Coyotes at Beaver Brook Reservation, December 22, 2016

Wildlife Pond at Beaver Brook Reservation

December 22, 2016

As soon as I enter Beaver Brook Reservation from the parking area off Route 130 and meet Dam Road, I see bounding eastern chipmunk tracks crossing the path. It’s about forty degrees and sunny today, so this chipmunk is probably out taking advantage of this beautiful weather to take care of a few errands.

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Wildlife Pond is covered with snow; and, with coyote tracks. Now common in New England, coyotes were first noticed in New Hampshire back in 1944, according to Maine Wildlife Biologist, Henry Hilton.

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Most of these tracks lead from the very edge of the pond out toward the center, sometimes in a straight line, sometimes in a shallow arc, leading back to the shore. Coyote tracks have a very different feel to them as compared with a dogs. You can see the determined gate of the coyote; while a dog moves in free-wheeling turns, expending energy without a care in the world, the coyote conserves energy, traveling the shortest distance from point-A to point-B; it’s looking for food and wary of its surroundings.

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I do notice one interesting set of tracks right off Center Bridge, alongside the beaver dam. These coyote tracks run in an orderly manner along the north side of the dam. I’ve seen meadow voles in this area and perhaps that’s what the coyote was looking for. I do see smaller sets of tracks near to these coyote tracks, but they belong to a red squirrel. The tracks lead for several yards and then turn north and head toward the middle of the pond in a smooth arc. A second set of tracks leads toward me, from farther along Center Bridge and also moves straight along the dam, but suddenly cuts back, makes a sharp five-foot diameter loop and heads over and down the dam. Did it spot an animal, perhaps the red squirrel, as it was walking alongside the dam?

Loop

Loop

I follow still another set of coyote tracks that lead over the embankment that leads to Center Bridge and along the edge of the snow-covered pond. At the cove alongside Wildlife Pond Loop Trail, I see squirrel tracks and coyote tracks crisscrossing each other. There’s a spot on the pond where there appears to be some sort of scuffle, but it might just be the coyote slipping on the ice.

Coyote and Squirrel Tracks

Coyote and Squirrel Tracks

Continuing to follow the coyote tracks, I bushwhack off the Loop Trail to my right, in a southeasterly direction. I walk under hemlock and pine trees, through mountain laurels, following the coyote tracks to an area below a hemlock bare of snow but covered with slender branches and pine needles. Several tracks go to and from this area, which has apparently been used a resting area for these coyote.

Coyote Bed?

Coyote Bed?

I continue southeast, and, at length, I exit onto an open marsh southeast of Wildlife Pond. It’s several acres of open space, once a loose pine forest with a brook running through it that emanated from Wildlife Pond.

Coyote Marsh

Coyote Marsh

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When beavers dammed the brook, the trees died and others were cut down by the beavers. Before long, this loose woods became a beaver pond. There are two beaver dams in this marsh, but they look as if they’re no longer occupied. Most likely, the pond was abandoned by the beavers. The dams were no longer repaired, and the former beaver pond drained out, giving wetland plants and grasses a chance to take over. These plants include leatherleaf, wool grass, cat-tail, swamp loosestrife, water horehound, common nightshade and tussock sedge.

Water Horehound

Water Horehound

Swamp Loosestrife

Swamp Loosestrife

Leatherleaf

Leatherleaf

Cat-Tail

Cat-Tail

This is my first visit to this marsh, so I don’t know how deep it is, but, I’m assuming it’s pretty shallow. The water’s frozen over and today it’s covered by a light layer of snow from last night. This light snow creates perfect animal tracks, and there are many sets of coyote tracks throughout this open land. A coyote pack consists of two mating adults (coyotes mate for life) and offspring. I’m guessing, but there appears to be a half-dozen different sets of coyote tracks, some males and some smaller females. Coyotes typically mate in January and four to six pups are born in March or April. There are typically four to six pups to a litter. At about nine months, when the parents are ready to mate, the fully grown young are chased off the home territory to find their own home base.

[I later sent photos of the tracks and area to New Hampshire Fish and Game and soon heard back from Wildlife Biologist, Patrick Tate. Tate also believed that a family group or pack was using this marsh. He also noted, from the pictures I sent, that there appears to be either gray or red fox tracks mixed in. “Wetlands are used at a very high rate during winter months by canine species,” Tate wrote, “and other predator species, as it allows efficient travel and abundant rodents on the marsh edges.”]

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The number of tracks I see here is what I’d expect to see at a popular dog park. But, these aren’t dog prints; and, there aren’t any human footprints except for my own. I believe this is at least part of a territory. Territories are included within what’s called a home range. This open area with denser surrounding woods and abundant sedge tussocks seems ideal as what’s called a core area within a larger territory.

I continue to follow the tracks, testing the ice, and I soon see coyote scat that appears to be from sometime last night. It’s grayish-brown with pieces of yellow kernels of corn. This coyote, perhaps the entire pack, most likely visited some nearby farm and ate from the remnants of this summer’s crop. Coyote mark their territories with urine, but they also use scat; so this might be an attempt to indicate that this territory is off-limits to visitors.

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I ignore this warning and move forward across the snow-covered ice. I don’t know what it means for a human to ignore a coyote warning. I’m not worried about being attacked. I’m more concerned that I’m upsetting the pack’s hunting ground. Will they return when they sense that I’ve been here? Would my scent in the air and boot marks be enough to indicate that I’ve been here? Are they resting in the adjacent woods and watching me at this moment? I continue toward one of the beaver dams.

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These tracks show several types of trails or gaits, including a typical walking pattern, a straddle trot (the front and hind feet diagonal and close), bounding (according to Mark Elbroch in Mammal Tracks & Signs, 2003, this can indicate one coyote catching up to a playmate). Each gate potentially tells a story; most likely, I’m seeing young coyote’s playing and adults hunting mice in the tussock sedge, perhaps looking for deer at the woodland edge.

The tracks lead around the beaver den, but they don’t lead to the top of it as I might expect. Though this den appears to have been abandoned, coyotes don’t typically attack beavers anyway; they’re just too big and strong.

I continue toward the second den and notice that they do climb up and over this den.

