animals


woodchuck-in-pasture

Groundhog in field. pcooper photo

February brings groundhog day at its beginning and some longer day-length and light at the month’s end. It is always a little exciting to watch silly weather-men and women  with a groundhog waiting to see if it will cast a shadow on February 2. If the groundhog sees his shadow, it is believed he will go back to sleep for we will have six more weeks of winter.  We in Connecticut should know it is still too early for this hibernating animal to wake from its winter slumber deep underground if it were left to its own in a natural environment. Thankfully we have a few nature centers caring for rescued animals that would otherwise not survive in the wild. Some have a groundhog or two to share with the public on this most ceremonious day of weather prediction. And the annual tradition continues with much lightheartedness bringing needed smiles and community, and a 50 50 chance of accuracy.

groundhog-day-ap-photo-gene-puskar

Punxsutawney Phil (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

How they get the groundhog to participate is a great feat, because after all, it is a wild animal most people encounter feeding on lawn and gardens, or on sides of highways in open land. They are those brown, ground hugging mounds moving in the grassy areas along the roads.

Other names for groundhog are woodchuck and whistle pig. They do make a whistling sound when alarmed and a ‘chuck chuck’ sound both inspiring their common names. Their Latin name is Marmota monax and are a rodent in the squirrel family. These ground dwelling rodents dig tunnels two to five feet deep and up to 30 feet long. They usually produce one generation per year in litter numbers of two to six born in April or May. At six weeks of age, young are free to forage for themselves and leave the den on their own. That is a lot of woodchucks for one small, suburban lawn!

I personally have a running summer battle with a family of groundhogs determined to scale the fence surrounding my vegetable garden and eat just about everything I grow.  Fencing should be left loose and angled out and away from the garden so the climbing animal will fall out rather than into the garden. Bury the bottom of the fence 1 1/2 to  2 feet deep to prevent digging under the fence. Stringing an electric fence wire four to six inches above the ground in addition to the fence will give the animal a shock, providing it with a lesson not to return. Animal repellents of hot pepper, garlic, sulfur and predator urine can all be sprayed around areas you want to protect. These usually need to be reapplied after hard rain. It is illegal to put out any poison which targets woodchuck. Trapping is allowed according to the Connecticut DEEP, with relocation onto State managed wildlife areas or forests. However, DEEP does not recommend relocating nuisance animals as it is very stressful for the animal. It will not have housing, food or water and usually ends in death of the animal. DEEP recommends humane euthanization.

p1360100oodchuck-in-trap

Woodchuck in trap. Pamm Cooper photo

Groundhog, woodchuck or whistle pig, whatever you call them, they can do a lot of damage. Below is a picture of a pretty old weeping cherry tree on the great lawn of the UConn campus in Storrs. I have been watching the steady decline and eventual death of this specimen tree due to the extensive tunneling and den building, excavating under the roots. There are large soil mounds and a wide hole giving access and  protection. UConn has many such areas providing shelter to the ever-growing population of these animals, which can be common place to see all over campus. Stepping in one of holes can also be a danger. Farmers have long battled with woodchucks making holes in pasture and field, especially dangerous for horses and cows which could break a leg.

woodchuck-and-dying-ornamental-tree

Death of weeping cherry due to woodchuck tunneling under root system. Pamm Cooper photo.

If control measures of fences, repellents and traps still leave you with a groundhog problem, there is always the option of hiring a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator licensed by the State. http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/wildlife/pdf_files/nwco/nwcodir.pdf

-Carol Quish

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” John Muir

Air Line trail Raymond Brook marsh area Pamm Cooper photo

Raymond Brook Marsh on the Air Line Trail

In the last three weeks I have visited parts of the Connecticut Air Line Trail and because of what can be found there, I want to share what my friends and I have seen during April and May of this year. Since timing is everything, some of what we enjoyed has moved on or faded, but maybe next year some of you may experience the same excitement of discovery and pleasures of observing flora and fauna in their natural environs.

