Vermont Nature News
Subjects listed in order:
Amphibians
  • Wood Frog
  • Spring Peeper
  • Gray Treefrog
Birds
  • Barred Owl
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • American Woodcock
  • Wilson's Snipe
  • Eastern Wild Turkey
Lepidoptera + Odonata
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
  • Dragonflies + Damselflies
Plants
  • Mosses
  • Lichens
  • False Hellibore
  • Juneberry
Mammals
  • Black Bear
  • Moose
  • Bobcat + Lynx
  • Small Mammals
Gear
  • Binoculars, Cameras, Hand Lenses

Vermont Nature News

Amphibians

Wood Frog
Rana sylvatica

The Wood frog is one of the earliest amphibians to emerge from the Winter season. Even before the snow has completely melted from the edges of ponds and wetlands, one can hear its duck-like quacking sound, an indication that they are in their brief breeding season in early to mid-April. The Wood Frog is the only North American frog to occur north of the Arctic Circle; and has developed an amazing metabolic capacity to survive very cold and very long winters.

Size/Reproduction

The Wood Frog is a small to medium-sized frog (1 3/8" - 31/4") that is brown to tan to pinkish in color. The frog is easy to identify by the dark mask on the side of the face that runs from the nose to just behind the eye. After transforming from tadpole to adult, tiny frogs disperse throughout moist woodlands in the East (open grasslands in western regions and the tundra in the far north). One female frog may lay 2000 - 3000 eggs in a season and places them in globular masses attached to submerged twigs in ponds or free in vernal pools.

Winter Survival

The Wood Frog has evolved to be able to spend the Winter months just under forest leaf litter and actually freeze solid. During Fall, the frog cools down gradually. When frost threatens to freeze water inside the cells (which would cause death), the frogs adrenal system floods the blood with adrenalin which then triggers a huge increase in glycogen. The sugar draws water from the cells and places it in between the cells. The frog then stops breathing and its heart stops beating. In Spring, when the temperature reaches 50 degrees where the frogs are, the process is reversed; water enters back into the cells and the frog resumes breathing and its heart starts beating.

Habitat

Ponds, marshes, vernal pools, & ditches with deep standing water.

Wildlife Observation Tips

To hear and see Wood Frogs, one must approach a pond very stealthily, and listen for the duck-like croaking, which can be heard for long distances and may include hundreds of individuals. If one frog sets off an alarm croak, all of the frogs will instantly stop croaking and disappear into the leaves and mud. If that happens, stand still for a few minutes and disguise your presence by lowering yourself out of view or by standing behind a shrub. Eventually, the urgency of completely the breeding cycle will compel the frogs to start croaking again; first one and then another will sing and then the whole pond will once again be a din of frog sound. The generosity of time and hard work by our volunteers is sincerely appreciated. Thank you to everyone who has helped with summer camp, school programs, trail maintenance, construction, stewardship and with staffing the welcome center. Please join us in thanking them as you consider becoming a volunteer yourself. If you would like to volunteer for the HNA, please contact us.

- Deborah Benjamin

Two Closely Related Frog Species of Spring:

Spring Peeper - Pseudacris crucifer

Our smallest frog species, adult Spring Peepers measure 3/4" - 1 3/8". They vary in color - tan, gray, brown - and have a more or less clear wide "x" on the back which is the source of the species' designation 'crucifer' or cross. Their preferred habitat for breeding is wooded areas near permanent or temporarily flooded ponds and swamps where they congregate in large numbers and sing all night, a chorus that many people associate with the change of season from early to late Spring.

A single peeper has a high-pitched ascending whistle which various males sing on different pitches and at different levels of volume. As numbers of frogs build to hundreds at even a tiny vernal pool, the night chorus produced by Spring Peepers sounds like jingling bells with dissonant tones and pulsing synchrony as they sing in and out of phase. Males augment their sound by inflating their throat skin and produce sound that is remarkably loud for the size of the animal. Males sing from trees and shrubs that are in standing water or close to water. Peepers have enlarged discs on the toes that act like suction cups and allow them to climb. Females are attracted to the vigor of the male's song - its volume and frequency. It is estimated that the energy that a frog expends singing all night is about ten times the level of energy expended at rest or about the same as a human running. (So when you lie awake at night listening to the grand chorus, remember that the frogs are doing the equivalent of long distance running.)

After mating, females lay eggs singly or in short strings attached to vegetation well below the surface of the water. Tadpoles mature and metamorphose into adults in July and leave the pools and disperse throughout moist woodlands, marshy wet woods, second growth woodlots, sphagnum bogs and non-wooded lowlands near ponds and swamps. Peepers are seldom seen because of their cryptic color and small size.

It is interesting to note that in the north Spring Peepers breed from March to June when warm rains arrive, but in the south Spring Peepers breed from November - March when cool rains arrive. It just happens that the temperature of Spring rains in the north corresponds to Fall rains in the south.

Gray Treefrog - Hyla versicolor

Gray Treefrogs grow to 1 1/4" - 2 3/8" and are camouflage-colored to match their environment - greenish to brownish gray with dark blotches on the back. Usually visible is a dark outlined white patch below the eye. Often not seen unless the frog moves is a bright yellow wash on the inner thigh. Gray Treefrogs breed where there are trees and shrubs in or near permanent water.

Males give a slow pulsing trill in late Spring and are often heard in the same setting as a chorus of Spring Peepers. Their large toe pads are characteristic of all Treefrogs. Females lay eggs in packets of 10 - 40 loosely attached to vegetation on the surface of shallow water. Gray Treefrogs can be heard giving single notes throughout the summer months on humid days and just before thunderstorms. Tadpoles mature in September.

Gray Treefrogs are occasionally seen at the edge of ponds during the breeding season. When they are in trees they are very difficult to spot because of their perfect coloring that matches their environment. One summer day at Bear Paw Pond, what appeared to be a bit of lichen-colored rock took the shape of a frog, moved a few steps and stopped. The lichen-covered rock was indeed a Gray Treefrog.

Both Spring Peepers and Gray Treefrogs have the winter survival strategy of being able to gradually lower their metabolic rates and slowly freeze solid in the same manner as the Wood Frog.

- Deborah Benjamin


Birds

Barred Owl Strix varia

The Barred Owl, Strix varia, is a large owl of extensive woodlands and is a common year-round resident throughout Vermont.

