Book Review: Audubon Eastern Birds
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region by John Bull and John Farrand Jr., is a really nice field guide for getting an overview of the kinds of birds you are seeing in your backyard or at parks. There is an explanation of the range maps and types of birds at the beginning, and there are beautiful color pictures of the birds in a special section, organized by type of bird and color. I especially liked the section on owls. They also show both male and female birds when they have different coloring. The next section is a section of bird descriptions and range maps that correspond to the bird photos. There is also a description of their calls, but sometimes it can be a little hard to transcribe bird songs. You just have to make sure that you keep the page numbers straight, because the number of the “plates”, (photos of the birds), are different from the page numbers of the bird descriptions, and you just need to make sure you have the right number, or you’ll turn to the wrong page. All in all, I think this is an excellent book, but I would like it if the descriptions of the birds were more detailed. There is also an Audubon Western Birds book as well.
Spring Wildlife Sightings
Recently four female deer walked through our yard and into the woods. It was nice to see them after the winter. I also have been seeing a group of about fifteen wild turkeys. Even when it was snowing, they were there walking through the snow. Also, there was a male wild turkey in the woods that was making the gobble, gobble noise at dawn and dusk, like a rooster. I think that it was doing this to mark its territory. We have recently gotten several inches of snow, so it does not quite look like spring yet.
This is a photo I took last year in Michigan of an Eastern Chipmunk in a Rhododendron bush. They gather many seeds, nuts and fruit in preparation for their winter sleep. It is not a real hibernation though, because they wake up periodically to eat from their store of food. They do have a somewhat lower body temperature when they sleep, however. There are many different regional chipmunks in different areas across the country. It can be rather hard to tell them apart. I reviewed a guidebook last year, The Audubon Guide to Mammals, that has a section that covers different kinds of chipmunks.
For the past couple of months, we have been having a flock of Wild Turkeys in the area that includes females, males, and some younger turkeys. It is a large flock, probably about twenty turkeys in all. Usually the flock around here consists of female turkeys and their young, so it was a surprise to see so many males. The males are about twice as large as the females, and they fan their rear feathers some, so it is easy to tell which ones they are. The turkeys spend a lot of time in the woods looking for things to eat under the leaves (probably insects and larvae). Even if you can’t see them, you can tell they are there, because they make scratching and clucking noises. They are very peaceful birds, and very enjoyable to watch.
Book Review: Reptiles and Amphibians of Michigan
This is a field guide to the many reptiles and amphibians of Michigan. The pictures are really beautiful, and the version I have also comes with a CD of frog and toad songs that you can use to aid your identification. There are different chapters for turtles, snakes, lizards, salamanders, and frogs and toads. There are also interesting introductions to all of these animals, showing how they are an integral part of the ecosystem. All in all, I found this to be quite an informative book, one that would even be useful to people outside of Michigan, since a lot of these animals appear in other states as well. I learned about quite a few animals I had never heard of before. At first it might appear that Michigan is not the best environment for these animals, since they are cold-blooded, but they all hibernate for the winter (which is detailed in the book), so it works out fine. Some of these animals have unusual names, such as the Queen Snake and the Eastern Hognose Snake. Others have an unusual appearance, such as the Blue-spotted Salamander and the Northern Leopard Frog. Also of interest is that the Painted Turtle is the Michigan State Reptile.
Reference: Reptiles and Amphibians of Michigan Field Guide, Stan Tekiela, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge MA: 2004
I have been seeing a Red Fox family by the woods. There is an adult fox and also two young kits, they look about the size of an average puppy. Sometimes I hear them barking at night as well. The pups were playing around some and at one point they went off into the woods. So after waiting a bit I decided to follow them, but the adult fox barked at me, so I turned back so I wouldn’t disturb them. Red Foxes are not actually red, but are more like a tangerine color this time of year. Then in the fall they turn more of a rusty auburn shade. We also have another kind of fox here called the Gray Fox, and that fox is a silvery gray on top with brown underneath and yellow-orange on the sides.
We have been getting a lot of owls around here in recent months. The two most common kinds are the Great Horned Owl and the Barred Owl. The Great Horned Owl is a very large owl that makes the sound that most people associate with owls: hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo. The Barred Owl is almost as large and makes a highly unusual sound that can almost sound like a barking dog. It roughly sounds like hoo, hoo, hoo-aw! I tend to hear these owls either right around dusk, or late at night. The most unusual owl I have heard is the Saw-whet owl. It is a very small owl, smaller than a robin, and makes a high pitched tooting noise that sounds like: toot, toot, toot. It really doesn’t sound like an owl at all. All of these owls are hard to spot because their coloring (grayish-brown) blends in so well.