First of all, this trail was established along an old rail bed that went from Boston to New York and was constructed in the 1870’s. Long gone now, this trail system goes from Thompson to East Hampton and is an easy walk or ride of hikers and bikers. And while all seasons can provide their own versions of landscape interest, I prefer spring and summer.

blackbird 5-14-16

Red-winged blackbird male staking his territory

This spring was especially interesting because of the cold weather. Many migrating birds were found all at the same time- both those passing through and those returning to breed. On one Saturday morning in early May, along a marsh in the Colchester area, birds were abounding in both color and song. We heard and saw the following in just a hundred yard stretch of the trail: Orchard and Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, warbling and red-eyed vireos, kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, song and marsh sparrows, common yellowthroats, black- throated green, black and white,Northern parula and yellow-rumped warblers, redstarts, veerys, wood thrushes, red tailed hawks and more. Within a few days, most of the warblers had moved on to northern breeding regions, with the yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and some black-throated green warblers staying on to raise their young here.

yellow warbler singing copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

Male Yellow Warbler singing in the morning

 

Blueberries abound along the marshy areas of the trail, so of course you would find catbirds and other fruit- loving birds in those spots. This year seems to be a good one for blueberry. Much like last year, the bushes are loaded with flowers and the bees pollinating them, so a bumper crop may follow.

blueberry

Blueberry flowers

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber honeysuckle- a native vine

Along the trail, keep your eyes open for interesting plants, especially along stream and marsh edges. This trail abounds with black chokeberry, limber honeysuckle, pink lady slippers, red and nodding trillium, wild sarsaparilla, tall meadow rue, native geraniums and native azaleas- the Pinxter flower azaleas. There are also the invasive autumn olives and Japanese honeysuckles, but these are sources of pollen and nectar for native pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hummingbird spent a lot of time visiting these two plant species, and was in the oak woods finding lots of insects and spiders as well. There is a stretch where the native geraniums- Geranium maculatum grow like a hedgerow along a ditch, and are visited by many bees and early- flying butterflies. You need to go off trail and into the woods to find, as we did, the elusive nodding trillium, which blooms later than the purple species. This trillium is white, and the flower dangles down below large leaves so that it can be easily missed, so it was a nice surprise to find it.

trillium noddiing 5-21-16

Nodding Trillium

Raymond Brook Marsh is one of the most extensive inland wetlands complexes in eastern Connecticut. In the evening, just before dusk, beavers are busy getting started for a night of foraging here. You can see them on both sides of the trail, and sometimes they may surprise you with a slap of their tail if they are alarmed. They often climb out of the water on one side of the trail and slide down into the other side, often using the same spots that look like mud water slides. They will swim along and occasionally climb up a on a bank to nibble on various shrubs, like blueberry, that grow along the water.

Beaver after dining

Beaver taking a break after eating a small branch

There are also turtles that can frequently be seen crossing over the trail from one side of the marsh to the other. Besides the ubiquitous painted and snapping turtles, you may also occasionally see a stinkpot (musk) turtle or a spotted turtle as they crawl across the trail. The Cranberry Bog portion of the trail and the Rapallo Viaduct in East Hampton offer a resting spot beside a pond and a spectacular view from above, respectively.

musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle plastron

Musk turtle plastron

 

There are many other parts of the trail that are worth the walk, so bring both a camera and binoculars. Although spring is my favorite time to walk this trail, summer and fall are equally impressive. But I do miss all those spring birds…

 

Pamm Cooper           all photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper

Along the lovely and historic Route 5 in Enfield, Connecticut is a home that was built in 1782 by John Meacham and was originally intended for use by the church parsons in Enfield. It was called Sycamore Hall for the row of sycamore trees that stood between the house front and Route 5. If you were to drive by today you would see one large, majestic sycamore that still remains. It is quite a tall specimen, well above 60 feet in height although many sycamores may grow to 100 feet or more.

The beautiful view of the front of the Parsons House

The beautiful view of the front of the Martha A. Parsons House Museum, formerly known as Sycamore Hall

In fact, there is a sycamore in Simsbury, CT, known as the Pinchot Sycamore that stands 112 feet tall and has a circumference of 234 inches. Known for its spreading, crooked branches the Pinchot Sycamore has a diameter of 147 feet. It is at least 200 years old and may be even closer to 300. It was dedicated to Gifford Pinchot, a Connecticut native and conservationist, in 1965.

Meanwhile, back in Enfield, several sycamore saplings were planted in 2010 to replicate the original view of the Parsons House along Route 5. The trees are known as The Gettysburg Sycamores as they are said to be the descendants of the sycamore tree in Pennsylvania that President Abraham Lincoln passed under on his way to and from his delivery of the Gettysburg address.

