Category Archives: Nature: plant and animal identification

Hunting Rabbits: A Nature Adventure Involving Shooting With A Camera

This was a fun impromptu adventure my daughter and I went on.

Following Rabbit Tracks in the snow.

After seeing rabbit prints on the road, we decided to follow them into the woods.

Following Rabbit Tracks in the snow.

The tracks meandered this way and that way and around trees.

Rabbit Hiding in the woods.

We must have startled him because that’s when we noticed the rabbit dart away.

I took a picture of the rabbit standing very still. See it hiding mid picture?

Found Rabbit after following tracks.

I was able to get closer and then closer still. I took this picture. It turned out that we were tracking an Eastern cottontail. It looked just like the picture in my field guide that I referenced when I returned home.

Rabbit prints/ tracks in the snow

A rabbit’s front paw print is about the size of a grown–up’s thumb print.

Hawks Are After Our Free Range Chickens: Guilty Hawks Caught On Camera

Hawk with chicken prey 0206

Feb. 2006

Hawk hiding prey 0206

Feb. 2006

Our first experience with a hawk attack was a year or more after we first started raising chickens. A local farmer warned me that hawk(s) would eat my chickens like they eat all of his. I guess I thought he was being pessimistic. Our first spring summer and fall was free of predation of any kind. We were devastated when our first chicken, my children’s favorite chicken (named Duck) was killed by a hawk.

I heard the chickens squawking in panic so I ran outside to investigate. Sadly, the hawk had already killed our hen. I was surprised to find that the hawk did not fly away. Instead he held his ground not wanting to leave his prey behind. You see the chicken was too big for it to carry off. As I got closer, he opened a wing in an attempt to hide the prey. At least, that is what I think he was doing. Then it spread both wings to look bigger and to keep me away from the meal it hoped to eat. I was able to get very close to the hawk. After I determined that it was too late to save the chicken, I ran for my camera. I love nature so I was very excited to be able to observe a hawk so closely but I was heart broken because our chickens were like pets. Lesson learned.

This chicken was a Buff Orpington and was supper sweet. My daughters loved them the very best because of their sweet trusting manner.

Hawk protecting prey 0206

Feb. 2006   I believe this hawk is a red tailed hawk. Any experts out there? I noticed that he is banded.

 

Hawk in tree 0208

Feb. 2008

Hawk on chicken coop 0208

Feb. 2008

A year later I caught another hawk on camera.

We came home (Southern Maryland) one afternoon in Feb. and found our chickens again in a panic. I went in the hen yard and discovered this hawk under the hen house. I believe it is a Cooper’s hawk. (Does anyone know how I can tell for sure it isn’t a sharp-shinned hawk?) One of our chickens, Raven a black Australorp, (a sweet hen that does all the raising of the chicks) was trying to hide from the hawk but apparently the hawk went under there after it. The hawk had its talons securely attached to the side of the chicken’s head. Despite my screaming and crazy arm swinging, it didn’t fly away. I had to pry its talons, one by one off my chicken. Only then did it fly away. It didn’t go far; it didn’t even leave the hen yard until we chased it off; by then my kids were helping. These guys are persistent I tell you! Good news though, my chicken came out of it fine.

Hawk hungry for chicken 1209

Dec. 2009

Hungry Hawk back view1209

Dec. 2009

My daughter heard the chickens making a lot of noise and I ran out to find this guy had a buff Orpington. I thought she was dead but after scaring the hawk away, which isn’t easy, the hawk first tried to drag the hen away with him, the chicken than sprang back to life. She made a complete recovery. I think this is another red-tailed hawk.

Usually if a hawk comes around hunting and I know about it, I gather the chickens and lock them up in their henhouse/ run/ chicken shelter combo. Usually I let the chickens free range in a very large fenced in area. I use a fence because they dig up my landscaping and eat plants I don’t want them too etc.. Also, the fence keeps out the occasional stray dog. I usually keep them locked up for a day or two after because the hawk is sure to come back. I’ve seen them boldly strutting around the hen yard; looking for the prey it almost had.

We lose about one chicken a year to hawks and I thwart one or two more attempts each year. I know what to look for and listen for. I can tell by the way they act or by the sounds they make if a threat is around. Unless you are willing to completely cage your animals, and I’m not, you have to accept the possibility of loss.

We no longer name all our chickens. Also, we’ve decided against getting any more Buff Orpington chickens because they seem to be particularly vulnerable but if you have a large completely enclosed living area, they would be great. I think I’ll try hanging aluminum pie pans in the trees to help keep the hawks away. Maybe I’ll try putting out a fake owl too.

Finding Salamanders for Fun and Study: Where to Look and How To Handle For Your Safety And Theirs

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Lungless salamanders, like the one above, breathe through the mucous membrane in their mouth and throat and through their skin. Moisture is especially important to lungless salamanders, because their skin must be wet in order to absorb oxygen. These animals like to stay protected but may venture out when the air is very humid. I guess that is why we found him out on that drizzly day.

