All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go I’m standing here outside your door. I always enjoyed that song and my bags are definitely packed and yes, I’m even leaving on a jet plane. Ever since I
As much as we love feeding the birds last summer we had to put our feeders away, just way too many raccoons raiding them every night and in the early morning hours. Raccoons just don’t eat a little seed and slink away they eat ALL the seed and slink away. Any of you that feed birds know what an expense it is to buy bird seed, it isn’t cheap!! Last fall we fell back, regrouped, whipped up a couple new feeders and formed a plan. We were going to raccoon proof our bird feeders once and for all. I took one of the 4×4′s I had lying around and wrapped it in aluminum figuring the coons and squirrels wouldn’t be able to climb the smooth metal sides. It worked like a charm, all winter long squirrel after squirrel tried the scale the slippery post and gave up after one or two attempts.
Things were looking up. It wasn’t until late, late winter that the coons started to stir and we would see them scavenging the seed that the birds knocked out onto the ground. No big deal there, I certainly didn’t mind them picking at the scraps. Our confidence was indeed high that we had the problem licked. Funny thing about confidence though, it shatters easily. One morning a couple weeks back I was watching with delight as one big coon was cleaning up what little seed was on the ground. He looked at the post, looked up at the feeder and then to my amazement crouched as low as he could and sprang up about 2 foot high, bear hugging the slippery 4×4. He shimmied up a little, slid back a little, shimmied up a little, until he got high enough to get a grasp onto the feeder with one of his dexterous paws. If I had had a text bubble over my head it would have read “you S.O.B.!!”
Back to the drawing board I went. I came up with a quick fix. I drove #16 galvanized nails into the post and with my grinder cut the heads off and sharpened the shanks. I bent the nail downward to make sure they weren’t used as steps. I figured it would be a painful lesson but they certainly wouldn’t be getting in the feeders now. Wrong again, damn these coons are smart!
It looks like I was going to have to spend some money on another design. A quick visit to Home Depot and $40 bucks later I had a new plan. My thinking is that with a narrower pole the coons ability to bear hug and shimmy up it will be greatly reduced. I picked up a 4 foot length of 3/4 inch iron pipe and drove it in the ground about 2 foot down. I then took a 1″ inch piece of threaded pipe and cut it to 6 foot in length and screwed a metal flange on top of that.
So far so good, I may just have my bird feeder coon-undrum licked this time.
Wish me luck I’ll probably need it !!
Spring, what a beautiful word and after six months of cold and snow it can’t get here soon enough for me. These winter months have given me time to do a lot of research for our upcoming wildflower app for the Northeast. We were planning on having that ready for release in the spring of 2014 but it looks more like it will be 2015 and even that date seems a little optimistic. Of course we wouldn’t and couldn’t be as far along as we are now without the help of several individuals who have a passion for the outdoors and offered us some much needed help in identifying and photographing wildflowers throughout the Eastern portion of the country. We’re always looking for additional help and if your interested in becoming part of something that should be a great educational tool in the near future just give us a shout.
I would like to introduce the individual photographers that are contributing their time and skill and more importantly sharing their passion for Nature with us.
Before retiring, I most recently worked as a part-time naturalist at the Montezuma Audubon Center (Savannah, NY) and a part-time teaching aide at an alternative high school in the Finger Lakes region of New York. In the 80′s and 90′s a was a part-time pro nature photographer and still pursue it as a hobby. I have a number of websites and several other birding sites that I manage.
|The Northeast Naturalist on Facebook|
I Retired from Xerox Corporation in 1998 after 32 years as a Graphic Arts Specialist. I’ve been married to my wife Nancy since 1964 and have two grown daughters. I had been a bowhunter for 35 years but hung up the bow in 2000 for what I like to call “Camera Hunting!” I now go to our hunting camp with my buddies and “hunt” with the camera. It takes the exact same skills to get close to wild animals with the camera as it did with the bow and I am having the time of my life in retirement. When my wife gave me a Nikon D50 Digital camera for Christmas one year, my life was changed!