Range

In North America, it is a widespread resident east of the Great Plains from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. It also ranges from southeastern Alaska southward to northern California and Idaho and across central Canada. Recently, it has expanded its range westward and, where its new range overlaps with its close relative, the Northern Spotted Owl, hybridization has occurred. A few isolated populations occur in southern Mexico.

Physical Description

Barred Owls are 17 - 20 inches long with a wingspan that measures from 39 - 43 inches and weigh 14 - 37 ounces. They have a large round head lacking ear tufts and have dark brown eyes. The colors of a Barred Owl include several shades of brown, gray, tan and pale yellow. This owl takes its name from the horizontal banding, called barring, of the ruff of feathers on the neck and upper breast. Below the ruff, the front is broadly streaked vertically. The back is brown dotted with rows of white spots. The facial disk is strongly outlined in dark gray. The beak is a bone yellow color and the scales of the feet are golden tan. Males and females are similar in plumage. The overall appearance is a large owl that blends well into its habitat.

Habitat & Food

Barred Owls prefer woodlands that contain large trees with cavities for nesting and open areas with wetlands or riparian areas for hunting. Adults pair for life and will nest in a cavity of a large tree, typically elm, beech or maple; occasionally, they will use an abandoned crow or hawk nest. They exhibit territory and nest site tenacity and will reuse the same nest as long as it serviceable. In Winter, males range further from a territory while females stay closer to home and defend the territory. Barred Owls are generalists in their choice of prey and feed on small mammals, including mice, voles and squirrels, as well as reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. They are nocturnal to semi-nocturnal and will often drop down from a branch to pounce on prey. This technique allows them to hunt in fairly dense cover.

Reproduction

Barred Owls in Vermont begin their breeding season in late February or March. Their loud, rhythmic calling announces the onset of nesting and may be heard throughout the breeding season and well into the summer months. Their hooting has been described as: "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" Males and females will often call in duets. The female's call ends in a vibrant drawn-out tremolo; the male's call is lower in pitch and ends abruptly.

Nestlings

The female lays 2 to 3 pure white eggs and incubation, which begins as soon as the first egg is laid, lasts for 28 - 33 days. Nestlings, covered in white down, open their eyes at about 1 week and are brooded continuously for three weeks. At 4 - 5 weeks of age, their natal down has given way to soft brown, gray and tan and they start to look like an owl. At this age, they will walk out of the nest onto nearby branches and beg loudly for food through beak clapping, hissing and screeching. They fledge at 6 weeks and continue to receive food from their parents up to 4 months of age.

Habitat:

Barred Owls prefer woodlands that contain large trees with cavities for nesting and open areas with wetlands or riparian areas for hunting.

Wildlife Observation Tips:

Listen for their distinctive hooting which has been described as: "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" Males and females will often call in duets.

Recommended Reading


  • Birdwatching in Vermont, Ted Murin and Bryan Pfeiffer. University of New England Press, 2002.
  • The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
  • The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, Sarah B. Laughlin and Douglas P. Kibbe, eds. Vermont Institute of Natural Science with University Press of New England, 1985.
  • Birds of the Northeast, Winston Williams. World Publications, 1989.

- Deborah Benjamin

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

Peregrine Falcons have been observed in Hazen's Notch for the last few years. This Spring a pair of birds has been observed but no nest site has been located.

Peregrines have made an impressive comeback in Vermont in the last 20 years after having been extirpated from the United States east of the Mississippi River by 1965. Their decline was directly due to the deliterious effects of DDT, a pesticide that was commonly used to control mosquitoes in residential areas. Peregrines are animals at the top of the food web; they hunt and eat birds. By eating Red-winged Blackbirds, Pigeons, Robins and other species, Peregrine falcons accumulated high levels of DDT in the fat tissues. This caused female Peregrine falcons to lay eggs with shells that weretoo thin to survive incubation. DDT was finally banned in 1972.

A captive breeding program was initiated by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in 1975 using techniques refined by falconers who raised the birds for sport. 93 chicks were raised in captivity and released (hacked) into the wild in Vermont from 1982 - 1987. A pair of Peregrines nested successfully on the cliffs of Mt. Pisgah at Lake Willoughby in 1985. This was the first pair to nest in the wild in Vermont for nearly 30 years. The number of breeding pairs rose steadily throughout Vermont on suitable sites that historically attracted birds. Peregrines nest on narrow ledges on steep cliff faces that are inaccessible to predators.

Biologists at the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences made an assessment in 1995 of current and historical locations where the habitat was still suitable for peregrine falcons. They determined that 9 historical sites that had not previously been recolonized have high potential to attract Peregrine falcons. The cliffs of Sugarloaf Mountain in Hazen's Notch are one of the nine sites. This Spring a territorial pair of unbanded falcons was observed flying in the skies over Hazen's Notch. This is not the first year that Peregrine falcons have been seen in Hazen's Notch. However, no peregrines have nested in Hazen's Notch to date.

29 territorial pairs of Peregrine falcons occupied cliffs around the state in 2003 including several newly established territories. That year 16 pairs succeeded in fledging at least 39 chicks.

We will continue to look for these magnificent birds and hope that in the near future, the cliffs in Hazen's Notch will host a family of falcons.

Wildlife Observation Tips

If you know that Peregrines are nesting in an area, you should view them from a distance using binoculars or a spotting scope so as not to disturb the birds. Hiking Trails where nests are active are closed by the state during the nesting season, as the birds especially do not like to be disturbed by people or animals that they can see at the tops of cliffs above the nest site.

Recommended Reading


  • Hawks in Flight, Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton. Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
  • The Wind Masters: The Lives of North American Birds of Prey, Pete Dunne. Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
  • How to Spot Hawks and Eagles, Clay Sutton and Patricia Taylor Sutton. Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus

The Pileated Woodpecker is our largest woodpecker with a body length of 16" - 19", a weight of 9 ounces - 12.5 ounces, and a wingspan of 26" - 30". There is a distinct difference of color between the adults: the male has a red crest and forehead and has red in its black mustache stripe; the female has a red crest and a gray to yellow-brown forehead and no red in the mustache stripe. Male Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker pairs remain year-round on their breeding territory. Within the last two weeks, the call, a loud and long "kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk" can be heard as the breeding season begins. At this time of the year, before the leaves are out, one can observe the woodpecker by listening for the call and by looking at large, old maple trees.

Male Pileated Woodpecker above

Pileated Woodpeckers make large rounded rectangular excavations on old trees in search of their favorite foods: carpenter ants & wood boring beetle larvae. Later they will excavate roundish holes in which to raise their young. Their holes persist for a long time & present nesting & roosting opportunities for many birds & mammals: American Kestrel, Saw-whet Owl, Raccoon, & Flying Squirrel.

