Here’s something I learned by being fooled: River otters can sound like birds.
I found this out in Belfast, Maine one summer when my husband and I walked across the footbridge in the evening. The Passagassawakeag River was beautiful at sunset as the birds gathered to roost and a family of river otters swam at the Belfast shore.
We were on the other side of the bridge when I heard a loud bird chirping. What bird was that? Intrigued, I approached the sound to find out.
For the life of me I could not find that bird. Its voice echoed under the bridge but no songbird was down there. Finally I realized the sound came from the otters. They were whistling to each other.
This recording from the University of Utah’s streaming library is close to what they sounded like:
Who knew that river otters could sound like birds?!
(photo by David Stanley via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
The Vince Shute Sanctuary protects wild bears and provides educational opportunities in its 360-acre sanctuary. The bears are encouraged to visit a two-acre clearing at the heart of the property where, on the summer evenings, the general public can watch them from the sanctuary’s elevated viewing platform.Photographers wishing a close encounter can pay hundreds of dollars, learn about bear safety and sign a release. Then up to four photographers at a time can stand on the ground among the bears during the day.
Sparky Stensaas visited in early June and signed the release. “Basically you sign your life away,” he says, but you can see why the sanctuary does that. The bears come that close!
Last month when I wrote about red fox kits in Calgary, Tana left a comment that she had gray fox kits in her suburban backyard north of Pittsburgh! Her discovery is especially cool because gray foxes are said to be less tolerant of civilization than red ones.
Filming from her upstairs window, Tana captured the gray fox family on video on June 21. The screenshot above shows only four but click on it to watch the entire 16 minutes and you’ll see seven! Don’t forget to read her description below the video for the background story.
Meanwhile here are some cool facts about gray foxes:
Unlike the red fox, which was imported around 1750 for the fox hunt sport, the gray fox is an expert at climbing trees. It easily shinnies up trees and nimbly jumps from branch to branch.
Gray foxes eat the same foods as red foxes but make their home in deciduous forests with rocky, brushy terrain while the red fox prefers old fields and rolling farmland.
Gray foxes are monogamous and pair for life. Both parents raise the family of 4-6 kits during the spring and summer. (Seven is a big litter!)
The family group stays together until the juveniles disperse in late fall. The youngsters may later make their home as much as 52 miles away from their birthplace.
Predators of the gray fox include humans (people hunt them), great horned owls, domestic dogs and sometimes coyotes. Unfortunately vehicles kill them, too.
Tana was lucky to see the kits. Within days their parents taught them to conceal themselves as they move about. She only gets an occasional glimpse at dusk or hears a parent make a warning bark.
Most baby animals are cute but fox kits could win the Cutest prize.
Last month in Alberta, Dan Arndt photographed three red fox kits playing and exploring while their mother supervised nearby. They tussled like puppies and paused to look curiously at the human with the camera.
Click on Dan’s photo above to see his Foxes 2014 album on his Flickr page.
It’s certainly a “Look at me!” moment when a springbok jumps 13 feet into the air with his back arched and legs dangling. When a male jumps he opens the pocket of skin that runs from his back to his tail, as you can see in the photo above. This flashes his patch of white hair and, according to Wikipedia, emits a sweaty odor.
Springbok and Thomson’s gazelles aren’t the only animals that stott. North American mule deer and pronghorn do it and young sheep stott, too, as a form of play.
(photo by Yathin_sk on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
June is “baby” time in Pennsylvania’s woods with fledgling birds, tiny rabbits, young groundhogs and cute fawns.
As I mentioned last week young animals found alone are not abandoned, they’re just waiting for mom. You shouldn’t “rescue” fawns and if you’re lucky enough to see an elk calf in Pennsylvania, don’t go near it!
Just like white-tailed deer, elk mothers tell their calves to “Stay!” while they go off to feed. White-tailed deer are afraid of humans and don’t raise a fuss about their fawns but elk cows are big and powerful. If you approach an elk calf, its mother may attack.
An elk cow doesn’t have antlers, but she’s not something you want to tangle with. She weighs about 500 pounds, stands 4.5 feet tall at the shoulder and is 6.5 feet long from nose to rump. When she charges, you’re the one who’ll need to be rescued!
Paul Staniszewski is quite familiar with the elk herd near Benezette, PA and explains: “Although the elk are used to seeing people, they are still very much wild and will become unpredictable and aggressive when it comes to protecting their young. If a protective female elk is endangering people in a public area, move away and call the PA Game Commission. They will temporarily close the area until the mother moves on with her calf.”
Just like humans, wildlife mothers do what they can to protect their young. Hawks and peregrines swoop at humans, mother skunks spray, black bears and elk charge. Yes, a sudden attack by a wild animal is frightening. It’s meant to be! You’re at the hands of an outraged mother and she wants you to leave.