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Northern two-lined salamander found not too far from my house. Isn’t it cute?

Here is an activity to get the kids outside. Take them on a fun salamander hunt. Your kids probably won’t need much convincing but you can get them excited by telling them a few cool facts about salamanders.

1. Salamanders can drop off their tails to escape predators. This is called tail autotomy. The disconnected tale wiggles around and provides a distraction so the salamander can escape.

2. Salamanders can grow back a missing tail! It can also re-grow a missing leg!!

3. Salamanders regularly shed the outer layer of their skin (the epidermis) as they grow, and then eat it.

4. The skin of salamanders secretes mucus, which helps keep the animal moist when not in the water.

5. Salamanders can secrete poison from glands in their skin in order to be an undesirable meal. (more about that below)

Where to look for salamanders

Because a salamander’s skin must stay moist, look for adult salamanders in places where the earth is damp such as: under leaves, under logs, or near a wetland (stream, pond, swamp, marsh). If you do look under logs, be sure to replace the log back the way you found it being careful not to squish any living organism in the process.

Because salamanders are nocturnal (which means they are active mostly at night), you might also try hunting at night.

Perhaps you have come across one while doing yard work, working in your garden or while hiking through the woods.

Northern Two Lined Salamander on my finger

Most salamanders have four toes on their front legs and five on their rear legs. This guy has 5 toes on its back legs; they are just hard to see in this photo.

Be kind to these little critters:

Handling suggestions for salamanders

Make sure you wash your hands before and after touching a salamander (or any amphibian). Wash your hands beforehand to remove any moisturizing lotion, suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap residue, or toxins from other amphibians. Salamanders are very sensitive to such things.

Handling should be kept to a minimum. When I show salamanders to children, I like to let the salamander walk on my hand rather than me “holding it”. You don’t want to squeeze any part of its delicate body.

Salamanders need to be kept cool. Also, they shouldn’t be left out in the sun because their skin will dry out. Mist its skin as necessary.

Never hold a salamander by its tail; it can break off. Although it can grow it back, it’s better for it not to have to.

Protect yourself:

Always wash your hands after handling amphibians because they have glands in their skin that secrete chemicals. (Salamanders, frogs, toads and newts are amphibians.)

Some of these chemicals are very nasty tasting. Your dog or cat may have discovered this. (That guy just didn’t want to be eaten.)

Some chemicals may cause skin or eye irritation. Don’t take any chances, wash your hands.

Some may actually kill (the poison-dart frogs of Central America).

Among the native amphibians of the United States, the two amphibians of greatest concern are giant toads (also called cane toads, marine toads, aga toads; Bufo marinus)- Common in some parts of FL. and the western newts of the genus, Taricha (found on the west coast of the U.S.).

Proper hand washing after handling should also prevent any problems with infection from Salmonella (bacteria that makes you sick).

This website http://therealowner.com/reptiles-amphibians/caring-for-salamanders/

Has good advice on how to care for your temporary “pet” once you find it.

For more information presented in a kid friendly way, check out this website:

http://www.thorp.k12.wi.us/~steinbach/limnology_oceanography/student_work/Salamanders/index.html

Something Eating Your Cabbage and Broccoli Plants? Cabbage White Butterflies Are Often To Blame

If you are trying to grow cabbage and/or broccoli in your garden (maybe for the first time), it is likely that you have found these caterpillars devouring your would-be dinner. These almost cute green guys are the caterpillar of the Cabbage White butterfly and they are hungry. They love to eat cabbage, broccoli, and other brassicas.

We decided to try growing cabbage as part of our fall garden. Well it didn’t take long before holes started appearing on the leaves. I handpicked the critters off (and fed them to the chickens) but was surprised at how many I collected. I haven’t resorted to chemicals yet. Apparently there is an organic Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) spray called Dipel (Brand name) which is a microbial spray that will kill the caterpillars. I’m still hoping I won’t have to resort to spray; even if it is organic.

Check your plants daily and hand pick off any of the caterpillars you find. You must check daily!
Other critters like to munch on your greens such as slugs (see my post on slugs) and other caterpillars. You will need to pick those off too.

Slugs In Your Garden? Use Beer Cans To Lure Slugs Before Recycling

Even the beer residue left in a can or bottle need not be wasted. In the evening, if you have an “empty” beer can or 2 or 3, try to remember to place them in your vegetable garden or among your landscape plants like hosta (slugs love to eat your hosta). During the night, slugs will go inside lured by the beer. In the morning, remove the cans from your garden. I don’t even waste the slugs because I feed them to my chickens. After shaking the slugs out, I rinse out the cans or bottles and put them in the recycle bin.

This Super -size slug was found outside my vegetable garden. Thankfully! Do you see the slime?! Check out the breathing pore.

C. Bennett wrote to let us know what kind of slug was in the above picture.

“It’s a leopard slug. Limax maximus to be precise…

I think their kinda pretty. And they eat other slugs!”