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There are some red berries of climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) dangling from the side of the den, but they appear untouched. Though poisonous to humans, many animals do eat these fruits. I imagine the young coyote playing on top of the den, chasing each other over it and maybe trying to squeeze between the beaver cut branches. One of the benefits of not having a script is that I’m free to imagine my own activities and dramas from the evidence at hand. And, from the multitude of tracks, the various gates, the tracks crisscrossing and running together, the slides and apparent resting areas, I imagine a lot of activity.

Beyond this second beaver den, I see a large patch of snow, about two hundred square feet, at the far edge of the marsh, that’s totally covered by overlapping tracks; there’s barely an inch of undisturbed snow. This seems to have been a resting place for the pack.

Circling the perimeter of the marsh, I see another pile of scat toward the outer edge of the marsh toward where I first entered. This orangish-tan scat consists mostly of seeds, including carrots, apple seeds and tan-colored climbing nightshade seeds. So, apparently, they are eating the nightshade fruits I found on the beaver den. The most common coyote scat found in winter consists of the fir and bones of small rodents. But, this early in winter, there would still be easy access to leftover fruits and vegetables left out at local farms.

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I return to the spot where I entered the marsh and notice a three-inch diameter hole that reaches deep inside this relatively healthy eight- or nine-inch diameter red maple.

Flying Squirrel?

Flying Squirrel Hole?

It could be a former woodpecker nesting hole or even the current home of a flying squirrel. I knocked on the tree, but there was no movement, so I assume that it’s not inhabited at this moment. Now that I think of it, I’ve read how the flying squirrel population in Massachusetts has been decimated because coyotes ate them all (In Search of the New England Coyote by Peter Anderson, 1982).

I step into the pine woods and return to the Wildlife Pond Loop Path and circle counter-clockwise around the pond. When I reach the northernmost end of the pond, I notice several birds fliting about the edge of the pond. From the way they’re flying together from tree to tree and from the flash of blue, I know they’re bluebirds. I follow them along the edge of the pond and see the duller winter blue and brown feathers.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Each year, more bluebirds seem to remain north through the winter months. On the one hand, it’s a treat to see these beautiful birds year-around, their blue plumage against the clean white snow. On the other hand, we’ve lost an important harbinger of spring.  These bluebirds are chirping quietly as they move about, all moving in unison.

A bird’s knocking on the pines or oaks in the woods to the right of the path. I follow the sound and see a downy woodpecker circling an oak tree. Then, I see a red-bellied red woodpecker.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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I’ve seen, and more often heard (they can be quite noisy in fall), these beautiful woodpeckers in these woods beginning about October. For my taste, the red-bellied and flicker are our most attractively colored woodpecker. The red-bellied isn’t very appropriately named, however. It has a black and white streaked and dotted back, a red head-dress that reaches down the back of its head, and, otherwise, it’s white, including its belly. But, the combination of bright red and black is exquisite.

Though once non-existent in our state, red-bellied woodpeckers have moved north over the past twenty or so years.

  • 1883: Elliott Coues in New England Bird Life, wrote that “the Red-bellied is the rarest of all the New England Woodpeckers, being in fact only a casual summer visitor to the limit of the Carolinian Fauna, or slightly beyond.” Coues mentioned one early record in Connecticut in 1843.
  • 1982: Kimball C. Elkins, in A Checklist of the Birds of New Hampshire, listed the red-bellied woodpecker as “very rare to casual.”
  • 1990: A Beaver Brook Association bird list identified them as “Uncommon to Rare.
  • 1994: The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New Hampshire mentioned that red-bellied woodpeckers seem to be increasing as summer residents; and from that time on, their numbers began increasing in the northeast.
  • 2001: The Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count for New Hampshire listed 21 red-bellied woodpeckers.
  • 2004: Audubon, updating Elkin’s “Checklist,” listed red-bellies as “uncommon to fairly common.” Today: They’ve become more common in the southern sections of New Hampshire throughout the year.

I’ve been watching the red-bellied woodpecker for about fifteen minutes, but now it’s time to return to the parking area off Route 130. It’s almost four o’clock and the sun is quickly setting. On my way, I saw a human family of eight walking on the ice-covered Wildlife Pond with two dogs, where they were apparently taking a Christmas photo. I suppose, I’d prefer to see the pack of coyotes walking, bounding and trotting about, but it’s nice to see that humans enjoy this place as much as the animals for whom it’s been protected.

Otters at Wildlife Pond, Beaver Brook Reservation September 16, 2016

Beaver Brook Reservation, Hollis, NH

Otters at Wildlife Pond

September 16, 2016

Approaching Wildlife Pond from Dam Road, I see the toll taken on this pond by the summer’s drought; the water was low, covered with faded lily pads, the smaller, oval water shield leaves, crumpled and browned arrow arum leaves, the gray stumps, and the bare rocks, buried in the mud. It’s too early for autumn’s colored foliage; and, I wonder if the color – especially the reds of the red maples and red oaks – will be, could be, vibrant this season due to the lack of water.

Center Bridge

Center Bridge

I stand atop the dam. How should I approach the pond today? I decide to get close to it, to take advantage of the low water; I descend to the extended shore and circle the pond counter-clockwise to see what I might find.

Immediately, I see mating dragonflies, attached pairs, the females dipping their abdomens into the water to lay eggs. The males are red and the females are golden. These are meadowhawks. There are a few different species, but I believe these are autumn meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum).

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Dozens of these dragonflies, in tandem, are rising, hovering and falling, rising and falling, in jerky movements, amid the worn three-way sedge, the old yellow loosestrife stems and arrow arum leaves. It looks like some ritualistic dance; and, in a loosely defined way it is. But, do the individual pairs know or care that they’re one pair of many? They rise and fall and then move to another spot to repeat this dance. I watch for several minutes before moving on to see a pickerel frog jump closer to the water.

Pickerel Frog

Pickerel Frog

I circle the pond, stepping along the rocks, passed several New York aster plants, the pale blue rays of the blooms still fresh. I stop where multiple pairs of these meadowhawks are dancing about, laying eggs in the shallow water. One lone male is sunning itself on a bare gray rock. Another is perched attractively on a green lily pad.

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I continue to watch this tandem dance, hoping to find some pattern; they dip four times over this one spot, then move to another. It appears to be random.

Giant blue darners are darting about the edge of the water, about shoulder high. These blue-stripped dragonflies seem to never land; they dart quickly to one spot and hover for several seconds before moving to another spot. I watch as one meets up with a another – both males, I believe; they tussle, dart up into a red maple tree and disappear amid the leaves in some apparent territorial dispute. Or, are they playing? These are most likely Canada darners (Aeshna canadensis).