Reference: John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., National Audubon Society Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region, revised edition (New York: Chanticleer Press, 1994)
Squirrel in the Tree Top
squirrel reddish brown
squirrel reaching for pine cone,
fluffy tail fans out
pine needles on ground below
in early morning sunshine
note: A Tanka is a type of poetry similar in form to a Haiku, but the syllables per line are 5:7:5:7:7.
Book Review: Butterflies of the North Woods
Butterflies of the North Woods by Larry Weber is an excellent field guide for identification of butterflies. It is part of the North Woods Naturalist series, covering the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. How many times have you seen a butterfly flying by, and weren’t sure what it was? This field guide not only has excellent photos, but it also has a lot of information on the habits of butterflies, such as what food they eat and what food the butterfly caterpillars eat. It really helped me out, because we get a lot of brown butterflies with eyespots in this area that all look very similar. It helped me to differentiate between them, by comparing the number of eyespots, etc. Also included is an interesting section on the history of butterflies, such as: butterflies are really a type of moth that may have started flying during the day to get away from moth-eating bats. There is also information on day-flying moths that only look like butterflies. Also part of the series: Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods, Dragonfies of the North Woods, and Damselflies of the North Woods.
Reference: Larry Weber, Butterflies of the North Woods, 2nd edition,(Duluth,MN:Kollath+Stensaas Publishing, 2006)
Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel
The Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel has a size and shape that is similar to a chipmunk, but has a coat pattern that is rather hard to describe. It would be a good idea to look this up in a field guide if you want to get a better idea of how it looks. They are a little larger than a chipmunk and have thirteen white stripes down their back with rows of white dots in between the white stripes (got that?). I have only seen this animal one time, at Clear Lake State Park. This ground squirrel ranges from south central Canada to the central U.S. , the Great Lakes states, and into northern Texas. According to my field guide they can run up to 8 mph and give a bird-like trill when alarmed.
Gray Squirrels can often be found high in the canopy of a tree. They often cut green acorns in the late summer. They have a very bushy tail that they use to cover themselves with and stay warm, to sheild them from rain, and for balance when jumping from tree to tree. Gray Squirrels come in two color variations: gray with a tinge of other colors such as brown or white, and black ( sometimes with a tinge of brown). There are both western and eastern forms of Gray Squirrels, and some less commonly known varieties: Abert’s Squirrel, otherwise known as the “tassel-eared squirrel”, the Arizona Gray Squirrel, and the Mexican Gray Squirrel. The Fox Squirrels (both the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Mexican Fox Squirrel) are in the same Gray Squirrel family, but are somewhat larger and have more of a brownish coloration. Generally they prefer deciduous or mixed forests for their acorns, but can also be seen in many city parks and backyards. When they find acorns, they can be seen digging a hole in the ground, and then sticking the acorn in and covering it with dirt. They may look like they are patting the dirt. In the winter and early spring they dig these nuts up and eat them. They have a loud barking call that they make when they are alarmed, and also various other chattering noises.
Chipmunks look a lot like ground squirrels, and there are 22 different kinds in North America. In California alone there are many different species, all suited to the mountain areas and different ecosytems of California. Every species has a different call. In Michigan, there is the Eastern Chipmunk, and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Least Chipmunk, so called because it is so tiny. Chipmunks like to scurry around and gather seeds and nuts to store in underground burrows. One time I even saw a chipmunk jumping up to pull down the stalk of a flower that had gone to seed so it could pull out the seeds inside. They are generally not active on rainy, cold, or snowy days. They are able to climb trees well and often do so to get a vantage point, or use a ledge to eat their nuts or seeds on. They do not really hibernate but instead wake up periodically to eat from their stored food. They have three different calls that I have heard: A high pitched “chip” sound, a lower pitched “chuck”, and a sharp whistle. The whistle is more like a surprised noise they make as they run for cover, and sounds sort of like a little chatter. The chip sound is more like a warning call, and possibly the chuck call is more like a territorial dispute between chipmunks. I don’t really know this for sure though, I’ve just picked up these ideas through observing them.