Saturday, January 24, 2015

Secret Deer Portraits

Having snow on the ground is awesome, not least because it lets me see the trails of all the animals that cross our yard. We get a lot of deer traffic here, as it turns out. About a week ago I followed some deer tracks to a spot at the edge of the woods where the tracks converged with a bunch of other trails; a small tree in this area was even missing some strips of bark, possibly from a male deer's antler-rubbing. I guess this is a deer highway! I relocated my trail camera to watch this spot (I think I've finally figured out the best way to set up this device), and indeed, the deer definitely pass this way:
 

How nice of these creatures to pause exactly in front of the camera to have their portraits taken! :) The lady above had her mouth open in all three of her pictures; I'm not sure whether she's chewing or panting, but why would a deer be panting in the middle of winter? And is this next deer (who was traveling just behind the first) a young male, with those bumps on his head?


The camera has a night mode, too, which is very cool (and has something to do with infrared light). Ooo, spooky deer:
 

The camera has picked up a couple of other creatures passing by this spot as well. I'm happy to discover that the camera can sense things as small as a Fox Squirrel digging in the leaves:
 

And I can't say for sure the identity of this mysterious canine visitor, but it's definitely something I haven't seen here with my own eyes yet. Fox is a possibility, but so is neighboring dog, and I've seen some rather large dog-like prints in this area in recent days:
 

Hooray for cool and mysterious sightings aided by technology!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mammals at a Winter Marsh

I visited Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve this afternoon to see what kinds of creatures hang out in these marshes and woods next to Lake Erie during the winter. The marshes were all iced over and quiet:
 

Quiet, that is, except for the loud splashes I kept hearing as I walked by this part of the marsh. I stood around for a while, and it turned out that the creatures who made the mounds in the above picture were popping in and out of holes in the ice. Hello, Muskrat!
 

These guys came out of the water several times, but they mostly stayed hidden in the cattails, so usually I only knew they were there because of some mysteriously waving reeds and then a splash as they flopped back into the water. I only got brief glimpses of their whole bodies. Look at those weirdo feet:
 

The Muskrats weren't the only mammals living in the icy marsh, either. At one point, I looked down at the big rocks piled at the edge of the water, and a little American Mink face was staring back at me! I missed that picture because the creature dashed off too quickly (alas), but another mink (or the same one) showed up a little later on the ice:
 

How can a creature be so cute and so fierce-looking at the same time? Right after I took this picture, the mink dove into the water and emerged a second or so later with a little fish in its mouth. Those are some pretty impressive hunting skills. Apparently mink eat muskrats (even though they're about the same size), so this seems like a pretty risky living situation for the muskrats! It was definitely cool to get to see these reclusive animals at their icy home.

There are tons of Fox Squirrels in this park; I saw them basically everywhere I turned. Fox Squirrels are such handsome creatures:
 

A fuzzy Fox Squirrel next to fuzzy Poison Ivy vines:
 

Somebody's almost certainly been feeding the Fox Squirrels at this park. This lovely girl walked right up to me and touched my boot as I made my way down the path:
 

She seemed confused when I kept walking without giving her anything. (I'm sorry! Don't look at me like that!)


This Red-tailed Hawk, for its part, was doing its best to keep the Fox Squirrel population in check:
 

While a second Red-tailed Hawk watched on from a neighboring tree:
 

I so rarely get to see adult Red-tailed Hawks from behind. Those rusty red feathers really are beautiful, and I love the pattern on this creature's back:


I'm so glad such wonderful surprises are out there, even the middle of winter.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Snowy Feeder Birds

It is cooooold here in northern Ohio this week! (As I write this, the temperature is 8 degrees F, with a wind chill making it feel like -10.) We've also had a little bit of snow in the past few days, just enough to cover the ground and make everything pretty. With the very wintry weather, the birds in our yard have been extra active at our window feeders, putting on quite a show. I couldn't resist photographing some of our gregarious avian neighbors during a brief snowfall yesterday afternoon. Consider this a fairly comprehensive collection of our familiar winter feeder birds (only the House Finch is missing from this group).