Nature photography was my number one interest until 2008 when I met another Xerox retiree (Bill Herbert) who had been interested in wildflowers and everything in nature most of his life. I had just started taking close-up pictures of a few flowers in the woods behind my home and Bill told me he could take me to a few places where I could get some different ones. After seeing my first orchid, (the Grass Pink), I was hooked! That started a great friendship between us and we were soon going out every Wednesday from spring to fall on hikes to photograph wildflowers! In five years time we have accumulated almost 700 different flowers in our home state of New York and hiked 100 different trails! Bill has taught me a lot about wildflowers and I am still learning every time we go out. In all the years I spent in the woods hunting deer and turkey, I never paid any attention to wildflowers but I have now discovered what I have been missing all those years!
I am a retired Chemistry teacher, a life-long naturalist and a Master Gardener (focused on native plants and gardening for wildlife). I volunteer for the Peconic Land Trust and for LINPI (Long Island Native Plant Initiative). I am also an avid traveler, but try to plan my longer excursions so as not to compete with the gardening season. I enjoy biking, kayaking and bird watching. When I retired I determined to seek out all the wild places on Long Island that I had not yet explored, and once again took up amateur photography. It is surprising how many pockets of natural beauty one can find if one only looks.. When I saw what Jeff was doing, it seemed a perfect fit with my pastimes, and indeed, I have discovered even more wild places on a quest for flowers!
If you just got started in photography eventually your going to want to take some nature pics. You don’t have to go as far as you may think to do a little wildlife photography, if fact you can start right in your own backyard. Birds, they’re everywhere! especially if you have a feeder or two set out to draw them in. I know what your thinking, photographs with birds at a feeder aren’t that natural wildlife image your after. I totally agree and I’m going to show you the way around that, it’s fairly simple.
Obviously the first thing you need is a feeder, you don’t need some fancy expensive feeder, plain and simple is the way to go. Birds don’t care about fancy upscale feeders they just want the food. Make sure you get a feeder that can mount on top of a post. What you want to do is mount the feeder away from other trees, fences, clothes lines etc, anything that the birds can perch on you want to be a good distance away from. Next what you want to do is collect some tree branches, preferably from a hardwood. Your going to take these branches, you only need one or two and attach them to the sides of your bird feeder.
Either nail or staple them on horizontally or upright. I find that attaching them upright so they stick up above my feeder works best. You don’t need a massive branch, one that is less than half the diameter of your pinkie is more than enough. It’s actually better if you only attach one branch to the feeder. The less places the birds have to perch the less you’ll have to move your camera to capture them. You should place the feeder somewhere convenient for you to photograph, outside a window is preferable, at least 10 feet away. My feeder here is outside my kitchen window. I slide the window up (you don’t want to shot through glass) set my tripod in place, sit back in a chair and wait for a bird to land on a branch, it’s that simple. You end up with a natural looking shot of a bird in what appears to be its natural environment.
If you happen to get a little part of the feeder in the pic you can simply crop that out. I would suggest you set your camera to continuous shooting and get your speed up as well and always try to use tripod. Hopefully you’ll have several species visiting your new setup and if you do get some pics you can always stop by our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/natureguides?ref=hl and share one of your awesome bird feeder photographs with us.
(Black Capped Chickadees are tough ones to photograph)
I love wildflower hunting but for me there’s one drawback, my memory. The older I get the tougher it is to remember all the hundreds upon hundreds of wildflowers I’ve identified and taken images of. However, there are two key features I’ve found that help me remember some individual flowers. Those two features are habitat and common name. I find that the more colorful the common name the better the chances are that it will forever be embedded in my memory. Some wild flowers just have a name that’s just to cool to forget. Take for instance Boott’s Rattlesnake Root, Prenanthes boottii also known as Alpine Rattlesnake Root the name just has that certain pizazz, I couldn’t forget that if I tried. The habitat in which a wildflower grows also is a great tool to aid my memory. Certain plants grow in certain places, swamps, fields, roadsides and mountain tops to name but a few.
Boott’s Rattlesnake Root is one of those species of wildflower that is extremely limited to where it will grow, you’ll only find it on mountain tops. Even more specific than that it’s only found above the treeline on mountains over 4’500 feet. And to be even more specific it’s only found on a select few high peaks in the states of New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to gaze at this beautiful rare wildflower. How rare is this species you ask? Prenanthes boottii is an endangered plant, endangered for those that don’t know the meaning is just a step or two above extinction.