The Gettysburg Sycamore saplings

The Gettysburg Sycamore saplings

The commemorative plaque

The commemorative plaque

The American Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, is one of the most easily identifiable shade trees due to its very unique bark. The tan-gray bark starts off smooth and pale but then begins to peel away in large flakes in mid-Summer. The now-exposed underlying surface can be brown, green or gray and gives the tree an appearance of camouflage.

The distinctive sycamore bark

The distinctive sycamore bark

The sycamore is a deciduous tree with simple alternate leaves that are palmate with three or five lobes. The leaves of the sycamore can often be mistaken for maple leaves but they do not have any of the beautiful fall color that maples have. The foliage of the sycamore may turn yellow but often goes directly to an unattractive brown before dropping. This abscission exposes the buds that have formed within the base of the petiole and that will be next year’s leaves. It is a very unusual arrangement as most buds are formed in the axil (the angle between the leaf and the stem).

Sycamore leaf on the left, maple leaf on the right

Sycamore leaf on the left, maple leaf on the right

My second favorite thing about the sycamore (after its very cool camouflage appearance) is the seed structure. The flowers themselves are tiny and are grouped in crowded ball-shaped structures. The fruit that form next are one-inch balls that go from green to brown and give the sycamore its alternate name of ‘Buttonball Tree’. These brown balls are covered with achenes which are actually individual fruits that each contains a single seed. The achenes that cover the outside of a strawberry are often mistaken for seeds. Other plants that exhibit this tendency are buttercup, buckwheat, cannabis, and maple. The maple tree achene is winged and called a samara. Roses also produce achenes and although the rose hip is considered the fruit it actually contains a few achenes. But unlike the edible strawberries or rose hips, the achene of the sycamore can cause skin irritation and respiratory problems for humans.

The different stages of the button ball

The different stages of the buttonball

The achene of the sycamore has a hair-like structure that allows them to be broadcast in a manner that is referred to as a tumble or diaspora. They can travel very far on the wind or even by floating on water. And like so many other seeds they can also be dispersed by birds and animals which eat them and then pass them out in a new location. Some species that are fond of the sycamore achenes are American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, Purple Finches, Mallards, Beavers, Muskrats, and Gray Squirrels. The beaver also eats the bark of the sycamore and many animals make use of the tree as shelter.

A sycamore devoid of leaves but still bearing its many buttonballs

A sycamore devoid of leaves but still bearing its many buttonballs

The American Sycamore, as one of the most common shade trees planted in the United States, is a strong and durable specimen that brings much interest to any landscape.

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

A lot of snow cover during the winter can be both good and bad. Good because it’s beautiful and nice for winter sports. It also insulates overwintering perennial roots from temperature fluctuations and extremes. One of the negative impacts is that the snow provides cover for the activity of voles. These small mouse-like rodents feed on the bark of roots or lower trunks of woody plants during the winter and they are likely to feed where protected by shelter, including snow.

Vole tunnels left in turf grass during winter under the snow. (Photo: USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org )

As the snow melts in the spring, look for tunnel-like tracks in lawns and gardens that are telltale signs of their activity in the area. If plants that were healthy last season are weak or fail to leaf out completely this year, look for evidence of vole damage as shown in the photos.

Meadow vole damage.  Photo: Robert L. Anderson,  USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org (upper photo)   Vole damage to a large fruit tree root; note teeth marks. Photo: Paul Bachi, Univ of KY Research & Educ. Ctr., Bugwood.org (lower photo)

Two voles species are common in our area, the pine vole and the meadow vole. Pine voles feed primarily on the roots below ground while meadow voles prefer to feed on bark above the soil line. More information on vole damage and control is available in this Cornell University fact sheet.

By J. Allen

January in the garden can be quite boring. Annuals are gone, and perennials and trees are dormant waiting for warmer weather. Still, I need to go outside and survey the once life-filled areas, even when they are brown, just to check on things. It is during this time of frozen ground and monotone palette that one can see what normally would be obscured and not noticed. Easily seen now, especially on top of snow,  is scat, it is the excrement of animals; their poop. Yes, this article is about animal poop and how to identify which animal dropped it.
Scat is a sign left by other visitors to your garden. The purpose of scat is elimination and to mark the animal’s territory. It could be a predator animal such as fox and coyote that eat smaller animals like rabbits, voles and chipmunks which have the potential to be a pest in your garden. In this case, predator scat would be a welcome find. Domestic cats and dogs might leave their ‘offerings’ in areas in which you would be digging where you might come in contact with worm parasites and diseases that could infect humans. Take a shovel and remove dog and cat droppings to the garbage.

