Mammal Encounters

Surprise encounters with the wonderful world of mammals must be shared, even if there is no particular theme to tie it all together!

Serious birders know that a slice of orange attracts orioles to backyard feeders. My orioles are still singing and foraging in the tree tops!

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Cottontail at rest in the protective cover of a fencerow thicket

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This groundhog was caught off guard and didn’t have a clear path to its den. It hid under a log, then came out to see if I was still a threat. Had I been a fox or coyote, it would have been dinner.

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The gestation period for White-tailed Deer is about 200 days. This doe will soon be giving birth to a fawn or two. The lush herbaceous vegetation of stream bottoms is preferred habitat for fawning.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Random Images of an Icy Spring

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Balsam Fir on a cold, snowy morning

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House Finch

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Cottontail in a cold rain, looking for supplemental feed; nest somewhere nearby

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Cottontail response to the rising sun: retreat cover

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Goldfinches, molting into their breeding plumage

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Foraging Bunny

A very young Cottontail rabbit – about the size of my coffee cup – has been living and foraging near my firewood pile and thicket at the far edge of the yard. After bumping into one another for a couple of weeks, I finally decided it was time for a formal introduction and portraits. The observations and photos gave me a good lesson in the feeding behavior of a youngster that hasn’t been out of the nest all that long. It was a weed-eating machine!

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Winter Scenes

I was on the road early this morning, lured by sunlight, a partially clear sky, and the dream of another encounter with a Snowy Owl. I couldn’t find an owl to save my life and shifted to Plan B: become a generalist, an opportunistic predator, and try to capture anything of interest within my field of view!.

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Common Crow

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Round hay bales and drifted snow

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Cottontail Rabbits foraging in a fence row thicket

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Small freestone stream

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Foraging Cottontail

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Cottontails (Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus) are generally abundant and tolerant of humans, providing ample opportunities for observation of their behavior. The food habits of herbivores are one behavior in particular that has always interested me because of the relationship between herbivore populations, biodiversity and ecosystem health.

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While watching this young Cottontail forage, two aspects of its feeding behavior were apparent. First, its nose was working overtime. Everything was tested with the olfactory senses prior to selection and consumption.

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Also noteworthy was the type of plant selected. Preferred foods of cottontails are mostly forbs – broad-leaved herbaceous plants. This bunny ate clover – both the leaves and flowers, plantain, dandelion and mallow while I watched. I think I saw a blade of grass disappear in its mouth, but grass was obviously not the dietary staple.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Kids Rule!

In the animal world, late spring is all about raising kids and perpetuating the species. Parents (one or both) are driven to feed, guide, teach and protect their offspring, regardless of the conditions or the associated risks. The large number of animals, naive-te of the young and constant activity of the adults opens a window of opportunity for viewing wildlife that is unprecedented in the annual cycle. That said, sightings can still be extremely challenging when dense vegetation and the need to minimize human disturbance are factored into the equation.

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One of several Tree Swallows that dive-bombed me when I got too close to a nest box full of youngsters

I’ve captured a sample of this exciting season, sometimes by design, more often by accident, and will share the joy!

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Canada Geese, mother and goslings, on a small stream

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Young Cottontail Rabbit

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Great Crested Flycatcher with a bug for the kids to fight over; she fed her young dragonflies, moths and caterpillars while I watched

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Immature Red Squirrel (i of 2)

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Wild Turkey hen loudly and aggressively defending a brood too young to run or fly (1 of 2)

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Hen turkey feigning injury and circling at a distant of about 25 meters, attempting to draw me away from her brood (which I didn’t pursue in the dense vegetation)

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White-tailed Deer fawn, about a week old, instinctively laying low and motionless, for better or worse; I was 2 meters away

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Most does are bred in November and give birth in late May and early June; this fawn may be 2-3 weeks old and reaching an age where running to avoid a threat is possible

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Despite the size difference, these fawns are probably twins

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Cottontails and Deep Snow

Deep, fluffy snow that accumulates over an extended period of subfreezing weather lacks a solid base to facilitate surface snow travel. Mammals like mice, voles, weasels and red squirrels adapt by living under the fluff, tunneling, foraging and resting in the humid, insulated habitat layer where ground meets snow (the subnivean zone).

On the contrary, the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) typically travels and forages above the snow, and is severely limited by deep powder. Their home range might shrink from 10 or 20 acres to a single thicket with a large pile of brush or Groundhog hole at its core, a quality piece of habitat with sufficient food and cover to “weather the storm”.

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Rabbit at rest in a thicket of Multiflora Rose

Usually active in poor light or darkness (crepuscular) this bunny was on the run in fresh, deep (about 12 inches) powder, moving from one evergreen thicket to another in daylight. I was caught completely off guard, with camera settings more appropriate for a songbird portrait, but share these images for their graphic portrayal of the movement, and vulnerability, of a Cottontail Rabbit in deep, fluffy snow.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Late Summer Rambling

Ramble (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary): “to wander around in a leisurely, aimless manner; to take a course with many turns or windings, as a stream or path”. Recently, in the absence of major field trips and photo projects, I’ve taken to rambling to break up the routine. This usually involves short, exploratory walks not far from home; streams, meadows, woodlots, roadsides, the backyard – just about any natural area will suffice. For the most part, the flora and fauna in this post are very common and images of them are everywhere. On the other hand, every image is unique, and some are even worthy of redundancy!

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American Toad

All of the images in my gallery are recent, with the exception of two: the butterflies (same time of year, 2012). They are few and far between this year.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.