Farther ahead, I see orange and black pearl crescent butterflies flying from one blue aster bloom to another. Three of them land on one plant, on three different blooms. One of the butterflies appears to be more ragged than the others.

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Why? Did it escape a predator – barely? Or, is it just old and tired? Its worn condition doesn’t stop it from actively collecting nectar. The two others are fresh and young-looking, their wings pristine.

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Note the phosphorescent blue abdomen

Continuing toward Center Bridge, alongside the pond, I come across several small-flowered geradia in bloom several yards in from the water.

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The lavender blooms suggest those of foxglove and appear to explode outward from the sepals. Swamp milkweed with a single pod pointing diagonally is growing at the water’s edge.

A small inlet with shallow water pushes its way into the shore. I see something moving within the cove, and, when I lean forward, I notice that it’s a small fish with a green and black mottled back and a longish nose. It’s a young chain pickerel.

Young Chain Pickerel

Young chain pickerel

It appears to be blocked in this cove by a bunch of sticks at the entrance. I move the sticks and the fish swims out toward the deeper pond.

As soon as I reach Center Bridge and step onto it, I notice that the beavers have built up the dam here so that the northeast side of the pond is deeper than the southwest side, the side toward Dam Road. I see cleared water paths through the dense covering of lily pads throughout the pond. Like deer paths on dry land, these beaver paths reveal the comings and goings of the resident beavers. These paths lead to the dens and to the shore, where tunnels are clearly visible now that the water is so low.

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Cleared Pools of Water

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Water Paths Leading to/from Tunnels

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Water Paths Leading to/From Tunnels – view from land

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Various Water Paths

Suddenly, a blue flash flies by, over the bridge, left to right. The bird lands on a tall dead pine tree about thirty feet off shore. I leave the bridge, walking easterly along Old City Trail and turn left onto Wildlife Pond Loop for a closer look. I hurry to the edge of a small peninsula and carefully move to the water, hiding behind the high-bush blueberry bushes, lest I scare the bird before I get a good look at it. It’s a male kingfisher, perched silently on the branch. I move closer.

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Male Belted Kingfisher

The male has blue streak on the upper breast, but lacks the chestnut band that distinguishes the female. It has a large bill and its hair suggests to me a style similar to that of a merganser – raised and disheveled. I move closer, but scare the bird away; it leaves the branch with a loud cackle and flies to the far side of the pond.

I continue along Wildlife Pond Loop Trail, to a small bridge over a dried brook. Behind the bridge is a cat-tail marsh which feeds this brook when things aren’t quite so dry. I’ve stood at the edge of this marsh several times, but today, I think I’ll take advantage of the low water table and explore it more closely. The brown cat-tail pods have begun to burst open, the brown-tinged white wool, like froth, bursting out from these cylindrical containers.

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Cat-Tail

A stone wall that harks back to when this entire area was open and dry farm or pasture land stretches in front of the cat-tails. I step through the cushion of grass and onto the stone wall for a look out over the cat-tails. This is a wide, open area, surrounded by pine trees and filled in by the cat-tails. It’s moist on the opposite side of the stone wall, so I remain on the rocks.

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Stone Wall Through Cat-Tail Marsh

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View Beyond the Stone Wall

A wide variety of wild flowers grow over the stone wall, including boneset, a blue flag pod which has burst open, showing the large brown seeds, bidens or beggar-ticks, its yellow blooms out now, and willow-herb, the seed pods beginning to burst open.

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Blue Flag Seeds

Willow-herb is a fascinating wayside flower, commonly seen in moist areas. The most familiar willow-herb is great willow-herb or fireweed. It’s commonly seen on roadsides or in burned-over area, hence the name. This less conspicuous flower is known as eastern willow-herb (Epilobium coloatum). Its pale purple blooms are mere dots at the end of what becomes a purple, long and slender seed capsule. When ripe, the capsule splits open to expose the seeds, each born on a silken parachute. It’s interesting to note that when the capsule splits or recurves into four segments, the half-inch silky hairs clings to two or more of the recurved valves to spread them apart. I suppose this dries them out quicker and prepares them for take-off when the wind blows.

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“Four rows of the seeds are thus held out at one time, wrote W. J. Beal about great willow-herb in his American Society of Naturalists article, “Some Unique Examples of Dispersion of Seeds and Fruits (1898).” “Not over half to a tenth part of the seeds are well developed, yet the silky hairs are present and float away in clusters, helping to buoy those that are heavy. This is a capital device, and when dry and unfurled, it silently indicates to the slightest breath of air that the seeds are ready for a flight, and it does not take much to carry them a long distance.”

Though the brownish-yellow bidens or beggar-ticks flower head seems to be missing petals, green leaflets seem to stand in for the petals. I wouldn’t call this an attractive plant, but it has its charm, especially since it blooms at a time of the year when few other wild flowers compete for attention. A winterberry shrub with brightly-colored red berries clustered along the branches grows nearby.

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Bidens or Beggar-Ticks

A black ant is climbing up a boneset plant, apparently after its nectar.

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But, no! Upon a closer inspection, I notice that it’s cultivating small green aphids that are sucking the juices from the plant’s stem. I believe these are foxglove aphids (Aulacorthum solani), a common pest of many cultivated plants. The aphids provide the ant with its so-called sugary honeydew, a food source for the ants, created as the sap passes through the aphid’s body. The ant, on the other hand, provides protection for the aphids. I suppose the ant protects aphids from other insects like plant spiders, ladybird beetle larvae, or ambush bugs (which I have seen on boneset plants). I would love to witness a battle between a fierce ladybird beetle larva and an ant protecting its food source. I think I’ll put that on my Nature Life List. [Rather than collecting simple bird sightings, my NLL contains experiences: a fox hunting in the snow, a bald eagle diving for a fish, finding a hummingbird nest with young still in it, watching a beaver gnaw down a tree at dawn….]

Enchanter’s nightshade grows above the wall as well, below wool grass. The berries vary here from green to orange and deep red. Unfortunately, the monkey flower that grows here is passed bloom and only the green and brown seed pods point upward from opposite branches that arch upward from the stem.

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Nightshade Fruit

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Monkey Flower

I step down from the stone wall, but, before I reach the bridge I see a large dragonfly on a dead tree, its wings glistening in the sunlight. This is a mottled darner dragonfly, one of the larger species.

