Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deer Visitors

Over the past week we have had at least four deer visitors to the "deer block". Based on the education my deer hunter friends at work are giving, they all appear to be bucks to me due to the antler buttons in front of their ears.

This White-tailed deer has two prominent scars on his left side.  There is a deep scar high up on his back near the spine.  There is a longer and narrower scar behind his left shoulder.  I hope I can use these marks to identify him if he continues to visit.  I'd like to see if I can get pictures of his antler development.

Several minutes later this button buck came to feed.  It has some patchy markings on the left side of it neck that could be from shedding or some unknown injury.

Two nights later the first deer (with the prominent scars) showed up along with a companion.  Their antler "buttons" are pretty easy to see in this picture.  The scarred deer is the one further from the camera.

Early the next morning this antlered fellow showed up.  My friends at work say that bucks generally "drop" their antlers sometime between December and February.  I recently read that if conditions are right (plenty of food, low stress level during breeding season, etc.) that shedding of antlers might be delayed until early April.  I'll keep watching and trying to learn more about these handsome creatures.

The next evening before dark the eight-point buck was back. He was also back during the night, so maybe he will be a regular visitor.

I would be interested in any comments from folks who have knowledge of White-tailed deer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Pine Warbler

Two of our favorite birds have been at the feeders most of the winter.  This bird is a male Pine Warbler.  He will get more yellow as Spring matures.  Pine Warblers live in our area year round and can often be heard trilling away in the tops of tall pine trees.

Pine Warblers seem to be quite tolerant of humans near the feeders.  They are curious and inquisitive.  I find that they will stay at the feeder while other species vanish at the sight of a human nearby.

The pair of white wing bars is a characteristic of Pine Warblers though their coloration can be somewhat variable in different seasons, ages, and genders.  A light eye-ring is another feature of this warbler.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Another favorite visitor, is the diminutive Canadian visitor, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  It flits and fidgets around the feeders from time to time and then is gone for a while.  I have rarely seen more than one of these kinglets at a time.  They are smaller than the Chickadees and have two white wing-bars like the Pine Warblers. They have a prominent eye-ring that makes their eye look bigger than it really is.

It turns out that this kinglet is a male.  On the top of its head you can see a tiny streak of red feather.  The males often keep these feathers concealed. In times of stress and during breeding season, the male kinglets flare these feathers into full view.  It is quite impressive.  There is also some yellow in both the primary wing feathers and along the edges of the tail feathers.  This kinglet is perched at a suet feeder, but I've often seen them grab smidgens of suet without alighting. They are also inquisitive birds and seem unconcerned when I am sitting nearby.


This afternoon my sister Sally, who was in town visiting her son's family, sent me a text saying they had found seven little snakes under stones that serve as a perimeter around a flower bed and a small tree in Matt and Beth's front yard.  It didn't take long for me to get on the road headed that way.

The stones had been replaced after the slender reptiles had slithered out of sight. As the stones were lifted again, we found three of the snakes.  I was delighted to hold my first snakes of 2015.  It was hard to get all three heads in focus at the same time, but here are two in the photo below.

It was soon apparent that we had two species of snakes here.  They were a little squirmy, but the cool weather tamed them a bit.  The slimmer snake on the right is a fairly young Dekay's Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi), maybe a year or two old.  The paired small dark spots along the back are a common characteristic of this species. These spots are sometimes connected.  Another diagnostic feature is the dark crescent marking near the back of the head.  These snakes eat soft-bodied insects and worms. In searching for food they actually help aerate the soil and even add a little fertilizer with their waste.  They are healthy for your garden!  

Here you can see the slight connection between some of the paired spots on the Dekay's Brown Snake as well as the crescent marking along its jaw-line.  The other two snakes are Rough Earth Snakes (Virginia striatula).  They seemed to be very mature snakes at about 12" long and a bit heavier bodied than the brown snake. The Rough Earth Snakes have a uniform brownish gray body with a creamy colored belly.  Their scales are keeled (having a ridge in the center of each scale) which gives them a bit of a "rough" texture when held.  Earth snakes share the same diet with the brown snakes and are good for your garden.  Both species are fossorial in that they prefer to stay hidden under rocks, logs, leaf litter, etc. 

The Dekay's Brown Snake has a bit more of a "neck" that separates its head from the rest of its body.  It has dark markings on top of its head and also has keeled scales.

