Category Archives: critters

Staying Put: Barred Owls at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Nov. 4-10, 2017

Some humans and birds at Lathrop depart for warmer climes for the winter.  But not our barred owls (Stix varia). They are staying put.

All winter along, you’ll be able to hear them in or near our forests, often at dusk or at night, calling “Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you-all?”   Hear it at

Barred owls find their prey by staying put: they perch silently on a dead branch over land or water, then swoop  down to catch squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds (up to the size of a Continue reading Staying Put: Barred Owls at Lathrop


More Dwellings and a Marvelous Banquet Hall at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Sept. 30-Oct.  6, 2017

We’re thinking of increasing the number of dwellings we have for humans at Lathrop.  But dwellings for some of our wild critters are increasing as well–the holes in our trees.  Once a farm, Lathrop’s undeveloped lands have grown up in trees, and, as our forests age, we have more tree holes made by rot and by woodpeckers, especially pileated woodpeckers, who attack a tree with their hammer-heads and their big bills, creating a big hole and a veritable storm of wood chips below them, as they dig for carpenter ants.

One of the many creatures that use tree holes is the Eastern screech owl, whose eery, whinnying cry you can hear at night (hear the cry at The screech owl is about the size of a pint jar. It sleeps in its hole during the day, and emerges at night to perch in open woodlands six to ten feet off the ground, waiting for its dinner.  Our land provides a Continue reading More Dwellings and a Marvelous Banquet Hall at Lathrop

Superbutterfly is Born!

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Sept. 23-29, 2017

This photo by Adele Dowell shows the next stage of the story of Mona the butterfly, which I’ve been tracking through this column.  The story began when Adele Dowell planted native orange butterfly weed in her cottage garden.  It’s a member of the milkweed family–the only plant family that monarch butterfly larvae can eat.

Mona’s mother laid her eggs on Adele’s butterfly weed and then died.  Mona the caterpillar (I’ll call her a female) emerged from her egg and ate holes in some of the butterfly weed leaves, shedding her skin several times to accommodate her growing girth.  She escaped being snatched by a mama or papa bird and becoming part of the several thousand caterpillars it takes to raise a nest of bluebirds or Continue reading Superbutterfly is Born!

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

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