Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Smartest Bird

Although there may be other contenders in various parts of the world, in North America there is no more intelligent bird than the common raven. While in recent decades they’ve been increasingly seen in more settled areas, these large relatives of the ubiquitous, and smaller, common crow are mainly found in places where humans are few (in my opinion a sure sign of their intelligence).

Ravens range from above the tree line in the Arctic south through the boreal forest and in the eastern mountains to northern Georgia, they’re found widely in the west south into Mexico. While ravens seem to prefer to nest on rock ledges, they’ll also nest in tall trees, especially conifers, when ledges aren’t readily available.

Those naturalist’s who live within the raven’s range have almost certainly seen and been entertained by the raven’s aerial antics. Often, especially on a windy day, I’ve watched a pair of ravens do barrel-rolls and loop-the-loops while also, and repeatedly, climbing high into the sky before going into steep dives. At the same time their vocal repertoire of croaks, knocks and squawks (33 different calls have been described) sound from on high – sometimes from so high above that the birds are beyond sight.

Last winter a turkey carcass was placed in front of one of my camera traps. Intermittently over the course of several days ravens visited to feed on the remains. On several occasions snowfalls completely covered the carcass but a pair of ravens knew where it was and repeatedly came to dig through the snow to find delectable morsels.

Ravens are known for hiding pieces of food for future use, an activity to be seen in the video. If they think another bird has seen them hide the food, they’ll move the piece to another location. They will also follow predators and hunters waiting for the scraps from a kill. During the winter in northcentral Pennsylvania ravens will frequently fly along highways below tree-top level searching for road-killed animals on which to dine – presumably they do that in other areas as well.

Ravens are fascinating birds and well worth knowing. Two of the best references on ravens are Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven and Ravens in Winter.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Some Days Are Diamonds

Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone) is the title of a song recorded by John Denver in 1981. That sentiment is certainly accurate and a dark gray day in early May was one of those diamond days.

Inside a deer resistant fence on the hill above the house are a few white trillium – descendants of several that, almost 60 years ago, I’d planted at my parents' house, then moved here after our house was built 50 years ago. The plants have to be protected from the white-tailed deer that have eliminated the species elsewhere in our part of the world.

After taking a few photos of the trillium I was heading back to the house when a male ruby-throated hummingbird landed in a small dead tree. He stayed in the tree and preened, made a few short flights and returned, presenting opportunities for a number of photos. The dull gray light toned down the often brilliant ruby-red of the feathers on his throat –

A bit later I headed for the Big Woods in search of migrating warblers. Although there was an abundance of ruby-crowned kinglets, there were no warblers to be seen and only one to be heard, an ovenbird singing it’s “Teacher, teacher, teacher” in the distance.

In the afternoon I headed for the beaver pond to change the memory card in the trail camera; nearby a pinkster azalea was in bloom –

Having taken that photo, I turned around and immediately saw an eastern coyote trotting past about 50 feet away – apparently it hadn't seen or smelled my camouflage-clad figure. A few squeaks through pursed lips caught the animal’s attention and turned it my way. Just time for a few photos before it turned again and trotted off through the forest –

Later when processing the photos it became obvious that the coyote had porcupine quills in its muzzle and near its right eye. Eastern coyotes are tough animals, as are most wild creatures, this one will almost certainly survive its encounter with the quill-pig.

Thus endeth a diamond day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Deer Dinner Continues

In early January our friend Bill told of a dead deer he’d found in their woods. Apparently the doe had been struck by a vehicle on the nearby road and managed to get across a small stream and into the woods before she expired.

Great opportunity for a camera trap, too good to pass up. By the time the camera trap went up on a nearby tree, the carcass had already been opened by a scavenger, but not much had been eaten. The dead deer and those that came to dine were featured in this post.

Diners continued to come for a venison dinner as snow came and went and the season progressed. As the deer’s flesh was devoured and the last of the snow melted there was less to eat and we see some visitors just passing on by –

This time the white-footed mouse didn’t dine on the deer, it gathered hair to insulate its nest. Thus in another way the dead deer is being recycled into the world in which it lived.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Woodies at the Beaver Pond

Wood ducks, especially the males, are arguably the most beautiful ducks native to North America. They frequent wooded swamps and beaver ponds and traditionally nested in cavities in trees near water. As the old growth forests were cut across the U.S. and Canada, suitable nest sites disappeared; at the same time unregulated, or barely regulated, hunting reduced the wood ducks’ population.

With tighter regulation of hunting seasons and a proliferation of nest boxes erected by state and federal agencies, private organizations and individuals the wood duck population has rebounded.

A camera trap on the shore of a beaver pond has captured many species of wildlife, but this spring there have been more videos of wood ducks than any other species. Hopefully you’ll enjoy these videos of our most colorful duck –

There were many, many more videos of wood ducks on the memory card and a few more videos of the black ducks. Black ducks along with wood ducks were the primary nesting ducks in beaver ponds in the northeast, but they are now a species of concern due to hybridization with pen-raised mallards.

Just in case you missed the muskrat, at 2:45 of the video it’s in the far distant background.

The last bird in the video is a second-year bald eagle and one of the most pleasing catches I’ve had on a camera trap.

Beavers are one of the few species of wildlife that deliberately create and alter their own habitat. The ponds that beavers build create an oasis for other wildlife from invertebrates to black bears.