Female Pileated Woodpecker above

Pileated Woodpecker "Cavity" in Sugar Maple - below.

For More Information

Habitat

Pileated Woodpeckers are found in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests where there are large trees. Large excavated cavities in older trees indicate the presence of Pileated Woodpeckers. Their cavities are visible for many years. A pair will defend its territory year-round and will remain in a general location for many years, as long as they can find food and nesting opportunities.

Wildlife Observation Tips

A large pile of wood chips at the base of a tree indicates a recent visit for feeding. Their calls ring loud and can be heard from as far as 1/2 mile away.

Recommended Reading


  • Birdwatching in Vermont, Ted Murin and Bryan Pfeiffer. University of New England Press, 2002.
  • The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
  • The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, Sarah B. Laughlin and Douglas P. Kibbe, eds. Vermont Institute of Natural Science with University Press of New England, 1985.
  • Birds of the Northeast, Winston Williams. World Publications, 1989.

American Woodcock Scolopax minor &
Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata

American Woodcock

As soon as the snow has left the land in Spring and nights are above freezing, two bird species return in close succession to their respective breeding grounds and each one performs a distinctive aerial flight display to establish a territory and to attract a mate. It is believed that these two closely related shorebirds evolved their respective feather modification and aerial displays over many thousands of years and that the relatively low frequencies produced permit the sound to carry over a long distance without distortion.

Habitat/Physical Characteristics

American Woodcock announces its return from wintering grounds in the southern coastal region of the U.S. to Vermont in mid-April with a loud nasal "peent" vocalization most often given from just before dawn to first light and again at dusk to shortly after dark. Its preferred territory is damp, brushy woods with grassy or brushy fields nearby for displaying. The bird is plump with an 18" wingspan, a very long beak and short legs. Its eyes are located high up and far back on the head giving it binocular vision upwards and backwards to be alert for predators while it probes in the mud for earthworms. The bird is cryptically colored brown, gray, and buff-orange and the female is nearly impossible to see when sitting tight on the nest that is a simple scrape on the ground. The female is larger than the male and once mated she builds the nest, incubates the clutch of approximately 4 eggs and raises the young herself. The chicks are dependant on the mother for food for the first three days after leaving the nest and then begin probing the dirt on their own.

Aerial Display

Woodcock have a flexible tip of the beak and often feeds by sticking the beak into the dirt and walking around in a circle stamping one foot to detect the retracting motion of a disturbed earthworm and then moving toward it using its sense of touch. The male Woodcock competes with neighboring males through an aerial display intended to attract as many females in a given area as possible. After much "peent"ing on the ground the bird takes off skyward and as he climbs his flapping wings push air through the three outer primary feathers which have narrowed tips. The result is a steady high twittering sound as the bird climbs, short bursts of twittering as the bird circles at the top of its climb, and loud and soft twittering and soft chirping as the bird zigzags its way back to the ground in the "falling leaf" pattern to the very spot where it took off. The male will continue to display long after most females have laid eggs. A female may visit four or more singing grounds before nesting.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe returns to Vermont from its wintering grounds in the southern half of North America to the northern regions of South America and begins its aerial displays when nighttime temperatures reach 50 degrees in early May. The Wilson's Snipe is a secretive species that prefers damp, marshy areas with muddy patches for feeding and vegetation that provides some cover. It is also a stocky bird with an 18" wingspan, a very long beak and short legs. It is colored cryptically and in flight it shows a boldly striped back and head and a short orange tail. Snipes mate once each summer. The female incubates the clutch of usually 4 eggs in a nest made of a neatly woven cup of grasses placed on the ground. When the chicks hatch they are covered in downy feathers. The male takes two chicks and the female takes the other two and they go their separate ways for the rest of the summer apparently having no further contact.

Feeding/Song

Wilson's Snipe forages by probing its long beak in soil and mud for insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks and some vegetation and seeds. The bird has a flexible beak and the tips can be opened and closed with no movement at the base of the beak. Sensory pits at the tip of the beak allow the bird to feel its prey deep in the mud. The bird sucks up and swallows food items without lifting its beak out of the mud. The male displays during the day or night by climbing high over an open marshy area and rapidly flapping its wings while descending steeply which forces air past the two stiff outer tail feathers and creates a winnowing sound - "hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu". Other vocalizations are a harsh "tuk-a-tuk-a-tuk-a-tuk-a-tuk". When startled, the bird gives a raspy "scaipe".

Classification

Many field guides for Eastern North America list Wilson's Snipe as Common Snipe. Recently the Wilson's Snipe of the New World was recognized as a different species from the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) of Eurasia. The two snipes look very similar, but differ in the shape, patterning, and usually the number of tail feathers. The Wilson's Snipe typically has 16 tail feathers whereas the Common Snipe typically has 14. These numbers vary and a Common Snipe may have from 12 to 18 tail feathers. In French, the name is Becassine de Wilson.

- Deborah Benjamin

Wildlife Observation Tips

The best way to enjoy these two species is to quietly approach a wetland, beaver pond, pond or lake with vegetated shoreline or marshy area toward dusk and listen for their flight displays. On days that are overcast, cool or slightly damp with light mist the males will produce their aerial displays much like they will do later in the day.

Seeing either bird is more difficult, as both species hide themselves in vegetation when not on the wing. A displaying Woodcock will land on the singing ground and repeatedly take off from there. If you conceal your presence by crouching behind a shrub, you may be lucky. Occasionally, Wilson's Snipe will perch on an exposed site such as a powerline looking somewhat out of context with its very long beak.

Recommended Reading


  • Birdwatching in Vermont, Ted Murin and Bryan Pfeiffer. University of New England Press, 2002.
  • The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
  • The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, Sarah B. Laughlin and Douglas P. Kibbe, eds. Vermont Institute of Natural Science with University Press of New England, 1985.
  • Birds of the Northeast, Winston Williams. World Publications, 1989.
  • Waterbirds of the Northeast, Winston Williams. World Publications, 1989.

Eastern Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo silvestris

The Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo silvestrisis, is one of Vermont's larger birds and is found throughout the state in deciduous woodlands with agricultural openlands nearby.