When you’re outdoors be aware of your surroundings and watch for wildlife. Remember that mothers are protective. It’s all part of being a mom.
This month you might find a fawn resting alone in the woods. He wants you to know: “Don’t kidnap me! My mother is nearby. I’m not abandoned!”
This fawn is resting in a place that looks like a field of square, granite boulders. Sharon Leadbitter found him as she drove through Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood in late May. He was hiding by a headstone near the road.
Sharon often looks for wildlife in the cemetery where she’s seen groundhogs, foxes, deer, and many kinds of birds. When she pulled to the side of the road on May 28 she was surprised to find a fawn curled up close by. Sharon wrote, “So tiny!! Can’t be more than 2-3 days old. The hooves are still shiny. I was within 3 feet of it.”
The fawn is doing what comes naturally, resting during the day while his mother feeds elsewhere. He’s still too young to keep up with her so she told him to “Stay!” and left him alone so her presence won’t attract a predator to his location.
Six days later Sharon found a second fawn under the cemetery trees and this same fawn near another headstone. He has stayed here for many days because his mother knows it’s such a safe location. He’s bigger … and so are his ears!
If you find a fawn resting alone, don’t touch! Leave him alone! His mother has not abandoned him. She knows where he is (she’s a Mom!) and will come back when the humans are gone. She’s relying on her baby to stay motionless during the day. The worst thing that could happen is if a human “rescues” him and takes him away from his mother and her milk. She will search for him when he’s gone.
The Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center in Verona, PA receives many calls about “abandoned” fawns at this time of year. Click here for their helpful fact sheet. The Wildlife Center of Virginia urges us: Don’t Be a Fawn Kidnapper!
Meanwhile, if you drive through Allegheny Cemetery move very slowly and be alert for wildlife. Perhaps you’ll see a fawn.
Late Wednesday night, February 26, at 11:15pm a raccoon climbed the bald eagles’ nesting tree at Hays while a noisy train rumbled by in the valley. Mother Eagle was asleep but she heard the raccoon’s rustle and stood up to defend her three eggs. As the mammal crested the nest edge she opened her wings and took a few steps toward it. The raccoon turned and fled.
When you watch the encounter on this archived video from PixController you can see everything that’s going on, but the participants can’t. The nest is lit at night by an infrared lamp mounted near the distant camera. The camera can “see” the infrared light but we, the eagle, and the raccoon cannot. On that overcast night the animals were dark shapes to each other. I’m sure the raccoon was frightened to find an eagle!
Raccoons raid songbird nests because the songbirds are powerless to stop them but they avoid raptors because birds of prey will kill them. Why was this raccoon attracted to a bald eagles’ nest?
Scott Kinsey gave us the hint on PABIRDS yesterday morning when he wrote:
It has been fun watching the Bald Eagle nest cam from Pittsburgh. Finally got to see a feeding. I think it was the male brought a fish for the female at 10:39am. She had it done by about 10:47 and back on the eggs. Might have been a Gizzard Shad around eleven inches?
As Scott points out, the female eagle eats at the nest and though she sets the scraps aside she doesn’t take out the garbage. Lots of smelly fish scraps are up there on the sticks. The raccoon probably smelled the leftovers and came exploring for a meal. When he realized his mistake he was out of there!
This surely isn’t the first time a raccoon has explored an eagles’ nest at night. We just happened to see it because of the night vision camera. He was lucky he didn’t make a fatal error.
Click here to see what’s happening right now at the eagles’ nest.
Here’s something you’re unlikely to see in Pennsylvania’s “Big Woods” north of Interstate 80 — a close-up view of a young 8-point buck taunting and sparring with an older one.
You’re unlikely to see this because Pennsylvania’s huge deer herd is quite out of balance up north. Since doe hunting was suppressed more than 100 years ago the ratio of bucks to does has fallen steadily. For example, on the first day of hunting season last month a friend saw a herd of 88 deer in Clarion County. 85 were does and the 3 bucks had only spikes for antlers. To find out how this happened, read Bob Frye’s 2006 book Deer Wars: Science, Tradition, and the Battle over Managing Whitetails in Pennsylvania.
In no-hunt suburban areas, Pennsylvania’s deer proliferate with a good balance of males and females. They’re used to seeing harmless humans, some of whom offer food, so they don’t mind coming close.
Sharon Leadbitter visits Allegheny Cemetery in the City of Pittsburgh to photograph the large herd. Last summer she posted a video of a cute fawn frisking among the headstones. This month she filmed these two antlered bucks.
You can tell the young buck wants to spar as he jumps and dances. The older one persistently pushes him away and ultimately wins.
The winner will claim his favorite doe(s) and make more babies.