Archive for the 'Mammals' Category

Jul 04 2012

Flag Waving Fawn

Published by under Books & Events,Mammals

Though this picture was taken around Memorial Day, the fawn looks as if he’s celebrating the Fourth of July.

This little guy and his mother are part of the large deer herd that lives at Allegheny Cemetery in the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.  In late May the Veterans’ section was all decked out in red, white and blue.  The deer didn’t seem to mind the waving flags.

Sharon Leadbitter took their pictures and as the deer left the area the fawn did a little flag waving of his own.  See how his tail is up in that first photo?

According to a 1991 study published in The American Naturalist, fawns wave their tails much more than adults.  Winston Paul Smith studied the reasons why white-tailed deer wave their tails and wrote, “Tail flagging was observed in all age and sex groups, even neonates within hours after birth. The tendency to tail flag was greatest among fawns. As fawns became older, tail flagging decreased so that by 7 mo of age they tail flagged at a rate similar to that of yearlings and adults.”

Watch the Fourth of July parades today and see if you don’t think this applies to small humans, too.  Everyone waves flags but the youngest wave them more.

Happy Fourth of July!


(photos by Sharon Leadbitter)

2 responses so far

May 10 2012

Baby Woodchucks!

Published by under Mammals,Schenley Park

I walked home through Schenley Park on Tuesday hoping to see a lot of birds after the rain.  As usual the birds were not very active in the evening but I found something so cute it made me laugh:  two baby woodchucks!

I call them woodchucks because the word “groundhog” doesn’t fit something so cute.  They were compact and furry, the size of large guinea pigs and very naive.

At first they were oblivious to my presence but when I paused to watch they froze.  I moved again and they retreated into their den but they were so anxious to come out and play that they didn’t wait long enough for me to leave.  I took their picture with my cellphone when they came out again.

Extremely cute!  But they’ll have to learn to avoid predators or they’ll become breakfast for the red-tail babies.

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s.  I went back on Wednesday with a nicer camera but the woodchucks didn’t make an appearance.

4 responses so far

Apr 12 2012


Published by under Mammals

On a recent walk in the park I paused to look and listen for birds.  Instead of birdsong I heard rough scrabbling above me.

As I turned to look, the scrabbling stopped.


A squirrel lost his grip and fell straight down out of the tree. He landed flat on his belly and lay there blinking.

A second squirrel peered down from above.

Blink. Blink.

Game over! Lucky for him I wasn’t a red-tailed hawk.

He picked himself up and slowly climbed the tree. Huff. Huff.

And they resumed the chase, leaping from branch to branch.


(photo by Jeff Buck on Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

One response so far

Mar 16 2012

March Madness

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Mammals

I thought March Madness was all about basketball until I stumbled on a recent RSPB headline, The Gloves Are Off at RSPB Reserves:

“With spring approaching, the brown hares of the UK are starting to ‘box’, and we’re encouraging people to head to our nature reserves to see the opening bouts of these amazing seasonal matches.

Unlike the male parties of the well-publicised recent heavyweight fracas, the dramatic sight of hares ‘boxing’ is actually the females fighting off the unwanted attention of overly amorous males.

The males gather together vying for the female’s attention and if not impressed, she uses fisticuffs to fend them off.”

The article was accompanied by a photograph but that was tame compared to this video from Scotland.

He chases, she boxes, they tumble, the fur flies.  She’s really letting him have it!

Clearly he doesn’t get it that when she says no she means no!

Mad as a March hare, no doubt.

(video by LuckyGavia from YouTube)


No responses yet

Feb 02 2012

Time To Wake Up

Published by under Mammals

It’s Groundhog Day all over again.

Moments ago (at 7:25am EST) Punxsutawney Phil emerged from hibernation, looked for his shadow, saw it(!) and told us we’ll have six more weeks of winter.  Amazing… considering how warm it’s been.

Every year Phil’s predictions are preceded by a week of partying and fireworks, and accompanied by much fanfare and ceremony.  Thousands attend the celebrations in person and by webcam.  It’s a formal occasion for Phil’s Inner Circle who wear bowties, top hats, greatcoats and gloves.

The gloves are useful.  Yes, it can be cold — it was 8 degrees in 2004 — but there’s a second reason.

Sometimes Phil is grumpy when he wakes up and it’s better for all concerned that he nip a glove instead of a hand.

I’m with ya, Phil.  I’m grumpy, too, before my first cup of coffee.

(photo of Punxsutawney Phil from the Groundhog Day website.  Click on the image to visit Phil’s website and read all about him.)


p.s. No one had to wear gloves today.  Phil was not grumpy, but some folks in the crowd were quite grumpy about his prediction!

5 responses so far

Dec 10 2011

What’s That Smell?

Published by under Mammals

An unpleasant smell is coming from the crawl space under our kitchen sunroom.

I first noticed a hint of it on Wednesday evening but I couldn’t find the source though it seemed strongest in the basement.  Day after day the smell has increased until this morning it is noticeably putrid.  I think something died in there.  But what?

The only access to the crawl space is from inside our basement … unless you’re a mouse …  and that was the last known location of the mouse I couldn’t catch last month.  I thought he was in the heating duct but no, he was probably walking on the heating duct while collecting that pile of pink insulation you see in center of the photo.  That pile is new and unreachable by humans. No wonder he never found the trap I set upstairs.

When my mouse adventures began I put two snap traps in the crawl space but they went untouched for days.  I worried that my cat, Emmalina, would explore the crawl space so I removed the traps when I became convinced the mouse was inside the ductwork.

Since Thanksgiving I haven’t heard the mouse at all so I thought he was gone.  Dang!  I feel like I flunked Nature Observation.  I made up for my mistake this morning by again installing snap traps in case the mouse has friends.