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Mottled Darner

Looking closer at this attractive insect while it remains perched on the wood, I notice the interesting colored markings on the abdomen, ranging from light brown to dark brown. The thorax and head has a greenish wash on it. Typically, I don’t see darners perched and still, so it’s a treat to be able to get a good look at it.

Near this dragonfly tree, a spider web is stretched between the branches of a dead shrub. Though no insects are caught in this fairly ragged orb web, I do see several willow-herb seeds each born on a silky parachute. Several of them have been caught by this web.

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Crossing the bridge and continuing along Wildlife Pond Loop Trail, I stop in front of a group of cucumber root plants, most having a reddish-purple stain on the upper whorl of leaves, above which I see the cluster of deep blue fruits.

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Cucumber Root

And, just beyond the group of cucumber root plants, I see dodder, wrapping itself around and up a bugleweed plant, the dodder’s white blooms still out and fresh. White wood aster is here, its white blooms still out.

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Dodder

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Farther ahead along the path, I see a painted turtle hanging on to a stump in a shallow section of the pond, it’s head out and its very clear reflection beneath.

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Painted Turtle

I take a step along the path and something slithers beneath the leaf litter. I focus on the location of the movement and see a garter snake poke its head out against an outcrop. It turns its head, as if to look in my direction, and juts out its tongue several times. Garter snakes use their tongues to smell for danger, and I wonder if it’s checking me out.

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Can it determine accurately if I’m a threat? Chickadees and chipmunks often appear curious; when I’m walking through the woods, they chirp or squeal and then turn to look at me, assessing how dangerous I might be so that it can warn “the others.” Garter snakes seem to do this same thing; they slither away and then turn their head to look back and they use their tongue to “smell” me.

I circle the pond and notice a great blue heron hunting toward the center of the pond. Then, I see nearby, a river otter, eating a fish. The heron walks toward the otter, and, I wonder if the heron knows that the otter has caught a fish. It leans down in front of the otter, which stands still. The heron lunges into the water behind the otter and leaves it to eat its fish. The heron might have caught a small frog, but it appears to have come up with nothing. A phoebe flies to a gray stump that juts out from the water. It remains perched there for a bit before flying away.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Another otter swims to the first otter. Then, a third. Otter are fun to watch, the way they appear from the water and seem to disappear against beneath it, sliding beneath the lily pads.

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I continued to circle the pond, keeping my eye on the otters. They swim along the water paths through the lily pads, occasionally making a grunting noise; it makes me wonder if these cleared paths were created by the otters rather than by the beavers. But, several of them lead to the beaver den and to the tunnels at the shore. Perhaps it was a joint effort.

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On the north side of the pond, I step onto the recently re-constructed bridge and see the otters appear on a muddy swale at the middle of the pond. Two of them are eating a shiny green fish with whiskers – a horned pout, an otter favorite.

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The color and shiny texture of this fish is unmistakable even without seeing the whiskers. That the otters were eating the fish’s tail first is another indication of the species of fish. Witmer Stone and William Everett Cram in American Animals (1920) describe how these mammals fish: “… they trace their way among twisted roots and alder stems, watching for trout as they go, until they reach the river and swim out into the deep water, looking beneath lily pads for pickerel that may be hiding there, then down along the muddy bottom edges for horned-pout and eels.

“Horned-pout are favourite fish of theirs and are caught in large numbers in defiance of their ugly spines; in eating them the otters make an exception to their rule, and begin at the tail, leaving the head and armed neck on the bank.”

One otter stands up on the mud embankment and arches its back. It then begins to stamp its hind feet in the mud. Is it grubbing for aquatic animals with its feet or is this a territorial response to seeing me standing on the bridge?

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A solitary sandpiper is hunting in the mud, and a great blue heron flies to a fallen tree between the otters and Center Bridge.

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I cross the bridge, and circle the pond on Dam Road. A phoebe flies to a stump just off shore; and to my right, a nuthatch climbs up the trunk of a red maple on the west side of the dam.

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Eastern Phoebe

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

Though the season is waning, there’s still a lot of life in this beautiful pond.

Wildlife Pond at Beaver Brook Reservation, Hollis, NH Sept. 1, 2016

Beaver Brook Reservation, Hollis, NH

September 1, 2016

Wildlife Pond Beach and Island

Soon after entering Beaver Brook Reservation from the parking area off Route 130, on Dam Road, I see a bird moving at the top of the tree canopy. I stop to look for it and soon see a northern oriole in an oak tree, on the left-hand side of the path, high up. It moves quickly about, inspecting oak apple galls as well as branches and leaves. Orioles prefer the highest branches of the oak, making them very hard to find; despite its brightly-colored feathers, I have trouble following it amid the leaves. Alexander Wilson in his American Ornithology (1808-1814) lists one of the oriole’s names as Fire-Bird, “from the bright orange seen through the green leaves, resembling a flash of fire.”

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In a nearby oak, an eastern pewee is inspecting oak galls as well as branches and leaves.

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Eastern Pewee

I watch it for a bit and hear it call out soft “pee-a-wee” notes before moving ahead on the trail. The water level in Wildlife Pond is extremely low; rocks are exposed, and many lily pads are sitting on mud. I see two painted turtles perched on a rock, both with their heads and necks fully out, looking in the same direction, sharing a late-summer view and surrounded by upright arum leaves.

Painted Turtles

Painted Turtles

I continue along Dam Road and descend to the small beach on the far side of the dam. An attractive yellow swollen bladderwort (Utricularia inflata) is floating on five pontoon-like bladders, about eight feet out from the extended shore.

Swollen Bladderwort

Swollen Bladderwort

This bladderwort’s thrice-branched main stem stands about three inches above the water and terminates with a small, bright-yellow flower. The three branches each terminate with a yellow-green bud, probably another few days from blooming.

Swollen Bladderwort Bud

I count three other yellow bladderworts near the shore, amid the roundish-green water-shield leaves that cover a large portion of the water’s surface close to shore.

While these bladderworts seem harmless, they’re actually carnivorous; the bladders have traps with hairs that trigger the bladder’s trap door when a tiny aquatic organism brushes against it. The trap door opens inward, sucking in the organism along with water. When full, the door closes and the plant digests the organism. This trap’s process takes ten to fifteen thousandths of a second. To set the trap for its next victim, internal glands pump the water out from the bladder and the trap door is set against a protruding lip to prevent it from opening outward.