Oddly enough the same people who are getting back to nature hiking the distant peaks are the main threat to this fragile plant. Hikers above the tree line who trample over the plants and erode the fragile soils from the constant barrage of foot traffic threaten this wildflowers existence. Of course we can’t throw blame on people that may not even know about the plight of this flower, the best we can do is educate people on what to look for and the key identifying features of Boott’s Rattlesnake Root so they can avoid walking over it and help protect it’s habitat.
P. boottii flowers from July through August and grows to a height of around 12 inches. The individual flowers of P. boottii are white to whitish cream in color and nodding. There are usually 10 to 20 flowers in a narrow raceme along the top of the stem. Each showy flower has up to 20 rays (what most people refer to as petals) with notched tips, you’ll also notice several long stamens protruding from each flower head. Each individual flower is from 3/4 of an inch to one inch wide.
The leaves of the Boott’s Rattlesnake Root have long leaf stalks, the leaves may be oval, elongated or triangular in shape and may also have have small pointed lobes present on the lower stem leaves. The basal leaves are usually arrow shaped. The leaves may be up to 2 inches long with each having a smooth margin.
Of the few alpine peaks that Boott’s Rattlesnake Root is found in the Northeast most are accessible only via a long hard hike on foot. There is however one peak in New York that has of all things an elevator to the top. Whiteface Mountain which is 4,865 feet in height is easily reached by car up the paved road. The road brings you nearly to the top where you can either climb up the built in steps or take the elevator up from the parking lot. On any given day in the summer there are literally hundreds if not several hundred visitors to the top of this peak each day. I certainly don’t think that’s a bad thing, it gives people who can’t physically climb a mountain a chance to have that experience. What I do find very unfortunate is there is no mention of this fragile plant anywhere to be seen. There simply is no education of the public on where to step, what to look out for, what not to pick or even that this peak is home to a endangered species of wildflower. Hopefully those who are in charge of the facilities there will realize that a little education goes along way and they will at least place a kiosk that explains what a fragile ecosystem they’ve entered.
It’s my hope that Boott’s Rattlesnake Root doesn’t only become a memory in my mind but thrives in these alpine areas for eternity.
Enjoy the Outdoors
It’s that time of year again, a nice covering of snow on the ground and Snowshoe Hare tracks are everywhere. Of coarse you have to have the right habitat to find Snowshoe tracks. Snowshoes, Lepus americanus prefer areas with dense cover such as softwood forests, densely covered wetlands and thickets.
If you happen to be hiking in these types of areas you’ll probably come across a set of hare tracks. Snowshoe hare tracks show four toes on the fore and hind foot when they register in the snow. You won’t always see the toes in each track when the snow is loose and powdery.
Whether you can see the toes or not the tracks are still unmistakable. Their tracks will show a series of four to five impressions. Usually the hind feet register ahead of the fore feet. The fifth impression which doesn’t always show, would be the tail. You can see an example of that in the image on the right.
The fore feet register as more of a circle or oval and are from 1. 5 to 2 inches wide. You will find the hind tracks in front of the two fore feet when you find Snowshoe Hare tracks. Most times the two fore feet register behind each others and not side by side.
One of the best places to find Snowshoe tracks is in a young Balsam forest. If you find tracks you may also find some Hare scat.
Snowshoe Hare scat is just like that of any rabbit, round in shape. Some people may tend to confuse their scat with that of deer but they really aren’t that much alike.
Hare scat tends to be round about 3/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Deer scat on the other hand are more oblong and each pellet tends to have a dimple on the end. This dimple is lacking on Snowshoe Hare scat.
Other evidence of Snowshoe hare presence may be their urine. Due to their diet their urine may be a yellowish orange to orangish red color. The color is from the pigments that are found in needles of spruce, fir and pine needles.
Other evidence of Snowshoe Hares being in the area are cuttings on branches, twigs and tree trunks. When Hares feed on plants their bite leaves a clean cut, at about a 45 degree angle. On tree trunks you would also be able to see the distinct marks left by their teeth with each chew. You can distinguish between whether a hare, rabbit or deer fed on a plant by the chewed or clipped end.