Size/Description

The male (or "tom" or "gobbler") has a black, brown and bronze color to the feathers and a naked head that is white, pink and blue. The tom has a beard, a tuft of longer feathers that dangles from the breast. [The tom does not molt the beard. Occasionally a female Vermont turkey will have a small beard.] The young offspring, called "poults", are colored like the females. A young male turkey is called a "jake"; a young female turkey is called a "jenny". Adult males weigh from 16-25 pounds; an adult female weighs from 9-17 pounds.

Reproduction

The male (tom or gobbler) is vocal during the month of April. One adult male will dominate a flock of females and younger males; only the dominate male typically mates in a given year. The female (hen) lays from 10-15 eggs over a period of 12-18 days; the eggs incubate for the next 28 days and hatch in late May or early June. The young are called poults and learn to stay close to the hen for their first summer, foraging for food during the day and roosting in trees each night. Turkeys have very good sight and hearing.

Population/Distribution

Driven to extirpation in Vermont in the mid-nineteenth century when farming and land clearing had reached its maximum, the Wild Turkey has made a great comeback with the help of wildlife management and the return to a primarily forested landscape at present. In the 1950's, attempts to introduce "game farm" turkeys to the wild largely failed because the birds were several generations removed from their wild ancestors and simply could not survive on their own. Birds succumbed to poor feeding habits, predation, death during severe winters. In the early 1970's, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department worked with the New York State Conservation Department to trap and release birds in Pawlet and in Hubbardton. By 1973, the wild population was estimated to be 600 birds. Today, it is estimated that there are 35,000 healthy birds in Vermont.

Behavior

One can easily spot flocks of Wild Turkeys in large agricultural fields, on dairy farms, and even in backyards. Wild Turkeys are very wary in woodlands and can see in almost 360 degrees. If you see a Wild Turkey, it is often the case that the bird saw you first. In flock of birds, it is much more likely that one bird will notice the approach of a predator from any direction. The flock stays together by soft purring sounds; a loud "putt" sound alerts the flock that there is danger. Then the birds erect their necks straight up and, if sufficiently frightened, will scatter by running or by flying. A Wild Turkey can run 25 miles per hour; it can fly for short distances up to 35 miles per hour.

Recovery

The story of the Wild Turkey in Vermont is one of success whereby this species was able to make a complete recovery as its preferred natural habitat recouperated. The present day mix of woodlands and agricultural lands is even better habitat for Wild Turkey than what original European settlers found.

- Deborah Benjamin

Habitat:

Brushy areas near farm fields; young forests where food and shelter are available.

Wildlife Observation Tips:

When in turkey habitat, listen for the vocalizations during Spring and early Summer. Throughout Summer and Fall, large flocks of families visit dairy farm fields to feed and sun themselves.

Recommended Reading


  • Birdwatching in Vermont, Ted Murin and Bryan Pfeiffer. University of New England Press, 2002.
  • The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Allen Sibley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
  • The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, Sarah B. Laughlin and Douglas P. Kibbe, eds. Vermont Institute of Natural Science with University Press of New England, 1985.
  • Birds of the Northeast, Winston Williams. World Publications, 1989.

Butterflies

Order: Lepidoptera

Spring and early Summer in northern Vermont initiate a season of growth of native wildflowers many of which are the food source for butterflies: leafy growth for caterpillars and nectar-bearing flowers for adults. This abundant food supply nourishes the wide array of species as they hatch, feed, metamorphose into adults, mate and lay eggs one or more times a year.

Tiger Swallowtails

One of the earliest butterflies to appear in early summer is the lovely Tiger Swallowtail, a large yellow butterfly with black markings and wing borders with blue and orange dots. We have two closely related varieties of Tiger Swallowtail in Vermont: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. Current taxonomy describes them as separate species, but they most likely evolved recently from a common ancestor.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, lays its eggs on wild black cherry and tulip tree and it ranges throughout the eastern United States from the Gulf Coast states north to southern Minnesota, the Midwest and to New England.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio Canadensis, lays eggs on birches and aspens and it ranges along the northern United States, through northern New England and across from western Canada to the eastern provinces. Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is slightly smaller than Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and has wider black stripes on the wings near the body. This extra black coloring may help retain heat from solar gain. Also, the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail has a continuous tan marginal on the forewing.

- Deborah Benjamin

For More Information

In recent years, several new field guides have been published with excellent illustrations, photos, range maps and descriptions that help in keying out these beautiful insects. There are about 120 species of butterflies known or suspected to be observed in Vermont. Two biologists are actively adding knowledge to the current status and distribution of butterflies in Vermont: Bryan Pfeiffer of Wings Environmental in Plainfield and Michael Blust of Green Mountain College in Poultney.

Habitat

Wildlife Observation Tips

Look for butterflies on sunny days from early June-late Fall. Modern optical design advances have produced a new genre of binoculars called "close-focusing" binoculars. Traditional binoculars have a close focus distance of about 15', now binoculars can focus as close as 4.5', which allows the spectator the opportunity to view butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies in dazzling detail.

Recommended Reading


  • Stokes Butterfly Book. The Complete Guide to Butterfly Gardening, Identification and Behavior. Donald and Lillian Stokes, Ernest Williams. Little, Brown. 1991
  • Butterflies Through Binoculars. The East. A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Eastern North America. Jeffrey Glassberg. Oxford University Press. 1999.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Insect Order: Odonata

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the insect order, Odonata and are symbolic of a memorable visit to a pond, lake, stream, or brook in Summer. The name Odonata comes from the Greek word for tooth and refers to the well-developed mouthparts (technically not teeth) that these insects bear as they hunt for insects on the wing. They have vivid, iridescent coloring, beautiful patterning and very descriptive family names: darners, clubtails, spiketails, cruisers, emeralds and skimmers within the dragonflies; and jewelwings, spreadwings and pond damsels in the damselflies.

Identifying Features

Dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera, which means unequal wings. Damselflies belong to the suborder Zygoptera, which means equal wings. In dragonflies, the pair of forewings and the pair of hindwings have different (unequal) shapes; and dragonflies are generally larger with stout bodies, wings that are held flat out to the sides when resting and are strong fliers and prodigious predators. In damselflies, the two pairs of wings have similar (equal) shapes; and damselflies are generally smaller with slender bodies, wings that are held completely (jewelwings and pond damsels) or partially (spreadwings) folded over the back when resting, fly more slowly than dragonflies and hunt with greater stealth. The eyes on dragonflies are placed close together and usually touch at the middle of the face or may have a slight space between; the eyes on damselflies are spaced widely apart.

