011 |
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Why did the snake cross the road? Didn’t it feel the vibrations from oncoming traffic?
Hey, do I look worried?
This maritime garter snake managed to survive being run over by a truck, luckily slipping between the tires. Why was it willing to risk life
and limb to get to the other side? Was it looking for something tasty to eat? Snake berries perhaps?
For years I’ve heard both adults and children talk of ‘snake berries.’ Could these be berries that were frequently eaten by snakes?
As children, my sons and their friends used the term to describe the fruit of the bunchberry plant, shown above. It seemed that only the daring among them had ever tried tasting these snake berries. My friend Sandy thought snake berries were blue. Others who knew of snake berries weren’t able to describe the plant in any detail.
After a bit of digging, I discovered that the term is used to describe any berry of questionable edibility. So, if you are in the woods, and see a berry that you’re not sure you can eat, you might choose to call it a snake berry. All snake berries are therefore considered poisonous. By the way, bunchberries are edible. They’re bland with a large pit, but edible nonetheless.
Since the berries shown above are unknown to me and I’m not sure if they’re safe to eat, I’ll call them snake berries until I can learn more about them. And since all snakes are carnivores, there’s no way that they would eat this or any other berry.
So, as to why the snake crossed the road… in Cow Bay, there can only be one answer: it was the pheasants’ day off!
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