Archive for the 'Mammals' Category

Oct 25 2012

Who’s The Smartest Of Them All?

Published by under Mammals

Somehow I missed Raccoon Nation! when it premiered on PBS NATURE last February but Oh, my! I watched it online last week and I can hardly wait to see it on the big screen when PBS re-broadcasts it on Halloween.

I’ve already learned that raccoons are the smartest animal in the urban jungle.  They’re relatively small (so it’s easy to hide), nocturnal, omnivorous and adaptable.  They learn from their mothers and they can get into anything because they have thumbs.

I’ve seen this in my city neighborhood:  a mother raccoon guiding her kits to shelter, the sound of racoons arguing over my neighbor’s bird feeders at night, the shadows of ‘coons raiding my bird bath.

There’s not a garbage can they can’t open.  They’re ready for any challenge.  And our attempts to outsmart them make them smarter!

So of course I’m going to pull up a seat on Wednesday October 31 at 8:00pm and watch Raccoon Nation! in living color on WQED. 

I can hardly wait. On Halloween the animals will wear masks.

(photo from PBS NATURE)

2 responses so far

Oct 19 2012

Taking Shelter

Published by under Birds of Prey,Mammals

As winter approaches our local wildlife looks for safe, dry places to take shelter from the cold.  Eastern screech-owls use hollow trees, dense foliage and holes in upright structures.

Last year Bill Powers of PixController set up an eastern screech-owl roosting study with five owl boxes in a dry wetland in Westmoreland County.  Each box is equipped with a small infrared video camera and small microphone wired back to a server that detects motion and streams video.

You can watch all five owl boxes at PixController’s Eastern Screech-Owl webcam page.

When it turned cold last weekend, Bill’s cameras detected motion as an owl checked out two of the boxes at dawn on Saturday.

Here’s the owl staring up at the infrared camera in Box #1 where he eventually roosted.  There’s no color because the light is infrared.

Knowing which box to watch, Bill put up a blind on Saturday and took the owl’s picture when he emerged at dusk.  He’s the handsome screech-owl in full color above.


Last night I tuned in at 9:00pm. There were no owls but I found a squirrel in Box #4, rearranging his tail and wrapping it around his body to cover his nose.

Won’t he be surprised if an owl shows up this morning!


Visit Bill’s PixController Screech Owl website to watch the cameras.  Click here for more information on the camera setup and a map of the cam locations.

(photos by Bill Powers and PixController, Inc.)

p.s.  If there are no owls when you take a look, come back when it’s colder.  Bill tells me the owls use the boxes more often when it’s 30oF.

6 responses so far

Oct 13 2012

Best View In The Parking Lot?

Published by under Mammals

October’s a good time to take in fall foliage and the autumn activities of Pennsylvania’s wildlife.

If your travels take you to Elk County, stop by the Visitor Center on Winslow Hill Road in Benezette to see Pennsylvania’s elk.

You might get lucky and find them in the parking lot, as Paul Staniszewski did above.

On the other hand, elk are pretty busy right now and more likely to be in their natural setting.  This is their mating season.

Click here for Elk Country information and here for Paul’s guide to photographing elk … when they’re not in the parking lot.

(photo by Paul Staniszewski)


p.s. Today I’m hiking at the Quehanna Wild Area in nearby Clearfield County. The fall foliage is colorful but it is *cold*! The growing season just ended with 23 degrees this morning.

One response so far

Jul 27 2012

Merely Funny

Published by under Mammals

Today, we’ll have some fun with this video starring meerkats.  But first, just one educational paragraph.

Meerkats are a small type of mongoose that live in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa.  Their bodies are about a foot long, their tails even longer, and they weigh 1.6 pounds.  Meerkats live in social groups of 20-30 individuals most of whom are siblings, offspring of the alpha pair who make sure they’re the only ones in the troupe allowed to breed successfully.

Other than the serious business of foraging and competition, meerkats are pretty funny.  For instance, they fall asleep.

This video combines some of the funniest clips from four documentaries on meerkats with the Overture to Carmen by Georges Bizet.

Have a laugh.  Happy Friday.  :)

(video by MeerkatGal  from YouTube)

One response so far

Jul 16 2012

Rare Sight

Published by under Mammals

For many years Paul Staniszewski has photographed Pennsylvania’s elk herd near Benezette, Pennsylvania, often with beautiful and impressive results such as a photo of a bull nicknamed “Attitude.”

But he hadn’t been able to capture a good photograph of a newborn calf … until last month.

Paul sent me the picture above and wrote,  “Since I have been photographing elk, I was never able to get a decent shot of a new born elk calf.  There always seemed to be some problem: the calf was too skittish, the grass was too tall, the mother was being too protective, the light was not good, and etc… Well on this occasion [June 12], I finally was able to get what I consider to be a perfect photo of an elk calf that was born just hours before.”

As you can see, elk calves resemble white-tailed deer fawns.  What you can’t tell by the picture is the calf’s size.  Adult elk are 3-4 times larger than white-tailed deer and their babies are too.  Elk calves weigh 30 pounds at birth compared to newborn fawns at 4-10 pounds.

You might think a baby this large would be easy to see, especially since elk live in a herd, but the mothers go off alone to give birth and they are very protective of their young.

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.

She’ll charge at you if she thinks you’re a threat to her baby.

That’s why her newborn calf is a rare sight.


Thanks to Paul Staniszewski for sharing his photos. For more views of Pennsylvania’s elk and information on photographing them, see his website here.

(photos by Paul Staniszewski)

5 responses so far

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

« Prev - Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