Some dragonflies commonly found throughout the Northeast:

Chalk-fronted Corporal
Libellula julia

Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Libellula pulchella

Canada Darner
Aeschna canadensis

Some damselflies commonly found throughout the Northeast:


Ebony Jewelwing
Calopteryx maculata

Common Spreadwing
Lestes disjunctus

Familiar Bluet
Enallagma civile

- Deborah Benjamin

For More Information

In recent years, several new field guides have been published with excellent illustrations, photos, range maps and descriptions that help in keying out these beautiful insects. In Vermont there are about 95 species of dragonflies and about 45 species of damselflies. Two biologists are actively adding knowledge to the current status and distribution of odonates in Vermont: Bryan Pfeiffer of Wings Environmental in Plainfield and Michael Blust of Green Mountain College in Poultney.

Wildlife Observation Tips

Look for dragonflies and damselflies at any body of water from early June-late Fall. Modern optical design advances have produced a new genre of binoculars called "close-focusing" binoculars. Traditional binoculars have a close focus distance of about 15'; now binoculars can focus as close as 4.5', which allows the spectator the opportunity to view butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies in dazzling detail.

Recommended Reading


  • Dragonflies Through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America. Sidney W. Dunkle. Oxford University Press. 2000.
  • Stoke's Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies. Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, Donald and Lillian Stokes. Little, Brown. 2002.
  • A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts. Blair Nikula, Jennifer L. Loose, Matthew R. Burne. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. 2003.
  • Damselflies of the Northeast, A Guide to the Species of Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. Ed Lam. Biodiversity Books, Forest Hills. 2004.

Plants

Plants, Mosses and Lichens
Earth's Smallest Plants

Two groups of plants*, mosses and lichens, distinguish themselves by being able to grow, reproduce and colonize new spaces within appropriate habitats and be of the smallest stature of all other terrestrial plants throughout the Earth's many ecosystems. In fact, in either case, being small is essential to each one's success. They both thrive in some of the harshest conditions - extreme cold, extreme heat, very wet conditions and very dry conditions that cause long periods of inactivity that the plants simply wait out. Ideal conditions are in temperate situations in bright to shady light with ample moisture.

The two groups, however, achieve their place in the natural world in very different physical and ecological ways. With a hand lens and a microscope, a whole world of beauty reveals the secrets of these important plants. During Winter, in temperate and boreal ecosystems, mosses and lichens are among the last to enter a period of dormancy and among the first to actively photosynthesize when conditions become favorable.

Mosses

Mosses are best described by the typical plant features that they lack. Mosses have no roots (for the purpose of feeding the plant), no flowers, no seeds, no fruits, and no vascular system (xylem and phloem) for transporting water and nutrients. They consist of simple stems with leaves. Each moss leaf is one cell thick and very permeable to moisture and to nutrients within the moisture. The stems are held in place on a substrate (rock, soil, tree bark, dead wood) by wiry holdfast structures called rhizoids. With the simplest of physical features, mosses have evolved into 22,000 species worldwide. In Vermont, there are an estimated 424 species of mosses.

Mosses can grow in full sun habitats, but most mosses are specially adapted to grow well in the light shade to full shade of forested habitats. They are capable of becoming completely dormant when dry and rehydrating to fully functional within 20 minutes. Mosses are masters of acquiring and holding onto moisture which is critical to all of their functions - gaining nutrients, producing sporophytes and vegetative bodies for reproduction, and growing new plants, stems and leaves. They accumulate bits of pollen, dust, dirt, plant remains and the shells of macro-invertebrates that are deposited by rain and wind. This debris builds up and forms the first soils for higher plants to establish a small foothold.

Wildlife and humans have made extensive use of mosses, especially in northern regions. While the nutrient levels are low for most creatures, tiny insects graze on moss stems and spend their entire life in a moss forest. Many birds and mammals use moss as a soft lining to a nest or a den. Sphagnum mosses have been utilized as naturally sterile bandaging material. Indigenous people around the northern regions use mosses as cushioning material, as swaddling for infants and as insulation inside other articles of clothing.

Lichens

Lichens have evolved from more primitive life forms than mosses that include the mutually beneficial relationship of a fungus and either an alga or a cyanobacteria. The fungal partner forms the bulk of the plant, provides a means of holding onto a substrate, and supplies protection from extreme cold and dessication. The algal or cyanobacterial partner (10% of the plant's biomass) produces food for itself and its partner. Lichens have evolved into 14,000 species worldwide. In Vermont, 586 lichen and lichen allied species are known from Herbarium specimens and current research. It is expected that that number will increase with ongoing research in the field.

Lichens grow in all habitats on Earth. They become dominant in the landscape above treeline on mountains and in the Arctic Tundra and Taiga regions. Lichens are cryptobiotic, meaning that they have the ability to completely shut down life processes and to quickly resume photosynthesis when conditions are right. They can photosynthesize down to minus 20 degrees C. Lichens acquire all of their basic nutrients from air, humidity, rain, snow and the substrate upon which they grow - soil, rock, tree bark. They metabolize acids in minute quantities that gradually erode the surface of the substrate and create conditions for the first mosses to gain a foothold.

Lichens too have a low nutritional value and are not good food for wildlife. Female ruby-throated hummingbirds build their nest out of spider silk to which they apply plates of lichen to the outside as a means of waterproofing the nest. For some animals of the far north, for example, caribou and reindeer, lichens are a mainstay during the Winter months and supply the animals with the bulk they need to last until the next Summer's supply of nutritional grasses. These members of the deer family have special bacteria in their rumen to digest lichen. Native people who take a caribou in Winter often first enjoy the partially digested lichen mass from the rumen before rendering the rest of the animal. People have used lichens for dye for clothing; they have dried and ground lichens into a flour to mix into bread; and they have stewed lichens as a thickener for soups.

* Footnote on the Classification of Mosses and Lichens

Mosses, along with liverworts and hornworts, are called bryophytes (Division Bryophyta) and are the most primitive members of the Kingdom Plantae.

Lichens are generally treated as members of the Kingdom Plantae, even though the dual nature of their mutualistic existence comprising a mycobiont (a fungus) and a photobiont (an algal or cyanobacterial organism) that makes up a lichen suggests that they belong partially in the Kingdom Fungi (for the fungal partner) and in one of two other Kingdoms: Kingdom Monera (if the photobiont partner is cyanobacteria) or Kingdom Protista (if the photobiont partner is an alga). Lichens take their Genus and Family names from the mycobiont species.