Scanning the shore, I see two amber-winged spreadwing damselflies mating, each holding fast to a bare stick that juts out from the water. A spreadwing damselfly looks like the more familiar pond damselfly with broken wings, the wings literally spread out above its long, thin body (thorax and abdomen). The male damselfly, above, is clasping the back of the female’s head. They fly around like this even after they mate.

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Amber-Winged Spreadwing Damselflies Mating

To mate, the female lifts her so-called terminal appendages at the outermost end of her long thorax to the male’s copulatory organs at the innermost portion of his abdomen. While in this position, the two damselflies form a circle or the shape of a heart.

Mating Damselflies

Once mated, the male will continue to clasp the female’s head while she oviposits (deposits her eggs). This is his attempt to prevent rival damselflies from scooping out his sperm from the female.

While some damselflies and dragonflies lay their eggs directly into the water or onto a floating lily pad, the female spreadwing will slice open the stem of a water plant with its sharp ovipositor and insert her fertilized eggs into the plant’s tissue. When the plant stem dies back, the eggs fall with it beneath the water.

Interestingly, this form of oviposition (endophytic) has been traced back to the Late Carboniferous period (about 300 million years ago). Though dragonflies go back about 325 million years, the damselflies currently date to 250 million years ago. And, while certain dragonflies had wingspans of up to 30 inches, the damselflies looked much as they do today.

As I step back from the water’s edge, a frog jumps into the grass. It’s a small pickerel frog, a brown frog with dark brown spots and a yellowish-white ridge along either side of its back.

Pickerel Frog

Pickerel Frog

At this time of the year, I notice that while green frogs immediately jump to leaves and debris underwater when startled, pickerel frogs prefer to jump away from the water, to the cover of leaves and grasses on dry ground. They overwinter, however, under the pond water.

I walk toward the small island just off the beach and see purple bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea), rising about two inches above the water.

Purple Bladderwort1

Purple Bladderwort

The small bloom’s color is closest to lavender. It also has a small yellow dot inside the petal as a nectar guide. Two tiny black water mites are on the tan stem and a flower fly (Helophilus fasciatus) with four golden vertical stripes along its thorax and golden patches on its abdomen is inside the lavender bloom.

Purple Bladderwort

Flower Fly

Like the yellow bladderworts, this purple bladderwort is carnivorous. So, at the same time a flower fly sips nectar from the bloom above the water, this very plant might be sipping nutrients from hapless aquatic insects below the water. But, at least one study has suggested that the purple bladderwort might be less carnivorous than other bladderwort species.

While it’s generally understood that bladderworts derive the largest percentage of benefit from a predator-prey relationship (absorbing nutrients from trapped insects), according to Jennifer H. Richards in her January 2001 American Journal of Botany article, “Bladder Function in Utricularia Purpurea: Is Carnivory Important?”, the purple bladderworts she studied in Florida show a mutual relationship. The bladders she studied contained aquatic debris and living rotifers (small aquatic organisms) along with debris and dead insects. 100% of the mature bladders she studied contained “living communities of microorganisms and associated detritus [debris].”

“The ubiquitous presence of these communities,” Richards wrote, “supports the hypothesis that Utricularia plants derive more benefit from by-products of this community than from carnivory, i.e., that the important association in Utricularia bladders is a mutualism rather than a predator-prey interaction. The bladders in Utricularia, therefore, may provide benefit through a detrital food web rather than a carnivorous interaction.”

Is the carnivory part of the interaction merely incidental? Could it be the debris or even the water current that triggers that trap door and not merely the organism? I’m fascinated by the fact that this plant – as is possible with any living organism, including human beings – might just be more complicated and more dependent on efficient interaction with its surroundings for its healthy existence rather than merely one-sided predation than we first thought (isn’t that what we’re discovering through so-called climate change?).

I continue along the beach and see a single male amber-winged spreadwing damselfly (Lestes eurinus) holding onto a plant stem in the mud, and nearby, I see an attractive yellow-eyed grass bloom.

Damselfly single

  Amber-Winged Spreadwing Damselfly

Yellow-Eyed Grass

Yellow-Eyed Grass

In its prime, earlier in the season, these plants grow abundantly in clumps at the edge of this pond, each long stem carrying a pretty yellow bloom above a swollen brown bract.

Farther along, a grassy area stretches between the pond and the woods. It’s a favorite place of mine to investigate and I need to walk through it to approach the island. The carnivorous sundew grows here on a short tree stump; and one day (May 13, 2016), while listening to American toads trilling in this pond, I watched as a fly became stuck to one of sundew’s glistening sticky leaves. Though it fought, the fly was unable to escape. At length, the sundew’s tentacles would release enzymes that would enable the plant to digest the fly.

Photo May 13, 2 09 16 PM

Fly on Sundew

Video May 13, 2 08 27 PM

I see three pearl crescent butterflies dancing about the lance-leaved goldenrod that grows here.

Pearl Crescent (2) Pearl Crescent1

3 Pearl Crescents Pearl Crescent

Then, I notice two more that are mating, facing back-to-back, or rather abdomen-to-abdomen in order to copulate. I watch them fly like this from one plant to another. They open their wings and then close them in unison. It’s an attractive dance and wonder at what meaning it might have.

Pearl Crescents Mating 2

Mating Pearl Crescent Butterflies

I watch these small, orange and black butterflies move from bloom to bloom and from plant to plant. One butterfly, however, isn’t moving. I approach, but it doesn’t fly away. At first, I assume it’s been caught by a spider. But, looking closer, I see that a jagged ambush bug (Phymata Americana) has it in its grasp. It isn’t going anywhere. This ambush bug is a creepy-looking insect, brown and yellowish-green with small wings closed over its back.

Pearl Crescent with Ambush Bug

Ambush Bug with Pearl Crescent

Jagged Ambush Bug with Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Closeup of Ambush Bug

Close-up of Ambush Bug (showing Butterfly’s head with proboscis (“tongue”)

It sits waiting on wildflowers for bees and other insects to land in search of nectar. While gardeners call this insect beneficial, beekeepers view ambush bugs as pests because of the number of honeybees they catch; though, honestly, I have trouble imagining that they catch enough honeybees to make a difference to an individual hive.