As a horticulturist at the UConn Home Garden Education Center, the public brings us plant and insect samples for identification and disease diagnosis. On occasion we have also been brought what the client called ‘crap in a bag’, and asked ‘what shat that?’ That fact being revealed, I still love my job. The observation, dissection and research of scat have led me to share this questionably valuable information here.

Scat in a bag nrri.umn.edu.jpg

Scat in a bag nrri.umn.edu.jpg

As a safety warning, never handle droppings to prevent disease and parasites. Wear gloves and a mask if dissecting, and use tools that can be disinfected after. Clean and disinfect microscope if using. Dissecting scat will tell us the diet of the animal. Many seeds will pass through the digestive tract intact and still be very identifiably. Grass eaters will have bits of undigested straw and fiber strands throughout the scat. Bits of fur and bones tell us the animal that produced the scat was a predator of other animals.

Coyote scat with fur and bones, Harpercollege.edu photo

Coyote scat with fur and bones, Harpercollege.edu photo

Raccoon scat with seeds, Harpercollege.edu

Raccoon scat with seeds, Harpercollege.edu

Before breaking apart the pieces of scat, identify the shape. Is it a sphere or a cylinder? Spherical, round and pellet-like, scat comes mainly from herbivores, plant eaters. These include rabbit, shrew, mouse, chipmunk, red and grey squirrel, which will be on the smaller size. Deer and moose will be larger pellets.

Chipmunk, fcps.edu photo

Chipmunk, fcps.edu photo

deer and rabbit scat, photo from biokids.umich.edu

deer and rabbit scat, photo from biokids.umich.edu

Mouse droppings, photo by Kim Cabrera, teacher.edmonds.wednet.edu

Mouse droppings, photo by Kim Cabrera, teacher.edmonds.wednet.edu

Round and slightly flattened spheres are made by rabbits.
Elongated small spheres are made by chipmunk, gray squirrel, mouse, red squirrel and shrew.

Cylinder shaped scat are primarily from carnivores, mostly meat eaters. They can be pointed, blunt, broken or twisted. All of these characteristics can help to identify the creator of the scat.Scat color can vary greatly among the same species making it not a great help, unless the scat is white. White scat comes from birds and reptiles.

Turkey Fan, photo by Pamm Cooper

Turkey Fan, photo by Pamm Cooper

Turkey scat, photo by Kim Cabrera, teacher.edmonds.wednet.edu

Turkey scat, photo by Kim Cabrera, teacher.edmonds.wednet.edu

Larger pellets or spheres are made by deer and moose.

deer scat, biokids.mich.edu

deer scat, biokids.mich.edu

Moose scat, photo from colby.edu biology

Moose scat, photo from colby.edu biology

Pointed cylinders come from fox, coyote and domesticated dogs.

Red Fox scat, Harpercollege.edu photo

Red Fox scat, Harpercollege.edu photo

Red Fox, fcps.edu

Red Fox, fcps.edu

Coyote scat, Harpercollege.edu photo

Coyote scat, Harpercollege.edu photo

Coyote, amos.indiana.edu

Coyote, amos.indiana.edu

Broken cylinders are left by bobcat and domesticated cats.

Bobcat Scat, luresext.edu photo

Bobcat Scat, luresext.edu photo

Bobcat, cis.fiu.edu

Bobcat, cis.fiu.edu

Twisted cylinders are from members of the weasel family; mink, marten, fisher and weasel. These will have hair and pieces of bone in them.

Fisher cat scat, colby.edu

Fisher cat scat, colby.edu

Fisher Cat, animaldiversity.org.

Fisher Cat, animaldiversity.org.

Blunt cylinders will be from raccoon or bear. They vary greatly depending on the time of year and the food sources available. Bear scat usually contains lots of seeds, including berries and nuts.

Raccoon Scat, uwosh.edu

Raccoon Scat, uwosh.edu

Raccoon, ct.gov

Raccoon, ct.gov

Bear Scat, geneseo.edu

Bear Scat, geneseo.edu

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Opossum and skunk scat are rarely found, and can be quite varied in shape. Rather than finding these two’s scat, you will smell their musky scent in areas they have visited, and find signs of digging in the soil.