- Deborah Benjamin

Recommended Reading


  • Forests of Lilliput, The Realm of Mosses and Lichens. John Bland. Prentiss Hall, 1971. 210 pp.
  • Lichens of North America. Irwin Brodo, Stephen Sharnoff, and Sylvia Duran Sharnoff. Yale University Press, 2001. 795 pp.
  • Gathering Moss - A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Robin Wall Kimmerer. Oregon State University, 2003. 168 pp.
  • Lichens above Treeline - A Hiker's Guide to Alpine Zone Lichens of the Northeastern United States. Ralph Pope. University Press of New England. 2005. 70 pp.

False Hellebore
Veratrum viride

False Hellebore
Veratrum viride

False Hellebore sends fat green shoots up through dead dry leaves of last year as soon as the sun and temperatures of late April and early May warm the soils in wet thickets, roadside ditches, along streams and in wet meadows. Plants grow rapidly and the large coarse ribbed leaves which clasp the stem present the first real green of the new season before trees leaf out. Also known as Indian Poke or Poke by farmers, the plant has a poisonous root, and farmers like to prevent young cows from eating the tempting green plants. Some dairy farmers say that a mature cow with calves will guide the younger animals away from stands of False Hellebore.

This member of the lily family plant grows 2' - 6' tall by early summer. Then mature plants produce spikes of greenish-yellow non-showy flowers. By mid-summer, when many other wildflowers are just beginning to bloom, False Hellebore is starting to wither and dies back to the root to wait until the next early Spring season.

- Deborah Benjamin

Juneberry
Amelanchier arborea

Juneberry
Amelanchier arborea

Our earliest tree to bloom is the Juneberry with soft white blooms in short racemes of three to several 5-petaled flowers that open as the bronze-colored leaves expand. The leaves are fine-toothed with somewhat elongated tips and are hairy beneath. The tree grows to 40' tall and forms multiple trunks with smooth gray bark.

A native small tree of eastern United States and Canada, Juneberry gets its name from the fact that it ripens its fruits by the end of June. In the mid-Atlantic region it is called Shadbush or Shadblow because its early bloom coincides with the spawning of shad (a type of fish). An earlier name is Sarvisberry (origin unknown) which with its newer version Serviceberry and the regional name Saskatoon are typically used in Canada. Juneberry grows throughout rich woods and thickets, along hedgerows and streams where it receives enough light in the understory to flower and fruit.

Juneberry is in the rose family which includes many familiar cultivated species that we enjoy to eat and to grow as ornamentals: apples, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, pears, cherries, apricots, nectarines, almond, roses and rose-hips. The five native species (and an undetermined number of hybrids) of Amelanchier that grow in Vermont similarly provide food for wildlife and provide that fruit earlier than any other native fruit. Songbirds, especially Cedar Waxwings and Robins, hang from the tips of branches and enjoy the dark purple fruit.

Local people call Juneberry "Cherry" and refer to the Cedar Waxwing as "Cherrybird". Wild Turkey and Ruffed Grouse eat from shorter shrub-like species. Mammals that eat the fruits include: skunk, red fox, raccoon, black bear, red squirrel, and chipmunk. Other animals browse the twigs: cottontail rabbit, beaver, whitetail deer and moose. Still, Juneberry produces enough fruit to delight our senses with flowers in early May and fruits that mature from red to purple in late June.

- Deborah Benjamin



Mammals

Black Bear
Ursus americanus

In Vermont black bears live in large, undisturbed forested areas with wetlands and streams that provide food sources in Spring, Summer and Fall. They are most numerous on either side of the spine of the Green Mountains where oak forests occur (southern Vermont) and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests with American beech (central to northern Vermont). They also occur in good numbers in the Northeast Kingdom. Black bears are solitary animals and only approach human habitations when wild food sources are scarce and may be tempted to raid bird feeders, garbage cans and barbecue grills.

Size/Features

A male black bear may reach 300 - 400 pounds and can run at speeds up to 40 mph. A female weighs on average 120 - 180 pounds. Black bears reach breeding age at 3 and a half years and adult females have cubs every other year. They have long thick black fur with bronzy muzzles, black eyes, rounded ears and very long claws for ripping open food sources. Bears have excellent senses of hearing and smell; their vision is less well-developed.

Population/History

During early settlement times, when Vermonters cleared much of the low and mid-elevations for agriculture and hunted black bear for food and clothing the animal's numbers plummeted. Bears persisted only in remote areas where people didn't settle, such as the far Northeast Kingdom and rough mountainous areas. As land use has changed in the last 150 years, many former agricultural lands have reverted to a forested landscape. Consequently, The habitat and number of black bears have rebounded. The present black bear population is estimated to have increased from 1000 animals ten years ago to a present population of 3000 - 3500 individuals.

In 1941, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Legislature elevated black bears to the status of a big game animal with protection. In 1967, trapping black bears was banned. In subsequent years, controls were placed on the use of hunting dogs. In 1972, shooting bears at trash dumps was prohibited.

Spring and Summer

Black bears forage each season where food sources are most abundant. In early Spring (April), when adult bears awaken from Winter sleep (See Black Bear - Fall and Winter), the fat reserves that supported them through Winter are all but used up. As soon as wetlands start to green up, black bears feed on grasses and green, leafy plants. Evidence of their presence in a wetland is confirmed by observing dark black soft voluminous mounds of scat. The grassy diet is of low nutritional value compared to other seasons and in April, May and June, bears forage all day.

Black bears only resume an adequate level of nutrition in early to mid Summer as roots, fruits and honey from bee hives provide much needed protein and sugar from which they can start to gain weight. Black bears belong to the Order Carnivora, but their diet may be more accurately described as that of an omnivore. They are opportunist feeders and have been known to take a young fawn if a bear chances upon one.

Reproduction

Female black bears maintain large foraging territories. Males travel great distances feeding and looking for a mate. The time that male and female adult bears spend together is during the brief breeding season in June and July. The fertilized eggs (typically one or two) remain in a state of delayed implantation in the uterus. The eggs will only implant in the female's body in the Fall and only if she has found enough food to attain a weight of at least 150 pounds. That ensures that only well-fed bears will give birth and that cubs born in January will survive.

In late Summer, black bears immerse themselves in a rich array of food: apples, cherries, succulent plants, beechnuts and acorns. At this time of the year, bear scat looks very different from the time in Spring and displays the greater nutritional value of these foods. The scat is more compact and often is packed with seeds and apple skins. Cubs are growing rapidly and will remain with the mother bear until they are 16 months old.