I’ve also seen these bugs on white boneset, but they blend in better on goldenrod. This crusty-looking bug has powerful front arms, making it look like an out-of-proportion weight-lifter. It grabs insects with its strong arm and injects the insect with a paralyzing toxin. Then, it sucks the insect’s fluids. When, done, it lets the insect fall to the ground and positions itself for its next kill. I see a dead white itame moth floating at the edge of the water and wonder if this moth was the meal of this or another ambush bug.

Suddenly, another pearl crescent butterfly lands nearby its defenseless friend (At the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, I’m going to assume they’re friends).

Pearl Crescent with Friend and Ambush bug

This second butterfly moves toward this tragic scene and then steps onto the dying butterfly, its antennae moving over it as if attempting to understand what’s happening. “The audiovisual signals of the living world excite our emotions,” wrote the biologist Edmond Wilson in The Meaning of Human Existence, “and throughout history have often inspired great creative works, the best of music, dance, literature, and the visual arts. They are nevertheless of themselves all paltry compared to what goes on around us in the world of pheromones and allomones.” So, is this butterfly, through its sensitive feet (butterfly feet have taste receptors) and antennae, detecting sounds or smells that inform it of the danger its friend is in? Does it see the tragedy in this? Is it determining if it can be of any help? I imagine there could be all sorts of sounds and scents, consolations or calls for help occurring at this very moment on a level that my paltry human senses will never detect. This event, minor for me, isn’t minor for these butterflies and perhaps actions I might perceive as subtle or even accidental aren’t so subtle or accidental at all.

The second butterfly moves away to another set of blooms and then flies to another plant. And, I leave this scene and head toward the small island, which is much more accessible now that the water level is so low. As soon as I cross over the rocks, fallen logs and stumps, I see small-flowered gerardia, a slender-leaved, delicate wetland plant with tubed lavender blooms that suggest those of a foxglove. A dark-colored leafhopper (Limotettix nigrax) is perched on the outside of the bloom’s tube.

Gerardia with Leafhopper

Gerardia with Leafhopper (Limotettix nigrax)

Gerardia with Leafhopper - Copy

Leafhopper (Limotettix nigrax)

This species of leafhopper is a sleek-looking plant-feeder with big eyes, about a half-inch long, black with tan lines and a blue tinge to its body. It almost resembles a cicada in shape, but it’s much smaller. I circle this small island counter-clockwise and see a male blue dasher with a black tip on its blue abdomen and amber-shaded wings. It’s perched on the top of a blue flag leaf so that the tip of the leaf is bent over.

Whirligig beetles are moving about, animating the water. And, I see a deep blue female dragonfly repeatedly dipping its abdomen into the water. It hovers about a foot above the water. Then, it curls its body as it drops to tap the tip of its abdomen against the water’s surface to release its eggs. This looks like a mature female blue corporal dragonfly. The younger females are brownish, while the older females look more like the males.

Last year, I watched an otter swim in this pond and found otter scat and an otter hole on this island. I haven’t seen evidence of otter on this island since then, but I look anyway. I circle the island and see dwarf St. Johnswort, its small yellow flowers still in bloom.

St. Johnswort

Dwarf St. Johnswort

This is a bushier-looking St. Johnswort as compared with the common St. Johnswort that grows on roadsides. Beyond the St. Johnswort, at the water’s edge, a younger female blue dasher is also depositing eggs, her abdomen showing a bit browner.

There are a few sweet white pond lilies well in bloom, standing out against the decaying vegetation, as if holding on to the summer with their freshness. Pickerelweed is also still in bloom and bumblebees are collecting the remnants of its nectar. I also see more patches of yellow-eyed grass.

Sweet White Pond Lily

Sweet White Pond Lily

Pickerelweed

Pickerelweed

Before I step back onto the fallen logs to leave the island, I see a green frog emerge from beneath the floating water-shield leaves. The frog supports itself on the round leaves with its front legs as it glares at me. I walk passed it, but it doesn’t move. It looks almost comical the way it holds on to the leaf and stares straight ahead, only its head and feet exposed.

Green Frog

Green Frog

I leave the island and walk back to the beach, where I see small white aster, still in bloom. There are still plenty of attractive wildflowers in bloom in September. Walking away from the water, I notice four shallow depressions near the path above the beach. The depressions are strewn with torn, dull-white painted turtle shells. I suppose they could have hatched, but most likely, these were dug up by a skunk, raccoon or even a fox or coyote.

Turtle Eggs

Painted Turtle Eggs

On my way back to the parking area, I think of all I found in this small section of Beaver Brook Reservation, ranging from birth to death. These are not shallow dramas, but rather represent the core of our existence. And, if we understand them correctly, and what they mean to us, every path we follow becomes a spiritual path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Birds at our Feeders

Winter Birds at Our Feeders

Bird feeders provide easy access to food for birds and hours of entertainment for those who maintain them. But, what do we know about the birds that frequent our feeders? Where do they come from and how long have they been in our area?

Northern Cardinal

Female Cardinal Cardinal

Let’s begin with the northern cardinal. Most New England residents know the cardinal as well as they know the robin and the chickadee, but this was not always the case; during the early 1800s, the cardinal resided in the southern states, and only rarely appeared in the north.

“After listening with so much delight to the lively fife of the splendid cardinal,” wrote Thomas Nuttall in Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada (1832), “as I traveled alone through the deep and wild solitudes which prevail over the Southern States, and bid, as I thought, perhaps an eternal adieu to the sweet voice of my charming companions, what was my surprise and pleasure, on the 7th of May, to hear, the first time in this State [Massachusetts], and in the Botanic Garden [Nuttall was curator of Harvard’s Botanic Garden from 1825 to 1834], above an hour together, the lively and loud song of this exquisite vocalist, whose voice rose above every rival of the feathered race, and rung almost in echoes through the blooming grove in which he had chosen his retreat.”

   Nuttall also writes that these birds were so esteemed for their melody that, “according to Gemelli Careri (1699), the Spaniards of Havanna, in a time of public distress and scarcity, bought so many of these birds, with which a vessel was partly freighted, from Florida, that the sum expended, at 10 dollars apiece, amounted to no less than 18,000 dollars!”

In Birds of New England and Adjacent States (1867), Edward A. Samuels did not include the cardinal, and it was not until 1955 that Ludlow Griscom and Dorothy E. Snyder in their Birds of Massachusetts were able to write that the cardinal “has crossed the Hudson River and has been pushing northward almost throughout its range since 1930; it now occurs annually in this state and is an uncommon, rather than rare or casual vagrant.”

