Tag Archives: nature writing

Book Review: Audubon Eastern Birds

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.

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Spring Wildlife Sightings

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.

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Springtime Owls


Springtime Owls

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)

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Groundhogs, Woodchucks, and Marmots

Groundhogs, Woodchucks, and Marmots


Woodchucks, otherwise known as Groundhogs, are actually a type of Marmot. Woodchucks and Marmots are classified as rodents, in the same family as squirrels, and actually look rather like large, roly-poly squirrels. The Woodchuck is a solitary animal that lives mainly in the eastern and central states, Canada, and part of Alaska. They can weigh from 4.5 – 14 pounds. Marmots are generally more sociable and some of them live in colonies and/or hibernate together. They live mainly in the mountainous western U.S., Canada, and Alaska, and can weigh from 5 – 20 pounds.  There are many different kinds of Marmots, such as the Yellow-bellied Marmot, the Hoary Marmot, and the Olympic Marmot. Woodchucks and Marmots eat different types of grass, green plants, and fruit. Because of their special diet, they are not able to find food in the winter, as they do not store food like squirrels and do not eat twigs and buds like rabbits do. Instead they hibernate for many months at a time, up to half the year, depending on location. Even though some people do not like the holes in the ground that Woodchucks make, their digging activities can actually be beneficial to farmers, because it aerates the soil.

The fact that the Woodchuck is not found in the West, as well as the fact that the winters there are usually warmer, are probably at least part of the reason why Groundhog Day is more popular in the East. Groundhog Day (February 2nd) is roughly halfway between winter and spring. Legend has it that the Groundhog will emerge from its burrow on this day and if it sees its shadow (sunny weather), the Groundhog will become scared and run back in its burrow, therefore predicting six more weeks of winter. However, if it does not see its shadow (cloudy weather), it will stay outside and there will be an early spring.  There are many regional weather-predicting Groundhogs across the U.S. and Canada.  For instance, every year Woody the Woodchuck gives her annual prediction at the Howell Nature Center in Howell, Michigan. The problem is, they are only accurate about half the time or less, since it is hard to see how the weather on Feb 2 would really impact a weather pattern six weeks in the future. Another issue is that in much of their range, they are still hibernating and would not be coming out of their burrows until March or April, on account of their being nothing for them to eat. However, it does not stop people from having a lot of fun on Groundhog Day. One of the best things is it gives some publicity to a rather shy animal that not a whole lot of people see, since Woodchucks and Marmots usually run to their burrows at the first sign of disturbance.

Here are some websites to visit:

For more information on Woodchucks:

For more information on the history of Groundhog Day, as well as a list of weather-predicting Groundhogs throughout the U.S. and Canada:

For more information on the Yellow-bellied Marmot:

For more information on Woody the Woodchuck:


John O. Whitaker, Jr., National Audubon Society Guide to North American Mammals (New York: Chanticleer Press, 1996).

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Squirrel Tanka


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.

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Fascinating Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys are large birds that live in flocks and can often be seen foraging by the roadside.  This fall I saw a flock of up to twenty female turkeys, but I haven’t been seeing them much recently, now that there is snow on the ground.  They are very peaceful birds, and like to root around under dead leaves. They are very shy around humans, running off at the slightest disturbance.  Usually they get along, but occasionally I have seen them squawk and flap their wings at each other.  Usually they walk single file through the woods, with one of the turkeys leading, and one bringing up the end.  There will always be a couple of turkeys on the lookout while the others eat. I do not usually see the males, but they are larger and have more fluffy feathers and a large tail that they display.  Hens (female turkeys) make a clucking sound that sounds a bit like a chicken.  The males (called toms), make a gobbling sound that can be heard at quite a distance.  Young turkeys are called poults. Once I heard a male wild turkey in the woods gobbling at dawn and dusk, almost like a rooster.

Interesting facts about Wild Turkeys:

The Wild Turkey almost became our national bird, but lost by one vote to the Bald Eagle (Benjamin Franklin called them “birds of courage”).

They have very good eyesight and have a field of vision that starts at 270 degrees.

They can run at speeds of up to 25 mph, and fly at speeds of up to 55mph.

They can recognize and use more than thirty unique vocal sounds.

They can live longer than ten years in the wild.

They roost in trees at night, and their dark feathers help them hide from predators.

Farm Sanctuary Quarterly Newsletter

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Michigan (Cambridge,MN: Adventure Publications, 2004) pages 161-162.

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Squirrel Haiku

Squirrel Haiku


squirrel jump on tree
leap from branch to branch, run off
a blur with pine cones


note: a haiku is a poem, often about nature, that usually has three lines with the number of syllables per line 5:7:5.

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Book Review: Butterflies of the North Woods

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)

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Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

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.

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Book Review: Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods

Book Review: Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods

An interesting field guide is Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods by Jim Sogaard (Duluth,MN: Kollath+Stensaas Publishing 2009).  This guide focuses totally on moths, unlike other guides that also cover butterflies.  It is part of the North Woods Naturalist series, and covers the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada.  This is a really excellent guide because the pictures are very good, and the information is easy to understand.  It even contains a natural history of moths, and has some information I didn’t know about, such as: butterflies are really a type of moth, and butterflies may have developed the ability to fly during the day in order to get away from moth-eating bats.  Moths have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and have developed many different colorings and defenses.  Some of the moths are as brightly colored as butterflies, while others are camoflaged to look like tree bark.  Some of the plain looking moths are very brightly colored as caterpillars, or have unusual tufts of hair.  All in all this is an interesting book, because moths don’t seem to be talked about as much as butterflies.  This is one of the reasons why the author wrote the book:  he thinks that butterflies are great, but that moths are interesting as well, and deserve a book of their own.

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Gray Squirrels

Gray Squirrels

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.

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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.

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