Fall and Winter

Black bears continue to feed through Fall as long as food is available. Food sources in northern Vermont include beechnuts, cherries, apples and mountain ash fruits. Bears will eat up to 24 hours per day and consume up to 5 times their normal daily intake. Bears may feed through November and into December in good years; however, if food is scarce due to cycles in seed and fruit production, disease or insect damage, most bears in Vermont will enter their dens by mid-November.

Hibernation

Black bears will den in a variety of places: a pocket or cave in a rocky ledge, a hollow in a large tree or a downed log, a sheltered depression dug out at the base of a tree or log or upturned root, or a brush pile. Some will simply lie on the ground and await the certain snow cover. Female bears that are pregnant will choose den sites that are in more protected locations and will line the den with stripped bark, leaves, grasses, ferns and mosses. A bear will den up when it has fed enough to add a 5" layer of fat that is essential to its survival during the upcoming winter season. A substance called leptin is the metabolic hormone that is produced by fat cells in the blood and induces a feeling of satiety. The bears are no longer hungry and den up often just before or during an early winter snowstorm.

The ability that bears have to endure up to five months of inactivity is a marvel of nature that is controlled by several physiological processes. They can go without eating food, drinking water, or eliminating waste and do not suffer from muscle or bone mass loss. Bears only lower their body temperature by 2 - 3 degrees Celsius (which is why they easily awaken when biologists take blood samples to monitor health). Because of the reliance on fat metabolism during winter, levels of urea (a byproduct of digesting protein) in the blood do not reach toxic levels. What urea that does form is metabolized into creatine which is transformed to protein and returned to muscle tissue. Fat metabolism also holds the secret of why bears do not lose bone mass after such prolonged inactivity, a phenomenon that has been observed but not fully understood.

Birth of Cubs

After two to three months of hibernation, female black bears give birth to one or two cubs in late January or early February. Each cub weighs 8 - 10 ounces at birth and must instinctively locate a nipple from which to feed and grow while the mother continues her deep sleep. The new subnivean family waits patiently until the cycle of the seasons removes their thick blanket of insulating snow. Then, they may awake and enter the world of sunshine and rains where the mother can teach her young everything she knows about survival.

Habitat

Large, undisturbed forests of either mixed coniferous/deciduous trees (with American beech) in northern New England; or of oak/hickory trees in areas of southern Vermont, New Hampshire and southwards to the Southern Appalachians. Bears need wetlands and streams in proximity to food sources.

- Deborah Benjamin

Moose - Alces alces americana

History

Moose are the largest members of the deer family. They live in the northern forest regions of North America, Europe and Russia. The earliest known drawings of moose are from the stone-age in the Ussuri Valley on the Russian/Chinese border near the Sea of Japan. Moose migrated west to northern Europe and eventually east to North America across the Bering Land Bridge that linked Siberia to Alaska approximately 100,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch. They then spread across Alaska, south into the upper Midwest, and eastward through Canada and the northern United States. The name 'moose' comes from the Algonquin word 'one who strips or eats off' which is a reference to the animal's diet of twigs and leaves stripped from branches.

Four Sub-species

There are currently four sub-species of moose in North America (of the 7 sub-species worldwide). The Eastern Moose, Alces alces americana, occurs in eastern Canada and New Brunswick to eastern Ontario and south to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The Northwestern Moose, Alces alces andersoni, ranges from northern Michigan and Minnesota and western Ontario to central British Columbia and north to eastern Yukon. The Shiras Moose, Alces alces shirasi, occurs in northwestern Wyoming, Montana and northeastern Idaho to southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia. The Alaskan Moose, Alces alces gigas, occurs in Alaska and is 30% larger than the other 3 sub-species.

Habitat/Diet

In Vermont, moose occur in greatest numbers in the Northeast Kingdom and in the Green Mountains. They live in extensive forested areas that contain wetlands surrounding lakes, ponds, and bogs which supply a variety of food sources. In Summer, they feed on the twigs, leaves and bark of willow, aspen, red maple, striped maple (commonly referred to as "moosewood"), paper birch, beaked hazelnut, and red-osier dogwood; and the roots and leaves of aquatic plants, including water shield, yellow pond lily and several pondweeds. In Winter, their diet is more restricted to conifer (balsam fir primarily) and hardwood twigs. A home range for a moose is a radius of two to ten miles if there is an adequate food supply and Winter shelter.

Size

Moose are the largest mammals in our landscape and have little to fear from other animals. Even where their range overlaps that of the wolf, only young and weak moose are typically taken by predators. A mature moose armed with sharp hooves and a powerful kick inspire respect from a pack of wolves. Bull moose in prime condition reach a weight of 1,200 - 1,600 pounds; mature cows reach a weight of 800 - 1,300 pounds. They stand six feet tall at the withers and measure nine feet from nose to tail. The legs are very long to facilitate a high-stepping gait through tangled vegetation and deep water. Moose live on average 16 years with cows sometimes reaching 20 years of age.

Brain Parasite

The greatest challenge to moose is survival during Winter and escape from parasites. White-tailed deer carry a brain parasite that does not cause illness in the deer, but passes out through its feces and is eaten by snails. The infected snails are in turn inadvertently eaten by moose grazing on the wet vegetation that the snails live on during the day. The moose develops 'brain sickness', looses vigor, becomes paralyzed or blind, and can die from the infection. Moose are also bothered by ticks which can reach very high numbers especially in Winter when moose do not have the benefit of a Summer wallow in mud or a respite from heat and biting flies by standing shoulder deep in water. Irritation, scratching, infection and hair loss can severely weaken a moose with ticks in Winter.

Spring and Summer

Vernal Migration

With the arrival of Spring and the first signs of greening vegetation, moose leave their Winter quarters at middle and higher elevations and return to their favorite places in wetlands and in the woods surrounding wetlands. In May, moose might be seen eating the succulent grasses in roadside ditches. It is believed that they are attracted to the accumulation of road salt in runoff water in the ditches.

Moose Calves

Cows and their yearling young have spent the Winter together. As the female moose prepares to give birth to her new young, she will drive her adolescent young away. At first confused by the rebuff, the yearling(s) will stay in the vicinity of the mother, but she will not allow one to approach. Moose are born in Vermont from mid-May to early June. Twins are born to mature cows 15% - 75% of the time. Newborn calves weigh 28 - 35 pounds. They will double their weight in 3 weeks from rich milk and forage. Their coat is a light golden-brown and does not have spots for concealment (like the white-tailed deer fawn). A calf's defense is in its mother's vigilance and swift response to any perceived danger which she dispatches through charging and thrashing with her hooves. "A moose calf's bond to its mother is survival. In time, the calf responds as if a shadow. If the cow looks behind with ears erect, so does the calf." [Seasons of the Moose, p. 75] Within five months, new calves weigh over 300 pounds.