Rodents such as hares nip off the tip of a twig with a clean angled cut, whereas deer chew and rip of the end of twigs and leave a jagged or fibrous tip.
Snowshoe Hares are one of the few animals that change the color of their fur to match their surroundings. They are perfectly camouflaged in the winter, of course that depends on the their being snowfall. This changing of color is brought on by the length of day and not snowfall. Years where there is a definite lack of snow or late snowfall you can easily find a Snowshoe as they stick out like a sore thumb against the drab brown fall colors.
While snow certainly makes it harder to spot a perfectly concealed Hare it does make it easier to find Snowshoe tracks and scat.
Enjoy your time in the woods and enjoy Nature!!
When I see a bud, thats what I see
A few weeks back I had been searching the web for floor plans for a Barred Owl nest box. I had quite a bit of material sitting around, leftover from various construction jobs. I figured I would incorporate several of the ideas I read and have a go at building my own owl nest box. The end result?? they came out pretty nice and if I was a Barred Owl I’d be staking one of them out right now to get out of this snowstorm. Most of the plans your going to find are for 3/4 inch plywood and I made the following plans to those specs. You’ll want to use treated plywood if your not going to weatherproof it. Here is a list of the materials you’ll need to make your own owl nest box.
- 1/2 sheet 4′ x 4′ 3/4″ plywood (pressure treated if desired)
- exterior wood glue
- 1 5/8 ths exterior wood screws
- 2 – 4 inch by 1/4 inch all thread bolts (to connect perch to nest box)
- several 1/4 inch nuts, washers and lock washers
- 2 - 6 inch long by 1 1/2 or 2 inch wide framing connectors (to attach nest box to tree)
- 6 – 1 1/4 inch long bolts to attach framing connectors to box
- 1 small bag of wood chips
You will also need the following tools, jigsaw, circular saw, and drill. If you have a table saw it’s much easier and neater to cut your panels with that. A slide miter saw while not mandatory certainly does make cutting the panels, especially the two sides with the roof pitch an easier job. Once you have all your tools and materials together you’ll want to cut out the following pieces.
You’ll need to cut two front panels exactly the same, one of them will become the back of the nest box. The only difference in the two is the back panel will not have the hole in it. To cut the hole for your front panel measure up from the bottom of the piece 12 inches and square a line across this mark. Measure up 7 inches from your mark and square another line across your piece of wood. Now find the center of the panel, it should be 6 7/8ths inches from each edge. Mark a center line up your panel and measure outward on both side 3 1/2 inches and mark each location. You should now have a 7″ x 7″ square laid out for the entrance. Now take a compass and make a 3 1/2 inch radius from your highest mark (approx 19 inches from the bottom edge) out to the side marks you just laid out. You should now have the top of your entrance arched. If you don’t have a compass you can use a small jar or anything that’s round about 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
On the inside of the front panel you need to make a ladder or toe holds for the young owls (owlets) to climb. You can do this either by cutting thin strips of wood and gluing them on you can make kerf marks (saw cuts) across the panel every 1/4. Start the kerfs from the bottom of the panel up to the bottom of the door way. You can see in the image on the right that I chose to glue on small strips and since I have it I also used a brad nailer to secure the strips even further while the glue dried.
For the drainage and added air circulation cut the 4 corners back slightly on the bottom 12 1/4″ x 12 1/4″ panel. The miter saw is perfect for this task. Pay special attention to the fact that one side panel is 1 inch longer than the other, this gives you the pitch for the roof. You don’t have to pitch the roof but your box will stay in much better shape over the years if it can shed water. Please note that if your going to use 5/8 or 1/2 inch plywood you’ll need to adjust the front and back panel widths accordingly. You can also add extra air vents by drilling 2 half inch holes near the top of each side panel.
Once all the pieces of your Barred Owl nest box are cut your ready for assembly. I prefer to glue all my joints, use a good exterior wood glue and smear it on one edge of each joint. Assemble the base to the two side panels first, make sure all edges are flush and screw with 1 5/8 exterior screws. You may want to pre-drill your holes as it makes screwing the pieces together a little easier. Next you’ll want to attach the front and back panels. The front and back panels overlap the sides which is why we assmbled those first. Again, glue all edges, flush the pieces together and connect with screws. Attach the roof panel last, make sure you leave the edge of the roof panel flush to the side of the box your going to connect to the tree with. Make sure there are no nails or screws protruding into the inside of the box that will injure the owls. If any sharp points are protruding back out the screws and start a new straighter screw.
