In all my 50-plus years of writing nature columns both in Connecticut and Maine, I have learned so much about nature and the wonderful world of wildlife. This past week, a reader corrected me on my comment about male wild turkeys sometimes destroying the nest and young. The National Wildlife federation has declared this action an unfounded rumor. Apparently studies have found this not to be true. If any of my readers have more information about this, I welcome your input and always welcome new discoveries.
Wild turkeys are always fun to see, and they readily come to island feeders these days. I frequently meet flocks of them on the back roads and see them strutting about and feeding on island fields. My small dog and I startled one on the beach one day when we climbed up over a bank and surprised it. When it took off right in front of us like a large cargo ship into the air, we were the ones surprised!
Now that the weather is getting nicer, I have been able to explore my small pond for salamander and frog activities. There are numerous egg masses now in all island small ponds and vernal pools. Water level is high and hopefully will stay so until the eggs hatch. Vernal (temporary) pools are especially good breeding places for salamanders and amphibians, for they do not contain fish. Other predators, of course, like raccoons, birds, etc. still seek them out. Definitely refrain from bringing any egg masses inside to watch them develop, for it is quite difficult to maintain their proper water and food requirements for success, and most of these masses brought in die. Watch them in their outdoor environment and make drawings or take photos to keep a record of their progress and development.
The spring peeper deposits her eggs singly or in a small cluster on an underwater twig. The eggs hatch in a week or two. The tiny egg turns into a sand-colored, white-bellied tadpole and then into an adult frog in about three months. At that point, the one-half-inch long froglet leaves the water. Spring peepers prey on flies, beetles, mosquitoes and gnats. Peepers are preyed upon by larger frogs, water birds and many mammals. Wildlife has a never-ending cycle of trying to find something to eat and trying to avoid being eaten. Peepers are very small and can easily sit on a nickel.
The salamander eggs in the pools I found were globular egg masses 2.5 to 3.5 inches wide. When this mass swells up with water it can be 4 inches across. These eggs hatch in two to three months depending on the water temperature. In the following three months, the spotted salamander larva transforms into a miniature copy of the adult and leaves the water. It may take a week or two before the bright yellow spots appear on its dark background. This salamander is really a beautiful and very interesting creature and is completely harmless. Consider it a lucky day when you get to see one.
My dog and I recently have been enjoying walks near Sieur de Monts Spring that go along past the boardwalk across the wet meadow. The boardwalk is also a nice walk, but I wanted to see the woods more closely after this winter and some health problems that kept me in. One of my best sights that day was a giant dead tree that had some serious signs of pileated woodpecker activity. The chips must have been flying when the deep holes were excavated in the soft trunk. The holes made by this very large woodpecker were fascinating to see. These woodpeckers intently work away where they know some food is going to be found. These birds are real tree surgeons, and they know there is food to be had. No exploratory surgery for them!
Often, when they are working on a tree, you can watch them easily from a short distance away. This woodpecker is our largest resident woodpecker, for it is as large as a crow and wears a bright red crest. All of our other resident woodpeckers are much smaller. Don’t ever feel sorry for a tree if this woodpecker has been drilling holes in it, for the bird is cleaning out an insect infestation and is giving the tree a better chance of survival. If you look at the trees whenever you take a walk where these woodpeckers have been at work, you will see “healed over” places on the trunks. Look for their large rectangular excavations as you walk in the woods. Pileated woodpeckers are often noisy birds and announce their presence if they are in the woods near you. You can find their call on the Cornell bird call site if you want to hear what they sound like.
A wonderful story about a chickadee was sent to me this week. Friends not far from me have been seeing a plucky little chickadee all winter feeding at their bird feeder. The familiar bird had a broken leg dangling but was coping with the problem. Whatever winter weather offered, it always was there doing the best it could. After one very stormy night, they thought it would be missing, but the next morning, there it was, without its leg and foot this time, but still feeding at the feeder and solving the problem of hanging on to a sunflower seed in order to open it with only one leg and foot. These small birds are favorites for many and are eternal optimists. From the time I was a small child in Connecticut watching birds with my mother at our feeder, I have loved them.
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