Both of the Earth Snakes had a number of small pick-like wounds along their bodies.  It made me wonder if a cat had "played" with them over the years.  Notice the more pointed nose of the earth snake (below) in comparison the the rounded nose of the brown snake (above).  The Rough Earth Snake has a very thick neck or no neck at all!  Both of these snake species get no longer than 12 to 13 inches and are perfectly harmless. They do not grow up to be copperheads or pythons!  They are perfect reptile creatures for introducing to your children or grandchildren.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


After capturing deer on the little trail camera twice over the first 10 days, I decided to invest in a product called a deer block.   This is a 25 pound cube of nutritional supplement that includes protein, milo, corn, soybeans, cottonseed meal and molasses.  I placed the block in the backyard on an inverted galvanized tub to get it up off the ground.  The deer block is just out of the pictures on the left-hand side.

The next morning the following parade unfolded as I checked the pictures on the trail camera SD card.

7:19 PM

Up first image was of a neighborhood gray mackerel tabby cat (Felis catus).  I'm guessing that the deer block has some aroma emanating from it that attracted the attention of this evening roaming feline.  Wiki says that mackerel tabbies have an "M-shaped" mark on their foreheads.  I also learned that "tabby" is a color pattern that is found in a wide variety of cat breeds.

9:11 PM

Next this Virginia or Common Opossum (Didelphia virginiana) trundled into view.  It seems to me like opossums have one leg shorter than the rest as they sort of hobble along. The opossum is North America's only marsupial.  The babies are very tiny at birth (Lima bean sized) and must make their way to their mother's kangaroo-like pouch called a marsupium. There they develop until they are able to climb in and out of the pouch and eventually are mature enough to go off on their own.  Twice over the years we've met one stuck in the bottom of a trash can unable to escape the vertical walls of the container.  We've found one eating figs at night from fig tree branches overhanging the deck railing a time or two.  As a teenager I kept ten young opossums for a few weeks.  A local family doctor who lived next door brought them to me after accidentally hitting their mother in the road on his way home the night before.  We gave the half grown opossums to a park ranger who took them to a "menagerie" at a nearby state park for the public to view.

2:07 AM

Heading for the deer block next was another neighborhood cat.  This was a solid black kitty that reminded me of my sister's college cat that she named Dawg!

2:43 AM - 3:30 AM

A raccoon was next in the parade of animals. It was in the area off and on for 45 minutes.  I'm not sure whether it was scared off by the flash or not, but if so it returned for a second and third visit.  I learned that the scientific name comes from the Latin and Greek for "before dog washer" (Pro-cyon lotor) which alludes to the raccoon's propensity for sometimes scrubbing and dipping food items collected from shallow water.  I also learned that the English settlers at Jamestown in the early 1600's took the name raccoon from the sound of the Powhatan tribe's word for this masked creature.

Here you can see two of the raccoon's most recognizable features, its ringed tail and its black mask.

Raccoons are also known to be very clever mammals.  The toes on their front feet have pads that become very flexible when wet which aids in identifying food items.

4:10 AM 

This secretive canine visitor arrived next with what appears to be huge "headlights" for its eyes.  This is our native gray fox  (Urocyon cinereoargenteus which translates to "tailed-dog - ashen silver").  I have seen red foxes in our yard during the daytime a number of times over the years and we know that pair raised kits a number of years less than a block away from our yard.  But this is the first gray fox I've seen here. Years ago I learned that gray foxes have retractable claws like cats and are quite able to climb trees.  In fact these gray foxes are one of the oldest canines. The earliest fossils are from 3.6 millions years ago.

4:22 AM - 4:24 AM

For a few minutes around 4:30 AM a male White-tailed deer showed up and triggered the camera four times.  Recently a coworker had told me about looking for a dark mark on the inside of the hind leg as an identifier for a male White-tailed deer.  This is the tarsal gland that the male deer uses to alert other bucks and does of its presence by marking vegetation it passes through.

I did not see evidence of anything eaten from the deer block, but I believe the deer may be eating white oak acorns that are still on the ground in small numbers.

Perhaps this buck is getting curious about all this flashing going on.

Thirty seconds later he is still in front of the camera.  The flash must not be bothering him too much.

4:42 AM - 5:12 AM

Another masked friend showed up for about thirty minutes around 5 AM.  It's possible this is the same individual, but to me it looks lighter in color than the previous visitor.

This is a nice view of the raccoon's fluffy ringed tail.

Looks like this raccoon is looking for acorns, too.

Maybe one more acorn before I go?

Over the next few nights the camera caught a gray squirrel just before dusk and another shot of a raccoon on top of the deer block.  I'll wait a few days before I check the SD card again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


I admit I am a curious fellow.  After seeing that the folks at Prairie Ridge EcoStation had captured a Bobcat (Lynx rufus) on one of their camera traps late last year, I just had to add a little trail camera to my purchase last week.  I set it up yesterday and our son's dog provided proof at dusk that the camera and its flash were working. Well, what I really mean is, I had figured out how to set it up! I am sure I will need to do at least a little adjusting as we begin getting photos.