Once your nest box is together you can then attach a perch just under the entrance. Find a good solid branch about 2 inches in diameter and cut it several inches longer than the width of the box. The mother and owlets will use perch extensively as they grow. To connect the branch to the box lay it on the box about 3 inches below the entrance and drill a hole all the way through the branch and box at each end. Set the branch aside. Place the head of your bolt on the inside of the box, slide a lock washer and nut over the bolt and tighten. Thread a second nut with lock washer on the bolt and stop about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the face of the box. Slide the branch over the bolts and down to the nuts you just threaded on. Secure the brach in place with another set of lock washers and nut and tighten. You should now have a nice secure perch with a little space between it and the nest box. If your bolts are still projecting out from the branch cut off the excess with a grinder or hacksaw and file off any sharp edges.
You can go the extra mile as I did and use cedar shingles to cover the plywood. I only did this because I used interior grade plywood but it looks a lot nicer in the end. I glued all the shakes in place and attached them with a small brad nailer. I could have went even further and made the box more weather tight by covering the outside of the box with Ice & Water Barrier before attaching the the shakes but that was an after thought. If you choose to stain your box do so with a water based, non toxic stain. I actually preferred not to use treated plywood just because of all the chemical additives in it. Your last step is to attach the strapping or framing connectors to the box with bolts. Again place the head of the bolt inside the box. Secure the flat framing connectors, one protruding from the top and one protruding from the bottom with nuts and lock washers. Some sites may show a chain or cable to attach the nest box but over time this method will do more damage to the tree once it grows than simply nailing or screwing in the framing connectors.
Hanging Your Barred Owl Box
Your going to want hang your Barred Owl box between 15 to 20 feet off the ground on a mature tree that is at least 12 inches in diameter. You’ll want to be able to access it in the future to remove any unwanted debris or animals out of it like squirrels. Barred Owls prefer to nest in lowland mature forest areas. You should take care to hang the nest box within 300 feet of a water source, pond, stream, lake or river. The further you place the box from human activity the better your chances of having an owl use it, it should be no closer than 150 feet. Try to avoid placing the box in direct sunlight so it doesn’t overheat inside. Attaching the box on the west or north side of the tree is preferred.
Hanging the box is definitely a two person job as the boxes are too heavy and bulky for one person on a ladder. I build for a living, am 6′ 1′, 210 pounds and pretty adept on ladders and I still needed a helper. You’ll definitely need some rope here. Tie a slip knot or carabiner on one end of the rope, wrap the rope around the box under the roof and feed it through the knot or carabiner. Throw the other end of the rope over a higher branch. The ground man can now hoist the box up into place while the guy on the ladder attaches it to the tree. You can either choose to have the entrance facing directly away from the tree or turn the nest box so it faces the side of the tree. The later method will allow for easier access in the future to clean out the box if necessary. The last and final thing you need to do is place a couple inches of wood chips in the bottom of the box. The wood chips cushion the eggs and keep them in place. Owls don’t gather nesting material so placing the wood chips in the bottom of the box is a must.
Barred Owls will often use the same nest site year after year. Adult Barred Owls will mate for life and only replace their mate if the other dies. They start looking for a suitable nest in early winter and usually lay their eggs in the later winter months or early April. The female will lay between 2 to 4 eggs that will hatch about 4 weeks later. As soon as the owlets can fly they leave the nest and set off on their own.
You shouldn’t have to disturb the area to check on whether there is a pair of owls using the nest box. Barred Owls are very vocal and you should be able to hear their distinctive call “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” if they are in the area. If you hear their calls coming from the direction of where you placed the box sneak in and take a peak, don’t forget the camera. Just remember not to disturb them to often as they may abandon their nest.
With any luck we’ll have a pair of Barred Owls using the nest boxes we put out, we’ll be sure to share the pics right here if we do.
Have fun and enjoy Nature!!