Creatures

It’s berry time in bluebird land.

With a bit of advanced planning, snow cover, and fortuitous timing, you may be able to catch sight of berry time in bluebird land.

Bluebirds love juniper berries … something I learned quite by accident many years ago after I had gathered berry-laden juniper branches to decorate a winter wreath hanging on my front door. The door, near my office window, attracted a lot of bird activity on a  snowy-covered February day much like today. When I investigated I found bluebirds visiting the wreath for a mid-winter snack.

Since then I’ve tried to collect berry-laden juniper branches for each winter’s outdoor decorations. It’s a delight when a flock of bluebirds brighten a winter landscape.

Some of the most common plants are those most valuable to native wildlife.  Juniperus virginiana, more commonly known as Eastern Red Cedar, in tree and spreading forms, as well as creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) are three extremely valuable North American natives growing in Connecticut. Ellen Sousa, author of The Green Garden, a great how-to book for creating wildlife habitat in New England gardens  (I reviewed it two years ago), shares more on the benefits of junipers in this post at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.

But, beyond juniper berries, bluebirds will feast on holly berries at this time of year.

This afternoon was berry feasting time around my house and I managed to catch a couple of bluebirds in photos. They are not good photos – taken through a screen from an inside window without using a tripod. I apologize for the fuzziness. I had to catch these active bluebirds while I could. Bluebirds are not likely to sit still for a photo shoot and, once spooked, do not return until they are good and ready.

So, in fuzzy images, I present some of my bluebird visitors.

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They pulled at the holly berries until it was their turn at the winter-decoration juniper berries in nearby basket. (There was no way for my camera to catch any bluebirds at the juniper berries.)

The photos do not do justice to the wonderful sight of a bright bluebird against the pure white of newly-fallen snow but, hopefully you get the mental picture.

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I hope these mediocre photos will entice you to plant shrubs that bluebirds love. I’ve actually transplanted some small Eastern Red Cedars from the inconvenient places they self-sowed to more favorable spots, hoping they will eventually produce their own crop of berries to keep the local bluebirds fed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But I also have a few hollies growing in a deer-protected location. If you plant hollies be sure to include at least one male plant in the Ilex family to pollinate any female berry-producing Ilex in your yard. I have just one male that pollinates four different female Ilex shrubs, including two winterberries on the opposite side of the house.

You’ll be happy you included junipers and hollies in your landscape when you get to witness berry feasting time in bluebird land.

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Animal tracks left in the snow

We tend to think of winter nights as quite, but in the outside world winter nights can be quite active. We’re not likely to catch this activity as it happens, but if we are lucky enough to step outside the morning after a light snow, nighttime activities become obvious in animal tracks left in the snow.

Sometimes you don’t have to go far to see how busy the darkened world was right outside your home as you nestled inside under a blanket.

Light snows reveal how busy field mice were one night outside my house. The shot on the left was taken from an indoor window; the right photo is an outside view.

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Seeing these tracks makes me want to put up a welcome sign for hawks and fox. Do you think they can read?

A different snow showed no mouse tracks … maybe a hawk or fox were active after all … just hundreds of happy bird tracks which are somehow much less disturbing.

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Farther from the house light snows expose where squirrels have been.

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These match nicely with the illustrated squirrel tracks found the the book Scats and Tracks of the Northeast by James C. Halfpenny, PhD, and Jim Bruchac..

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Their illustration of chipmunk tracks

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match the tracks I found along the driveway where I know chipmunks are active no matter the weather.

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I don’t need an illustration of deer tracks

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to know where deer have wandered. Their tracks disclose whether they simply passed by

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If they wandered around for a bit.

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Or if they found a cozy spot for a rest.

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There are few unvisited spots in the woods around my house. Tracks crisscross as if there’s a party outside each night.

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But humans aren’t invited.

What tracks do you see in your yard after it snows?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry

Animal Tracks in the Snow

A favorite winter activity of mine is observing animal tracks in the snow. When I wander about after a snowstorm I usually have my camera available to capture whatever creature has left evidence of its presence.

Finding deer tracks is not unusual in my Connecticut landscape. Deer tracks are so common … like these captured during previous winters …  that I rarely photograph them any more unless the shot is particularly interesting.

Here’s a simple set of deer tracks, and a view of a deer freeway, both within a stone’s throw of my gardens and home.

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animal track in snow-arrowIt’s also not unusual to see tracks left by smaller animals such as chipmunks, squirrels, opossum, raccoon, mice, and the occasional fox. Last week, after finishing my shoveling chores, I spotted the tracks of what I suspect to be a mouse. Normally, I would not photograph simple mouse tracks but these were different. They showed where the mouse traveled atop the snow, then dug under the snow and continued its journey until it headed downward to the soil level. The red arrow shows where the mouse tunneled into the snow.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My resource for deciphering animal tracks is Scats and Tracks of the Northeast, by James C. Halfpenny, PhD and Jim Bruchac.

While the book does not give information pertaining to animal tracks in snow, it does provide drawings and particulars of the tracks … and scat, which is another good way to determine which animal has visited your yard … of 70 different creatures.

The pages describing the white-footed mouse show a gait pattern similar to the tracks I found. The tail tracks make me pretty sure it was a mouse, rather than a chipmunk or vole, that tunneled below the snow. According the the book’s illustrations the tails of chipmunks and voles don’t leave tracks.

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The book is a good resource for staying abreast of the creatures that share your landscape.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry
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