So now the house smells bad when the furnace runs and my imagination is working overtime.  How long will it take for the smell to go away?  What if that smell is poop and not death?  What if the critter is still alive?  What if it’s a rat?

I have a feeling I’m going to buy way too much anti-rodent gear today.

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. That brown spot in front of the insulation is a rock, not a mouse.

5 responses so far

Nov 25 2011

Just a Mild Fascination

Published by under Mammals,Plants

Jonathan Nadle is fascinated by porcelain berry.  He wondered if his cat would be too.

I think it’s safe to say the cat did not catch Jonathan’s enthusiasm. 

Click on the photo of Larry Cat to see the very mild reaction of one imported species (Felis catus) examining another (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).

(photos by Jonathan Nadle)

No responses yet

Nov 21 2011

The Observer Effect

Published by under Mammals

There’s a principle in physics called the observer effect that states the observer cannot help but affect the outcome of the experiment. 

I think this applies to mice.

After your advice last week I put a peanut-butter-laden snap trap inside the ductwork at the only spot that’s flat.  Though it was rather far from the mouse’s last known location, he should have smelled it.  It was upwind.  Two days passed.  No mouse.

Saturday morning I was contemplating a change to my bait strategy when Emmalina took a deep interest in the kitchen heat vent again.  I lifted the vent cover and the unseen mouse immediately scrabbled deeper into the ductwork.  Aha!   He was near the top.

I wanted to use a snap trap but there’s no way to keep a healthy cat out of the kitchen.  The entry has no door to close and there’s a window pass-through to the dining room. 

So I erected an elaborate contraption which wouldn’t have been necessary if I didn’t have a cat.  I took off the vent cover, put a snap trap near the opening and covered all of it with a cardboard box.  I taped the box to the floor, not because I feared the mouse would escape, but because I knew Emmalina would overturn the box if I didn’t nail it down. 

We waited.

Sunday morning Emmalina was sleeping on my lap when we heard the mouse climbing up the vent.  I froze to wait.  She jumped into action.

The mouse kept making noise until Emmy danced on top of the box and tried to dig everything away from the wall.  He scrabbled back into the vent and now, 24 hours later, we have not heard him since. 

This morning I again peeled the blue painter’s tape from the box seam and checked inside.  Nothing.

Am I too impatient or is it time for a new strategy that’s less prone to error?

I don’t know how to compensate for the observer effect.

(photos by Kate St. John)

18 responses so far

Nov 17 2011

Mouse in the House

Published by under Mammals

Monday morning, 5:30am:  I am sitting in the kitchen “mainlining” a cup of coffee when a very small scratchy noise attracts my cat’s attention.  I don’t hear it but I can tell from her reaction that we have trouble. 

Emmalina is in hunting mode, completely alert, ears pointed forward, stalking the heat vent under the kitchen table.  I put my head under the table and now I hear it too.  Aaarrrggg!  There’s a mouse in the ductwork.

I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. 

Emmalina had been giving me hints about this critter for more than a week.  She spent extra time in the basement and came upstairs wreathed in cobwebs with that hunting glow in her eyes.  I suspected she was tracking a mouse so I laid traps (safely out of her reach) where I thought a mouse might be, but I never caught anything.  Neither did Emmalina.  Instead she stared at the ductwork crisscrossing the basement ceiling.  I was too dense to figure out why.

All of this transpired while the weather was warm and the furnace was barely running.  This morning the temperature is near freezing and the heat is on. 

Warm air wafts through the kitchen.  Emmalina pauses to sniff the air.  Scent of mouse?  Fortunately I can’t smell it… yet.

So now what?  Should I seal the outside of the house with the mouse indoors?  Is it wise to put peanut butter laiden traps inside the vents?  Can I lure the mouse out of the vents… and how?  Will it die in the ductwork and make the whole house stink?

This is an opportunity for crowdsourcing.  Dear readers, your advice?

(photo by Kate St. John)

26 responses so far

Nov 01 2011

A Bat on Halloween

Published by under Mammals,Schenley Park

While walking home in the rain last night I saw a brown lump on an oak tree in Schenley Park.

Only a foot off the ground and smaller than the palm of my hand I thought it was a mushroom — until I got close.

It was a little brown bat and he was sleeping.

Without any experience in identifying bats my guess is that he was the most common bat in Pennsylvania, quite literally a “little brown bat,” Myotis lucifugus, whose scientific name means “mouse-ear light-fleeing.”

I didn’t want to wake him so I held my umbrella over my cell phone and took his picture from three feet away.

Even in this distant photo you can see his folded wing on the right and his tiny brown ears pointing down.  Remember, he’s upside down so his ears are at the bottom.  Click here to see what this species looks like up close.

Since bats eat flying insects their food supply disappears during Pennsylvania winters so they must hibernate or migrate to survive.  This little guy has spent the last few months fattening up and mating in preparation for hibernation.  Soon he will adjourn to a damp cave or abandoned mine shaft to hibernate with his fellows in a place that stays above freezing.

Interestingly, if this one is female she will store the male’s sperm in her uterus all winter, fertilize one egg in the spring and give birth to a single baby in late May or early June.

But that’s a long way down the road.  Halloween is over.  It’s time to find a cave.

I don’t expect to see this bat on the oak tree today.  But I will check.

(photo by Kate St. John)

UPDATE Nov 1:  Alas! The bat was there this morning.  He’s dead, though I didn’t touch him to make sure.  Theory: He’s perched right next to a busy road.  Perhaps he was hit by a car and still mobile enough to roost but too injured to live.  Alas!

UPDATE Nov 2:  I saw a bat flying in Schenley Park this evening.  Maybe my bat still lives!

UPDATE Nov 4: I saw a bat flying in Greenfield tonight at dusk. I never noticed them this late before.

4 responses so far

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