At the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival I visited many birding hotspots but didn’t have time to see Laguna Atascosa. Exploring it on my own would not have helped. The 15-mile Bayside Drive loop road is closed for ocelots.
Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are about the size of a Maine Coon cat (15-30 pounds, one foot high and 3 feet long from nose to tip of tail) with short fur in a beautiful spotted pattern. Because the pattern is unique to each cat they can be identified as individuals in photographs.
Though ocelots are widespread in Central and South America they’re endangered in the U.S., seen only in Arizona and south Texas. They used to range across South Texas into Arkansas and Louisiana but the land looks nothing like it did 50-100 years ago. Ocelots need thick native vegetation to hunt and raise their young but 95% of that has been cleared and drained for farms and towns. There’s nowhere for the ocelots to go.
In 1995 there were 80-120 ocelots in south Texas but the number is now just under 50, all of them in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. A ranch and Laguna Atascosa are the only places in the U.S. where ocelots breed.
With only 12 ocelots at Laguna Atascosa each sighting is a gift. In March and May trail cams recorded a cute female kitten and a year-old male. USFW also captures and radio tags the ocelots so they can target the cats’ preferred areas for protection.
Unfortunately road-kill history and the radio tags have shown that ocelots frequently walk Bayside Drive during the day. Since 1995 about half of all ocelot deaths in Texas have been road kills.
As bad as it is to run over an abundant animal, imagine the horror of killing one of only 12 endangered animals. To stop their decline U.S. Fish and Wildlife closed the loop road to private vehicles on October 15, 2013.
Though I couldn’t drive my rental car on Bayside Drive, I’m glad the road is closed to protect these beautiful cats.
Click here to read more and see ocelot photos at Friends of Laguna Atascosa.
(photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)
There’s a bumper crop of black walnuts in my neighborhood this month, so many that they’ve stained the sidewalk black. They’re good to eat but how do you open them?
If you’re a human, you put on rubber gloves and safety glasses and hit the nuts with a hammer. The first whack cracks the greenish-yellow husk that stains everything black, hence the gloves.
The husk is the easy part. The shells are very, very hard to crack. Some people suggest using a vise instead of a hammer to open the nuts but no matter what you do pieces of shell go flying, hence the safety glasses.
If you’re a squirrel you don’t have tools but you do have teeth.
Donna Foyle watched a fox squirrel open a black walnut outside her window. The squirrels open peanuts in a flash but this black walnut took a long time.
The squirrel began by gnawing a hole on the side of the nut.
“He quickly gnawed the shell, turning it, gnawing many times, turning it, gnawing almost in continuous quick motion, turning it again. He never deliberately stopped gnawing to spit out the shredded shell,” wrote Donna.
You can see he made the “sawdust” fly. No goggles for him!
After 40 minutes he’d made real headway. The hole was a bowl from which he ate the nutmeat.
Did he save the rest for later?
The squirrels in my neighborhood are eating fewer and saving more, burying them in everyone’s mulch.
(photos by Donna Foyle)
While writing about elk, I wanted to use the word ungulate so I looked up how to spell it. I learned more than I bargained for … and ultimately didn’t use the word.
Ungulates are mammals with hooves, right? Well, some are obvious, some are not. Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge.
Which of these animals are ungulates?
A. Deer (photo above):
Leave a comment with your answer.
If you’re stumped, I’ll post the answer in the comments later.
Can’t wait for the answer? Click here. No cheating!
p.s. See the comments for an explanation about the oddest ungulates.
(All photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click the image to see the original.)
This animal is in a rut. Which one?
1. a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
2. a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.
Rut (2): An annual period of sexual activity in deer and some other mammals, during which the males fight each other for access to the females.
In September and October Pennsylvania’s elk herd has an annual period of sexual activity. The males pursue the ladies, spar with other males, and “sing” their bugling love song.
Visit the Elk Country Visitor’s Center in Benezette to see and hear what this is like. For a preview, watch this handheld video of the herd in October 2010. The elk are so preoccupied that they ignore the people.
So yes, in October this elk is in a rut.
If things don’t go well, he may feel he’s in “a habit or pattern of behavior that’s become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.”
(Thanks to Paul Stanszewski for the photo.)
(*) Definitions of rut from Google. Rut(1) comes from the same word as “route.” Rut(2) comes from the same word as “roar.”
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)
If you want to see black bears, northern Minnesota is the place to be.
Ely is home to the North American Bear Center where PixController‘s webcam made Lily the Bear internationally famous, and just west of Orr the American Bear Association’s Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary allows brave photographers to get very close to wild black bears.
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!
Watch Sparky’s video for cute cubs and a very close bear encounter. Click here to see his video on Vimeo’s full screen and read more about his experience with the bears.
p.s. Listen to the sound track for crows and some odd calls that sound like humans saying “wooo.” Those are ravens!
(video by Sparky Stensaas, The Photonaturalist)
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.
What a privilege to see them. So cute!
(screenshot from video by Tana on YouTube)
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.
(photo by Dan Arndt, Creative Commons license on Flickr. Dan lives in Calgary and writes for two blogs: Birds Calgary and Bird Canada.)
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.
(photo by Paul Staniszewski)