Skunk dug holes, photo by OSU.edu

Skunk dug holes, photo by OSU.edu

Opossum, msu.edu

Opossum, msu.edu

Skunk, msu.edu

Skunk, msu.edu

Earthworms leave castings on top of the soil during the night. These are a rich source of nutrients and beneficial to the garden.

Earthworm castings, entomology.osu.edu

Earthworm castings, entomology.osu.edu

Earthworm entomology.osu.edu

Earthworm entomology.osu.edu

If identifying animal waste to tell who is spending time in your garden is not to your liking, look for the footprints they leave and identify the tracks.

-Carol Quish

 

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Bluebirds

Beautiful and beneficial the population of the Eastern bluebirds declined in numbers from the late 1800s through the 1980s. One significant contributing factor to this decline was the lack of suitable nesting cavities. Competition for nesting cavities from introduced European starlings and house sparrows, the loss of open field habitats, pesticide use, and severe weather conditions have also played a role in the decline of bluebird populations. Sometimes artificial nesting structures provide more secure nesting places than any other site because artificial nesting can be constructed to resist predators, parasites and destruction of the elements. This is true of bluebird boxes. The bluebird box can be constructed with an entrance hole to exclude starlings and they can be equipped with a special predator guard on a mounting pole.

Image

 CT Audubon picture

Bluebirds prefer a semi-open habitat such as orchards, meadows, and other areas with scattered trees and short ground cover. They perch in the open, scanning the ground for their prey of insects and spiders. During fall migration and into winter their diets change to wild fruits and berries such as dogwood and viburnum berries are very important foods along with the fruits of Virginia creeper, eastern red cedar, sumac, bayberry, honeysuckle, winterberry, and many other berry-producing shrubs and vines. These plant species may be used to enhance vegetation that already exists in and along open areas. Adding these species to your currently existing garden will enhance both food and insect availability for these birds. Late spring freezes can endanger Bluebirds and other vulnerable species so stock up on insect feeder foods in early spring so you are prepared if assistance is needed.
Julia Cencebaugh Kloth

Tracks in the snow are signs that somebody has been out and about. Cold and snow tends to keep us humans inside warm homes, but animals stay active in search of food and mates, especially as their circadian rhythms turn to spring thoughts. After a fresh snow is the ideal time to go out looking for prints.

Animals walking leave their foot prints, often identifiable by their shape, and walking or running pattern. Larger birds coming in for a landing will leave wing prints in powdery snow. Turkey wing prints are especially beautiful. Tunnels can sometimes be noticed when they are freshly made or more often, noticed as the snow cover melts. Tunnel trails are tale tell signs the area is home to voles and mice.

A blanket of snow can be deceiving, bringing us to the thought most animal is sleep.  A walk around the Storrs campus this week found a few tracks below proving animals are active.

Deer have a distinctive cloven hoof. They place the majority of their weight on the front portion of the hooves, leaving a deeper imprint towards the front.

Deer Track, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Deer Track, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Deer Tracks leading to tree branch, UConn, 2-4-14, CQuish

Deer Tracks leading to tree branch, UConn, 2-4-2014 C.Quish photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I watched this squirrel bound through the snow, leading up and off the ground with his front paws. He landed with the front first, then with his back feet almost touching the front, his back arched and legs springing him forward once again. This action left the prints below.

 

Squirrel tracks, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Squirrel landing tracks, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Squirrel track leading to tree, UConn 2-4-14,CQuish

Squirrel track leading to tree, UConn 2-4-14,CQuish

Mr Squirrel UConn 2-4-14 Pamm Cooper

Mr Squirrel UConn 2-4-14 Pamm Cooper photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spotted a serpentine trail winding its way over a large, open lawn area. It originated from a stone wall that ran parallel with the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, I found it to be raised up snow from a tunnel below the snow. There were a couple of open holes where it appears the small rodent popped up from the tunnel for a look around. A vole or mouse probably made the trailing tunnel.

 

Vole tunnel in the snow, 2-4-2014, UConn, Pamm Cooper photo

Vole tunnel in the snow, 2-4-2014, UConn, Pamm Cooper photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Carol Quish

 

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