They also predicted that “a breeding record can be expected at any moment.” And they were right; in 1961, two eggs were found at Wellesley on May 29th.

In 1963, the Allen Bird Club of Springfield surveyed the number of cardinals and titmice from Worchester westward. Then, in 1965 John Laestadius of Amherst, Massachusetts compiled the findings of a group of volunteers who surveyed the entire State of Massachusetts. Their numbers reflect the steady growth of the cardinal in the northeast: 1,168 (1965), 1,041 (1966), 1,422 (1967), 2,113 (1968).

Tufted Titmouse

Titmouse

“Comparatively little has been written about this bird,” wrote Neltje Blanchan in his Bird Neighbors (1897), “because it is not often found in New England, where most of the bird litterateurs have lived.”

“The Tufted Titmouse, or Crested Titmouse as it was called formerly, is a mere straggler in New England,” wrote Edward H. Forbush in his Birds of Massachusetts (1929).  He cited 4 reports.

By 1955, concerning the tufted titmouse, Ludlow Griscom and Dorothy E. Snyder were able to write in their Birds of Massachusetts, “Rare vagrant from the south, with an increasing number of records in the state in recent years, since the bird has moved northward into Connecticut.”

According to Richard K. Walton in Birds of the Sudbury River Valley, “Prior to 1957, this species was rare in Massachusetts. During the fall of 1957 there was a general invasion into our state as the tufted Titmouse expanded its range northward.”

In 1963, the Allen Bird Club of Springfield surveyed titmice and cardinals from Worcester westward.  They counted 156 titmice in 1963 and 210 in 1964.  In 1965, John Laestadius of Amherst compiled the number of cardinals and titmice counted throughout Massachusetts by a volunteer group.  Their numbers give an indication of the increase in titmouse population occurring at that time: 741 (1965), 619 (1966), 912 (1967), 1,192 (1968).

In 1993, Veit and Peterson in their Birds of Massachusetts, wrote the following: “Tufted Titmice are currently widespread as breeders in Massachusetts, although they are notably absent from the offshore islands and from forested areas at higher elevations in the interior.”

In our area today, we can hardly step outside in mid-to-late March without hearing the clear, quick whistles – phew – phew – phew – phew – of this friendly little companion of the black-capped chickadee (also called the black-capped titmouse), the white-breasted nuthatch and the downy woodpecker.

White-Bellied Nuthatch

Nuthatch

“‘Devil-down-head’ he is called from this habit of walking down the trees,” wrote Florence A. Merriam in Birds through an Opera Glass (1889), “since instead of walking straight down backwards, as the woodpeckers do, he prefers to obey the old adage and ‘follow his nose.’ A lady forgetting his name once aptly described him to me as ‘that little up-side-down-bird,’ for he will run along the underside of a branch with as much coolness as a fly would across the ceiling.”

White-bellied nuthatches are thorough when sweeping the bark of a tree for insects. One April, I was watching a bald-faced hornet working on the second layer of its nest that hung from a tree limb. The second layer of the bald-faced hornet’s nest is built over the first layer, the air between acting as insulation. It takes the hornet eight or nine hours to complete half an inch of the layer.  As I watched, a white-breasted nuthatch landed on the trunk of the pine tree on which the nest was being constructed. The nuthatch approached the nest when the hornet was out and merely looked inside before departing briskly to the opposite side of the tree. Nuthatches will often take a kernel of corn or bird seed and fly way to cache the morsel behind a flap of tree bark or in a tree hole.

 Pine Siskin

Pine Siskin

Pine siskins are irregular visitors to our area; one year, they’ll be totally absent, another, flocks will arrive at our feeders. These Canadian breeders will move south when the seed crop is poor up north. During the winter of 2015, moderate numbers of siskins were seen around Amherst, NH. Related to finches, they look like heavily streaked sparrows with a wash of yellow across their wings. The pine siskin or pine finch, according to Albert Field Gilmore in Birds of Field, Forest and Park (1919), is “so erratic in its wanderings that you are never sure of finding him two seasons in the same locality.” They feed on sunflower seeds and remain close by when not feeding. It’s always a pleasure to have siskins in our area.

Common Redpoll

Redpoll

The common redpoll is a very attractive bird in an understated way, with its brown and white wings, chocolate-brown-streaked breast (or pinkish-red) and red cap on its forehead – an “ornament” as Alexander Wilson called it. “Erelong amid the cold and powdery snow,” wrote Henry David Thoreau of the redpoll, “will come twittering a flock of delicate, crimson-tinged birds, lesser Redpolls to sport and feed on the buds just ripe for them on the sunny side of the woods, shaking down the powdery snow there in their cheerful feeding, as if it were high mid-summer to them.”

Redpolls have always been irregular winter visitors from the north. “A winter visitant, of irregular abundance from the north,” wrote Glover M. Allen in A List of the Birds of New Hampshire (1902). Probably but few winters pass when none of these birds visit the state, and though rare in some seasons, in others they come in great swarms, frequenting largely the birches on whose seeds they feed.”

On March 13, 2011, the Boston Globe reported a flock of at least 100 common redpolls in Concord, Massachusetts, at the Thoreau School. I saw a smaller flock at my feeders in Amherst, New Hampshire on February 1, 2015.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker2 Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)

The Red-bellied woodpecker’s breeding range has moved northward over the last several decades. Thomas Nuttall, in his A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada (1832), writes that it is “unknown” as a breeder in eastern Massachusetts and in New Hampshire. This has changed over the past several decades. Ludlow Griscom and Dorothy E. Snyder in The Birds of Massachusetts (1955), called it a “rare vagrant from the south.” Richard R. Veit and Wayne R. Petersen, in Birds of Massachusetts (1993), call it “rare to very uncommon and local, but increasing resident. Rare to uncommon but regular migrant.” The first record of a red-bellied woodpecker breeding in Massachusetts, according to Veit and Petersen, was at south Natick in 1977.” Today, they seem fairly common or frequent during the winter and summer months throughout southern New England.

Nuttall also writes that it “dwells in the solitude of the forest….” Today, though I’ve seen the red-bellied on trees growing from secluded swamps, I’ve also see it often at feeders, on trees in my yard, and generally in residential areas.

