Category Archives: critters

Lathrop’s Deer: A Complex Society

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post August 17, 2017

This fawn, recently photographed by resident Doris Atkinson on the east campus, is moving about with its mother, still nursing, but learning, among other things, the communication skills it will need as an adult.

Communication began at birth in May.  A loud bleat meant “Mom, where are you?” and a soft nursing murmur meant, “Mmm, this is good.”  By lying perfectly still, and having almost no body odor, our spotted fawn communicated to our coyotes and bobcats, “Fawn? What fawn?  There’s nobody here–just dappled shade.”

But now that our fawn is up and about, it must learn to communicate within a complex social unit consisting of related females, their fawns and yearlings, and adult males, all of which have contiguous or Continue reading Lathrop’s Deer: A Complex Society

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Young Singers in Concert at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug.  3, 2017.

Summer music camps for kids are in full swing now, and Tanglewood  is featuring its Young Concert Artists’ Series.  At Lathrop, our coyote youngsters are also starting to perform in evening or pre-dawn concerts.

The young performers will have been born in April or May, in a burrow dug by their mother under a fallen tree or in a thicket.  The den might be up to 15 feet deep and a foot or two wide.   Careful moms will have made several dens so the kids can be moved from one to the other to avoid detection and keep down parasites.  Not a bad excavation achievement for a critter weighing 20 or 30 pounds, with only her feet as tools.

The youngsters have emerged from the den by now, and as their young bodies grow, mom is increasingly busy hunting to feed them.  She’ll take a wide variety of food–mice, Continue reading Young Singers in Concert at Lathrop

Picky Eaters at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 20, 2017)

Butterflies are not as numerous as we remember from our childhoods, but numbers of them still visit our Lathrop gardens and meadows.  This eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) was sipping nectar from a native blazing star (Liatris spicata) in Sharon’s and my front cottage garden.

Black swallowtail butterfly on blazing star in Sharon’s and my garden, July, 2017

Butterflies may sip nectar from a variety of flowers, both native and alien.  This eastern black swallowtail,  says my butterfly  book, will even sip from purple loosestrife, a horrible invasive that has made thousands of acres of wetland inhospitable to most wildlife. Continue reading Picky Eaters at Lathrop

The Super-Adaptable Garter Snake

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 15, 2017)

At Lathrop, we find common garter snakes in lots of places–in our gardens, by our ponds and streams, under rocks or brush piles, and, like this one, in the grass along our walking paths. These little, non-poisonous snakes are super adaptable.

They adapt to life in very different climes, from southeast Alaska down through most of the U.S.  Their range extends farther north than any other snake in the western hemisphere.

They eat lots of different foods–mostly frogs (swallowed whole!) and worms, but also tadpoles, newts, fish, leeches, insects, slugs, crayfish, small mammals, birds, and occasionally carrion. Continue reading The Super-Adaptable Garter Snake

It’s Easy Being Green at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post May 27 – Jun 2, 2017)

If you walk along the edges of one of our Lathrop streams or ponds these days, frogs may plop into the water at your approach. You may hear the “jug-a-rum” of the American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianos) or the “gunk” of the green frog (Lithobates clamatans), like this one found by several residents who were pulling invasive plants near the east campus Teaberry pond.

You can tell our frog is a green frog by its greenish color and by the ridges that run down each side of its back. You can tell our Teaberry frog is a male because its tympanum or eardrum, located just behind the eye, is larger than the eye. At this time of the year, our male is probably defending the pond as his territory.  He mates between April and August, clasping his lady love from behind, and fertilizing her thousands of eggs as she lays them in the pond water.

Continue reading It’s Easy Being Green at Lathrop

Careful! Don’t Hit a Turtle on our Road

by Barbara Walvoord

( Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post,  June 2-9, 2017)

Last spring, Sharon and I found a painted turtle on the road at Mulberry Lane.  Last week we found another one at about the same spot. Last year’s turtle was dead, its shell smashed by a car. This year’s turtle was alive, working its legs rhythmically, hauling its protective shell purposefully across the road.  It knew where it wanted to go, and we had built a road in its way.

Undoubtedly, our turtle has come from a slow moving stream or a pond.  During the winter, it burrowed into the mud at the bottom, or found a muskrat burrow.   While dormant, its body reduced the need for oxygen, so it could “breathe” through its skin, throat lining, and thin-walled sacs near its anus.  Emerging in spring, our turtle stayed near water.  After a graceful courtship dance, in which the male swam around the female, as they stroked each other gently with their legs, the couple sank to the bottom of the pond for underwater mating. Continue reading Careful! Don’t Hit a Turtle on our Road

The Bird that Stayed

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 20-26, 2017)

Sometimes on a bird walk, with bird songs all around, and lots of  little flying shapes flitting through the trees, your leader stops, cocks her head to listen, then points into the woods, and says, “blue-winged warbler” or “Red-eyed vireo.”  Everyone raises their binoculars, and the lucky person who actually spots the bird says, “See that first little pine tree? Look to the left of it, the third tree down, just to the right of that dead tree?  The vireo is on a branch at about 11 o’clock, about half way up.”  And you raise your binoculars, crane your neck, and then, just as you’ve found the tree, your spotter says, “Oops, it flew.”

On the north campus bird walk May 9, a pileated woodpecker took pity on us.  It was hammering hard on a tree, trying to find the carpenter ants that are its main food.  When we came along, it just kept hammering, right in plain sight, even as we all inched closer, and Lucy raised her long zoom lens and followed it around the tree to get some fabulous photos. Continue reading The Bird that Stayed