Thursday, March 31, 2016

Winter at the Brush Pile

Last May I placed a camera trap at a brush pile that we’ve had behind the house for over 40 years. Tracks in winter snow and occasional glimpses of birds or mammals near the pile prompted me to put the camera there. Some of the photos the camera captured earlier were posted here and here

Now that winter has drawn to a close, it's time to post some of the pictures from the depth of winter. “Depth of winter” really isn’t appropriate since we never had more than about three inches of snow on the ground at any time and the temperature was rarely below 10ยบ F.

A sample of what was captured by the camera at the brush pile –

Carolina Wren

Cottontail Rabbit

Black-capped  Chickadee

Song Sparrow

Gray Squirrel

White-throated Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

What was a bit surprising was the eastern chipmunk that was photographed twice, first on February 20 –
Eastern Chipmunk

And then again two days later, after the snow melted – 
Eastern Chipmunk
Chipmunks don’t hibernate, but do sleep in their burrows for periods during the winter and awaken to feed on nuts and seeds they’ve stored in chambers in those burrows. If they haven’t stored sufficient food to get them through the winter they’ll emerge to forage. 

The camera trap has two more months at the brush pile, and then it will be off to a different location.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Um, Um, Good!

Thunk, Thunk, Thunk-thunk echoed from a tree along the river, and then it stopped. Thunk, Thunk-thunk, Thunk  it began again. And there on a branch, was a pileated woodpecker hammering away at the limb. It was a female with her black “mustache”. She kept working on the branch for a while, then flew to the trunk of a nearby tree, but never gave a clear view or moved completely out of the shadows.

More thunking sounded from a tree closer than the one on which the female landed. This emanated from a male (bearing the red “mustache” sported by male pileateds), leading to the conclusion that this was almost certainly a mated pair.

He was feeding at a limb on a riverside silver maple, rapidly gulping insects as he extracted them from the wood –

Carpenter ants, which live in both live and dead trees, are a favorite food of pileated woodpeckers. In watching the video of this male he certainly seemed to be feeding on ants –
Pileated woodpeckers are usually quite wary, but this bird was so preoccupied with his meal that he ignored me as I turned and slowly walked away.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

He Still Lives!

White-tailed deer, in spite of their somewhat delicate appearance are actually pretty tough animals and can often survive serious wounds and injuries. That toughness is apparent in a white-tail buck with an injured left front leg/shoulder on which he cannot put much, if any, weight. He was a relatively mature buck when he was first caught by a camera trap above the house, limping along as he dragged that injured left front leg. 
November 2013

The buck first appeared in November 2013 and I posted about him in January 2014, February 2014 and November 2015. He’s disappeared each spring, or at least hasn’t been caught by a camera trap, and then reappeared in the fall. That he survived the winter of 2014-15 with its prolonged cold in view of his injury was surprising. Each time he’s disappeared we figure we’ll never see him again – perhaps shot by a hunter, taken down by free-roaming dogs or a coyote, struck by a vehicle, or having succumbed to the cold and snow of the winter.

This so called “winter” was pretty mild – never more than a couple of inches of snow on the ground at any one time and only a few days of temperatures below 10° F and most local wildlife had a pretty easy time. And so, it wasn’t as amazing this time that the injured buck has reappeared; it's probably due to the easy winter that the injured white-tail buck is still alive.

The buck appears to be in better condition than some other deer we see near the house. Here he is, without his antlers, as he was caught on a camera trap in early March. As he passed the camera trap, he was moving slowly giving the camera time to take three photos while he stopped to bite off a twig to eat –

Only once have we ever seen the buck in daylight, so we’ll have to rely on the camera traps to tell us if he survives the summer.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Mistake Is About To Be Made

An old road runs along the property line of an old farm that has, for many years, been owned by a hunting club; it's the road that I walked on a pleasant winter morning. 

Of the club's 125 acres about one third is comprised of old fields on which the members maintain some small wildlife food plots. The rest of the property is covered with a forest of mixed oak species.

About 20 years ago the club had a timber sale throughout its woodland. That sale was set up and marked by a forester and left a goodly number of vigorous oaks in the forest, trees that produced large numbers of acorns in a good seed year. Those acorns fed white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, black bear and smaller mammals and birds.

Unfortunately, the timber sale opened the forest canopy, allowing more sun to strike the forest floor, which promoted invasion by Japanese barberry and its subsequent spread.

As can be easily discerned from its name, Japanese barberry isn’t native to the eastern forest. Although wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and some songbirds occasionally eat the fruit, barberry provides nothing for white-tailed deer. Interestingly, although an adjacent property has a deer population estimated to occasionally exceed 40 per square mile, members of the hunting club complain about seeing few deer.

Now, all those vigorous, acorn producing oaks are marked with small spots of paint. It appears that the only sources of food for deer in that woodland are destined to head to the sawmill.

Did the hunting club desperately need money? Or, were they sold a bill-of-goods by an unscrupulous forester or logger; told that the trees were “over mature” or “going back” or that cutting them would produce browse for deer?

In late fall, winter and early spring white-tailed deer feed primarily on acorns and browse in the form of twigs of species that they find palatable. Once those oaks are cut the acorns they produced will also be gone and the barberry will spread further.

The dense shade cast by thick stands of barberry prevents most tree seedlings from becoming established - there goes any browse the logging might have produced. It is reported that barberry actually changes the soil’s chemistry and it is well known that forests with a barberry understory have many more Lyme disease-carrying ticks than healthy forests. Soon the property will look like this - a property with an average of 3,500 barberry plants per acre.

The hunting club is about to make a big mistake for their land and their sport, a mistake whose impact will probably last far beyond most of the aging members’ lifetimes.    

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Roosting/Nesting Bluebirds

Last spring a pair of bluebirds spent a few days examining a nest box on a chestnut snag in our yard – but they never did nest in the box and disappeared after a little over a week. Here's my hopeful post. 

One evening in February we noticed a bluebird entering the box just before dark.

It was quickly followed by three more. The next morning as we were eating breakfast the bluebirds emerged to perch in a nearby small tree. For the next several evenings we watched as four or six bluebirds entered the box to roost for the night. Occasionally we’d see them emerge in the morning.

Then came a series of unusually warm days and suddenly there were only two bluebirds at the box, a male and female.

The pair has stayed ever since, feeding on the few insects that have been active on the gradually warming ground.

Will they stay to nest? We continue to hope.