“On a fine spring morning,” Nuttall wrote, “I have observed his desultory ascent up some dead and lofty pine, tapping at intervals, and dodging from side to side, as he ascended in a spiral line; at length, having gained the towering summit, while basking in the mild sunbeams, he surveys the extensive landscape, and almost with the same reverberating sound as his blows, at intervals he utters a loud and solitary sound as his blows, at intervals he utters a loud and solitary ‘cur’rh in a tone as solemn as the tolling of the Campanero.”

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow2

White-Throated sparrows visit southern New England in winter from farther north. Their ethereal “Oh sweet Canada-Canada” song is commonly heard on any mountain hike in the Presidential Range, but can be heard in the southern portion of the White Mountain National Forest as well; I’ve heard them while hiking up Welch and Dickey Mountains in Waterville Valley (Thornton, MA), for instance. In winter these sparrows arrive in flocks and enjoy our sunflower seeds. Because its summer mountain song is so beautiful and so prevalent, I feel as though I’ve been visited by a bird celebrity when I see one at my feeder during the winter.

 Northern Junco

Junco

Like the White-Throated sparrow, the northern junco breeds in the mountains. Also common in the White Mountains, they’re seen and heard in the Monadnock region as well. I’ve heard their subtle twitterings on Bald Mountain above Willard Pond in Hancock, for instance. They are also found in western Massachusetts, on Mount Graylock.

Juncos are “quarrelsome,” according to H. D. Minot, in The Land-Birds and Game-Birds of New England (1903), “and in them we may see feebly reflected many of the human passions.” Curiously, Minot also has observed that they’re “sometimes affected by a faintness or dizziness, which may apparently cause death, as I have several times found them lying dead, without a feather ruffled, or without a perceptible wound, with food abundant at the time.” He notes that he witnessed a junco fall from a tree and lay motionless on the ground, listless, but alive. He picked it up, brought it home, and, after a time, it came to life and flew away.

Juncos feed on the ground, but they also wait patiently in low shrubs, and will sometimes fly to a feeder. Unfortunately, their ground feeding habit makes them vulnerable to cats.

 House Finch

DSC_0012 - Copy House Finch

 

The house finch came to the east as a released cage bird, which is no surprise to those who have enjoyed this bird’s lively, musical and notes.

Oliver J. Austin, quoted in Arthur Cleveland Bent’s Life Histories (1968), explains that in 1940, “cage-bird dealers in southern California shipped numbers of these birds, caught illegally in the wild, to New York dealers for sale as ’Hollywood finches.’ Alert agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service spotted this violation of the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act and quickly put an end to the traffic. To avoid prosecution the New York dealers released their birds. The species was soon noted in the wild on nearby Long Island, and has slowly been increasing its range ever since.” They reached Massachusetts about 1955.

The common finch of the last century was the purple finch, and today many people who grew up during the early part of this century mistake the house finch for the purple finch. There are two important distinguishing features: first, while the house finch is most often found in suburbs and cities, perched on phone wires or on the eaves of roofs, the purple finch (the state bird of New Hampshire) prefers more secluded woodland haunts; second, the purple finch has more red throughout its body, and it is hard to beat Roger Tory Peterson’s description of it as “a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.”

 Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren2 Carolina Wren

Carolina wrens are a sparrow-sized bird with a beautiful chestnut color with a white eye-line. They’re active around a feeder, mostly focused on suet. They seem to show up earlier in the morning than other birds; and when they’re not feeding, they don’t hang around nearby shrubs like other birds; instead they fly to woodland edges, every so often releasing a beautiful warbling song.

Carolina wrens have always been common in America’s southeastern states. In 1920, Charles Wendell Townsend in Supplement to the Birds of Essex County, Massachusetts, mentioned an invasion of wrens into New England in 1908 and 1909. But, this was a fluke.

During the 1950s, however, they began moving more steadily toward Massachusetts. By 1984, Walton wrote that the “Carolina Wren is a permanent resident in southeastern Massachusetts where its numbers fluctuate according to the severity of the winters.” During the early 1990s, however, they entered New England: “This wren is gradually expanding its northerly range,” wrote Bertrand B. Hopkins in Birds of Groton & Ayer (1995).

 American Goldfinch

Goldfinches American Goldfinch

American goldfinches are permanent residents in New England, nesting, however, later than most other birds. After bull thistles go to seed in late summer, goldfinches use the plant’s downy filaments to line their nest.

By winter goldfinches lose their bright yellow feathers, but not entirely. Closer observation reveals that some birds retain more of their yellow feathers than others. They’re also not as vocal in winter. Throughout the summer months, their undulating flight is accompanied by a sweet characteristic song. In winter, however, they arrive in relatively quiet flocks that will often dominate our feeders. Surprisingly pugnacious for a small bird, a goldfinch – unlike a chickadee – will sit perched at a feeder for a long time as if to guard the contents for itself.

 Eastern Blue Jay

Blue Jay

These rambunctious birds seem to behave themselves around feeders. They’re cautious and will often feed on the ground. A blue jay perched next to a bright-red cardinal, against the white snow creates a beautiful winter scene.

Mr. Bluejay, full o’ sass,
In them baseball clothes o’ his,
Sportin’ round the orchard jes’
Like he owned the premises!
– From “Knee-Deep in June” by James Whitcomb Riley

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-capped chickadees are active little birds, curious, but ever vigilant. They’ll pull a sunflower seed from a feeder and then fly to the cover of a nearby shrub to eat it. Chickadees are hardy year-around residents in New England and the state bird of Massachusetts and Maine.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Like the black-capped chickadee, the downy and hairy woodpeckers are New England born and bred, and we identify these year-around residents with our forests. Downy woodpeckers are black and white with a powerful bill and a tongue that wraps around the inside of their skull. Their knocking on trees as they search for insects below the bark is a common woodland sound. These birds are also up with the times; my mother recently showed me an article showing how their heads are studied for clues to how human concussions can be avoided.

At our feeders, downies are drawn to suet, wrapping their tail below the feeder and pecking at the block of suet. Sometimes, they’re unfortunately attracted to nearby wooden rails or the siding of a home where they habitually drill for insects, in a similar way that a dog might habitually dig a hole in the backyard.

[All pictures were taken in Amherst, NH during the winter of 2015, with the exception of the white-breasted nuthatch and the red-bellied woodpecker, which were taken in the same year at Lexington, MA]