At 3:23 this morning we got our first visitor.  From time to time I have gotten a glimpse of four or five White-tail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) near dusk and at dawn in the neighbor's yard behind us as well as deer tracks in our backyard.

Nine minutes later the camera is triggered again.  Behind the hedge row you can see the eye-shine of another deer feeding.  I'm not sure if the incandescent flash will bother these guys or not.  I am at the beginning of another learning phase.  I can't wait to see who else is out at night!

Five days later at 5:40 in the morning there were two more photos, both of the same deer 30 seconds apart.  This cropped picture shows what I think might be new antlers beginning to show.

At 2:10 PM the afternoon of the same day, this Big Brown was caught on the little trail camera's SD card.  Oh, that's a big brown truck delivering a UPS package to our backdoor neighbors!

Friday, March 6, 2015


After wearing out my wife's little Lumix DMC-FS15 camera over the past two and a half years, I took the plunge and bought a little larger camera with zoom capability. It arrived two days ago.  Here are some of the first birds that I photographed at our feeders.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

As we watched the feeders this winter, we did not see our first Yellow-rumped Warbler until the first week of December. From then until the end of January we still only counted one each weekend.  In early February a second one appeared. It seemed like they spent more time chasing each other than feeding.  But since then there has been a crowd of up to 11 of these small, sleek birds zooming about.  They are very hard to count as they are so active and don't sit still very long.  This picture shows a hint of this bird's yellow rump peeking between its wings. Some birding folk refer to this little bird as a Butter Butt.  Yellow-rumped Warblers usually have "blurry" vertical black streaks on their brownish backs.

These are quizzical little birds as you can see from this photo.  Both male and female warblers have yellow shoulder patches and also some dark streaking on the breast and sides.

Warblers are typically insect and berry eaters in the summer when they are breeding in Canada.  But we've watched these energetic Yellow-rumped Warblers eat a wide array of foods. The bird in the first picture is cleaving off pieces of whole peanuts.  They visit the suet stations, sometimes perching on the feeder, but often fluttering at the feeder and taking small bits while hovering for a few seconds. We've also seen them consume sunflower seed, finch seed, currants, and grape jelly. These warblers also harvest the bluish berries from the Wax Myrtle bushes (Bayberry) in the yard. Their former name, Myrtle Warbler, comes from the fact that this species has a unique digestive tract that is particularly adapted to digesting these little wax covered fruits.  But we know for sure that they love oranges that we put out for the oriole!

We've watched them pull out the juice vesicles one at a time until the orange section is completely emptied out.

Another identification characteristic of Yellow-rumped Warblers is their two prominent white wing bars.

This is a fun little bird to watch.  Like all warblers it has a thin straight beak typical of most birds that are insectivores.  This species also has a "broken" white eye ring and a slightly notched tail.

Baltimore Oriole 
(Northern Oriole)

About ten days ago this female Baltimore Oriole showed up at our feeding station. This photo is from the first set I took using the new camera.  She is really fluffed up to protect against the cold temperatures.  We have had orioles maybe five times over the past 25-30 years, but they usually show up in late fall (October and November) for a few weeks before disappearing further south.  This beautiful bird showed up at the end of February and has been to the feeders every day since. 

I hope to get more pictures of her in the next few days.  Her obvious markings are the yellow orange breast and belly, her black wings with two prominent white wing bars, a fairly orange tail, and that fantastic beak!  The beak is thick at the base and comes to a very sharp point.  I read that it can take up to 10,000 "stitches" of grasses and thin vines to produce its nest which is shaped like a long hanging basket.  We have seen her eating pieces of whole peanuts and oranges as well as grape jelly and meal-worms.

Eastern Bluebirds

We've loved Eastern Bluebirds from the first time we saw them back.  In the mid 1970s we put up our first nesting box and over the years we've been treated to numerous broods of these lovely birds.  These two females were up early, waiting to grab some freeze dried meal-worms I'd put out before going off to work.  They always seem so inquisitive.

It was quite a cold morning with 24 degree temperature and a windchill of about 13 degrees.  All the birds were puffed up to hold in their body heat.  This fellow seemed to be warming his feet, too.  Looking at his eyes, I get a sense of how a caterpillar or a grasshopper might feel when a Bluebird is barreling down on it!

One characteristic of Bluebirds is their distinct eye-ring which is fuller toward the back of the eye.

One day last week we had seven Bluebirds at the feeders at the same time.  They are always on alert for someone putting meal-worms in the feeder.

The next afternoon was sunnier and the temperatures were up into the low 60s. This male Bluebird's colors looked much brighter than the day before.