Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Fight! Fight!

It was a beautiful morning, blue sky, no wind, warm for March and with Spring in the air. The surface of the pond was like a sheet of glass, the only ripples caused by the slowly swimming waterfowl. Those waterfowl were five or six pairs of Canada geese distributed around the edges and two pairs of ring-necked ducks. On the far shore a great blue heron slowly stalked along searching for small fish.

The geese had complained long and loud as I settled into my folding chair and arranged a sniper’s veil as a flimsy temporary blind. After a while they quieted down and resumed doing goose things. Not much happened for quite some time, but any morning like this is a good morning. After a while the sun moved far enough in its arc across the sky that I was looking almost directly into its brightness – not good for photography – and it was just about time to leave.

But wait, there was honking in the air as pair of Canada geese flew in and settled on the water. With that another great clamor arose among the geese. I don’t understand goose, but there must have been some harsh honks exchanged.

The recently arrived gander repeatedly took a beakful of water and shook his head side to side releasing a spray of water. Apparently the male of the nearest pair accepted the challenge and came on with a rush –


The melee lasted less than 15 seconds before the interloper retreated a few feet and peace was restored to the pond.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Best Laid Plans

In the road in front of the house lay a dead gray squirrel, one of the innumerable wild creatures killed by vehicles each year. 


Its death presented an opportunity for some camera trap videos. So I took the recently demised up the hill above the house and lay it down in front of one of my camera traps.

I’d done the same with a dead screech owl a few years ago with the resultant still images presented in this post.

As with the screech owl, I used a large steel spike to pin the carcass to the ground. Hopefully the spike would prevent some animal or bird from quickly making off with the remains.

Here are the videos –

The gray fox was quite tentative as it approached the squirrel: perhaps because of the camera trap’s infra-red light, perhaps because that’s how gray fox approach prey that’s rather large and might fight back, perhaps because that's how gray fox approach carrion.

Mated gray fox pairs often hunt together which may account for a fox appearing in clips after the squirrel had been carried off, or perhaps it’s the original fox come back for anything it missed.

The opossum missed a meal, beaten to it by the gray fox. Maybe next time the opossum will get what it was looking for.

The same goes for my plan to get multiple species feeding on the dead squirrel – maybe next time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Free Eats

The post from two weeks ago, Dinner is Served, featured the videos from a camera trap’s the first week at the carcass of a white-tailed deer that had apparently been killed by a bolt from a crossbow.

When I checked most recently the carcass had been moved and a lot of rain had fallen. The wetland vegetation was flattened where the carcass had been dragged off – Oh Boy thought I, there would be videos of a bear or eastern coyote (other than humans or large dogs the only creatures in the area capable of dragging the carcass away) feeding on or dragging the dead deer. I followed the drag mark and found what was left of the carcass in the water. Not much remained, the large bones, rib cage and most of the head.

Checking the camera I found a multitude of videos of the red fox; actually two red fox, one readily distinguished by a mange-caused bare spot at the base of its tail. And a few really poor videos of an opossum and two raccoons feeding on the far side of the carcass. But there was no video of the carcass being removed. It seems the camera malfunctioned at the most critical time – Murphy's Law at work. Nonetheless there were some interesting videos –

The ravens are probably a mated pair that nest on a nearby high ridge and regularly visit the valley. Ravens are omnivores, eating virtually anything edible. They eat waste grain and earthworms, are predators on small mammals and birds and regularly scavenge other predators’ kills. I’ve watched them flying along highways searching for roadkilled animals and they often follow large predators or hunters to share in the booty.

Bald eagles, although they primarily feed on fish, are active predators of small and medium-sized mammals and medium-sized birds and also readily scavenge from carcasses.

As for the great horned owl, it apparently didn’t feed on the carcass but might have considered an opossum a suitable meal.

While I was very happy to get videos of the ravens, owl and eagle, in some ways the most interesting and indeed the most humorous were several videos of the man and his pets – especially the goat. Have you ever seen anyone walking with a goat as they would a dog?

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Beneath the Leaves

This has been an extremely warm winter – the lowest temperature in January was 9° F – with very little snow, and what snow we got didn’t last long before melting. One day in early February, when there was no snow to be seen at the house and it was 50°F, I repeated an exercise I’d done several years ago (see it here). Out to the woodland behind the house I went and gathered a handful of fallen and decaying leaves. Into a white plastic basin they went and back into the house I went with basin in hand.

There, with plenty of light, I used two precision tweezers and a hand lens to sort through the leaves and seeds and earthworm casts to search out the small creatures that live among, and feast on, the forest’s debris and on other small creatures beneath the leaves.

Since the temperature had been a bit below freezing a few days earlier and the ground was without an insulating covering of snow I was surprised by some of the things I found.

There were four Soil Centipedes, speedy predators of even smaller creatures that live in the forest floor. They were of different sizes and shades of tan –

Two of these small beetles were among the leaves. I couldn’t identify them but assume they feed on decaying leaves or fungus –

Also among the unidentified was this small and very attractive spider –

Speaking of spiders, there were some that I could identify: a small Wolf Spider, a Dwarf Spider (yes, that’s its name) and a Bark Crab Spider –

There were only two springtails to be found, both of the same species – Elongate-bodied Springtail. Springtails somewhat resemble insects and were considered to be insects when I was in college oh so many years ago, but now they are in a separate class. They derive their name from a process under their abdomen that gives them the ability to flip through the air to escape predators –

There was an earthworm among the leaves, almost certainly a European species since native earthworms were eliminated from glaciated areas. The European worms were introduced by settlers who brought potted fruit trees and garden plants to the New World –

The Garden Slug is another introduced species that I found among the leaves. Since they’re entirely soft-bodied it was really surprising that this one survived January’s colder days –

Another surprising survivor was this moth larva (caterpillar), perhaps the larva of an owlet moth –

One of the last critters I found in the handful of leaves was this well camouflaged Rough Stink Bug –

Gathering and sorting through a handful of decaying leaves is an enjoyable activity, allowing us to see things we don't see in the usual course of our lives. It also makes me
curious about how many small animals are crushed with every footstep we take in the forest – curious but not guilty.