Dark-eyed Juncos are almost always picking over the dropped seeds on the ground beneath our feeders, or else sitting on branches or the porch railing preparing their approach:
 

How handsome are these birds with their dark suits and snow-dipped bellies? And they're so puffy, in this cold weather!


I often hear the juncos yelling at each other with soft laser-gun calls ("pew-pew-pew") as they argue over seeds on the ground. But mostly they're just cute:
 

Black-capped Chickadees might win the prize for most adorable bird in the yard (look at the big fuzzy head on this creature):
 

But Tufted Titmice aren't too far behind:
 

This bird is such a perfect combination of round and pointy:
 

One of our titmice (the one in the previous pictures, actually) has wing feathers with strangely brown tips:
 

I don't know what might've caused this weird color pattern, but I think it looks pretty cool, and I like being able to recognize this individual bird. This other titmouse is demonstrating how titmouse wings normally look:
 

American Goldfinches are the smallest and the bossiest birds regularly at our feeders. Their winter outfits are quite plain from some angles:
 

But they're still very flashy from behind:
 

The patches of yellow actually seem quite bright on some of these birds:
 

And this fellow is sporting a prominent black spot on his forehead -- this couldn't possibly be the beginning of his spring molt, could it?
 

I was excited to see (several weeks ago) that our male Red-bellied Woodpecker has figured out how to get seeds from the feeder, even though he's really too big to fit on it. He comes in almost all the time now -- he only deigns to visit the highest of our three feeders -- but I wasn't able to grab a picture until yesterday. Maybe one of these days I'll get a picture of the long red-and-black tongue he sticks out to reach the seeds!
 

Northern Cardinals are also a little too big to comfortably use our feeders (although I saw a female cardinal there the other day!), but they're happy to pick up dropped seeds along with the juncos. And of course when they're not eating seeds, they're in the trees looking stunning in the stark winter landscape. It's so awesome that we have male cardinals -- who really look like they belong somewhere tropical -- to brighten up our northern winters:


I'm staying inside while this super cold weather lasts. With so many creatures near my windows, though, that plan works out just fine. :)

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Toy!

In addition to my usual methods for viewing wildlife (i.e., camera, binoculars, spotting scope, window feeders), I now have a trail camera! Yay, new toy!

Yesterday afternoon, I strapped the camera to a tree on our long driveway near what I was pretty sure was a deer trail. And three hours later, the camera took this picture:


Yes! Not bad for a first try! (And even half out of the frame, she's a pretty cute deer.) After seeing this picture, I moved the camera a bit lower; I'm sure there will be a lot of finessing to get the right angle and coverage, but really I'm just excited that the camera works. Here's hoping for many more cool views of our local wildlife when no people are around!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Brigantine Birds

In a now-annual Christmas tradition (five years running!), I took a trip with Paul's dad on Tuesday out to the Brigantine division of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge while we were visiting family in New Jersey for the holidays. With an eight-mile wildlife drive through coastal wetlands, this is a pretty special place, and there are always lots of interesting birds hanging around. Some of the coolest creatures are the Snow Geese that come down from their arctic breeding grounds to overwinter here in huge numbers:


We estimated the Snow Geese on Tuesday numbered somewhere in the thousands. They made quite a sight blanketing the marsh as they foraged, and they were striking in flight as well, with those black-tipped wings:




Most of the Snow Geese wore pristine white costumes:


But there were a few blue morph individuals as well; I think these birds are particularly handsome:


Here's a (very) brief video of some of the Snow Geese foraging; the sound should give an idea of how crowded the area was with these birds:



Lots of other cool birds made an appearance during our visit as well. This gorgeous Great Blue Heron was hunting near the road:
 

A Greater Yellowlegs (such an appropriate name!) brightened up the shoreline:
 

And there were ducks all over the place. We saw big American Black Ducks that flashed the iridescent patches in their wings as they bathed:
 

Buffleheads that dipped in and out of the water, pursuing their meals:


Ruddy Ducks with their funny round bodies and big beaks:
 

Flashy Hooded Mergansers:
 

And a single female Common Goldeneye, looking quite pretty in her simple costume:


It was great to get out to the shore and see so many creatures. What an awesome place!