Moose Bulls

Bulls feed intensively (as much as 50 pounds/day) in Spring on fresh grasses and aquatic vegetation (which is rich in sodium that is stored in large quantities in the rumen) to replenish their low levels of protein and fat and to nourish the rapid growth of new antlers. Peak antler growth corresponds with the longest days and, with a total spread of 4 feet by late Summer, their antlers grow by as much as 1 ½" per day. First to grow is the stout horizontal antler beam which supports the large palm-shaped portions from which grow the upwardly pointing tines. During growth, the antlers are fed by a blood rich covering of skin called velvet at which time the antlers are delicate and easily damaged. By the time the antlers are fully grown, the bone hardens and the velvet abates, cutting off the blood supply; a bull will thrash against vegetation to rub off the velvet and to demonstrate to others his potential vigor. A full rack weighs up to 50 pounds.

Bulls eat 50% more food in August than is required for basic metabolism to build up strength for the next important season, the rut. This is the time of year that bulls weigh their most; they start to congregate in food rich areas in early September in anticipation of finding and defending females.

Fall and Winter

Breeding Season

With the arrival of cooler temperatures, testosterone levels rise in males and hormones bring on estrus in females; it is the beginning of the breeding season called "the rut". Males patrol a region and establish relationships with one or more females. They scrape wallows into which they urinate. Females will visit the wallow, roll in its musky scent and will defend a wallow from other females. Bulls will deliver throaty hollow grunts and tremendous bellowing to draw attention to their presence. Moose can pivot their ears individually to 180 degrees and have very good hearing. It is believed that the shape and positioning of the antlers with respect to the ears enhances his ability to hear the higher-toned wavering calls of a female from quite a distance.

In late September and early October, mating takes place. One bull in prime condition will escort 3 or 4 females. Other younger males will have to wait until they have grown bigger to challenge the senior bulls. A male will raise its head and sample the air near a cow's urine with a special olfactory gland in the palette, a phenomenon called the Flehman Response, that will reveal whether or not the female has ovulated and is receptive to mating. 90% of cow moose will breed each year. Through the breeding season, bulls will expend a great deal of energy challenging other bulls and will loose about 20% of their body weight. Unlike many mammals of the North Woods, male moose enter Winter depleted of energy and fat reserves, weighing 20% less than at the beginning of the rut.

Winter Survival

Moose have a different technique for surviving Winter - heat retention instead of heat production. As snows deepen, they move from lowland wetlands and forest to mid elevations. Their large bulk retards heat loss. Their hollow hairs help trap heat and insulate the body; their black skin color also helps absorb solar radiation. They expend much less energy at this time of the year, instead waiting patiently, sometimes resting for days under an open bowl beneath conifer trees. They will wait and eat twigs within reach of where they lie.

Moose are the first members of the deer family to shed their antlers, sometimes as early as November and usually by the end of December. With the lengthening days of late Winter, new antler growth begins and the cycle begins again.

- Deborah Benjamin.

Recommended Reading


  • Promack, Jennie, and Thomas J. Sanker, Seasons of the Moose, Salt Lake City, Peregrine Smith Books, 1992.

Bobcat Lynx rufus
and Lynx Lynx canadensis

Bobcat and Lynx: General

In northern New England, there are two wild cat species that have short or bobbed tails: Bobcat, Lynx rufus, and Canada Lynx, Lynx canadensis. The two species are similar in many ways. Both are solitary most of the time, den in remote heavily wooded areas and prey primarily on snowshoe hare. One species, the Bobcat, is relatively abundant and not considered to be endangered or threatened; the other, Canada Lynx, is very rare and only known from the most remote regions within its former range. Both species have refined the characteristics of a stealthy predator that can visually melt into its habitat.

Bobcat, Lynx rufus

Range

Bobcats are found across southern Canada southward through the United States and into most of Mexico. In the United States population densities are higher in the north and south eastern regions than in the western states. The ranges of the bobcat and the lynx meet at about the United States and Canada border. They overlap in northern New England and eastern Canada. The bobcat is listed on Appendix II of CITES* list. In Vermont there is a limited trapping and hunting season in the months of December, January and February.

Habitat/Diet

The bobcat prefers mixed deciduous-coniferous and hardwood forests and brushy and rocky woodlands broken by fields, old roads and farmland. They are frequently found in cedar swamps and spruce thickets. They prefer areas with thick undergrowth and, in winter, seek areas with softwood cover.

Description

Male and female bobcats are colored similarly. Males are slightly larger. A male bobcat is 28" - 47.3" long with a relatively short tail that is 3.5" - 7.9" and hind feet that measure 6" - 8.7" from toe to heel. An adult bobcat weighs 15 - 45 pounds. The fur is very dense, soft and relatively short. The brownish-gray head is streaked with black, the buffy neck is heavily spotted or streaked with black. The ears are heavily furred and creamy tan inside, are black on the back side with short dark ear tufts. The body is grayish buff or reddish in summer (paler in winter), spotted or streaked with black and darkest along the back from the head to the base of the tail, becoming lighter on the sides. The rump and hind legs are buffy; the underparts are whitish with black spots. The short tail has three or four black bars, is black at the tip but only on the upper surface (unlike the lynx which has a tail with a completely black tip) and has a pale under surface.

Diet

The primary food for bobcats is snowshoe hare in winter. However, many species are included throughout the year: mice, squirrel, porcupine, mink, opossum, rabbit, skunk, muskrat, mole, shrew, chipmunk, bird and bird eggs, fish, insects, dead animals (if found frozen during winter) and some plants. Bobcats have sharp incisors and strong jaws which, when combined with very sharp retractable claws, make this creature a formidable predator which enables a cat to take down a weakened deer.

Reproduction

The breeding season for bobcats begins in late February and extends into March. The adult male and female are together only for this brief time of the year. The female will den in rock crevices, under windfalls or in hollow logs. She usually lines the den with dried grasses, leaves and moss. Gestation is about 62 days. The litter ranges in size from one to four kittens that are born in May to early June. Some females have delayed estrus and may breed as late as June bearing kittens in August. The kittens' eyes open at ten days and they wean at 60 - 70 days. The female raises the young who stay with her for nearly one year or until the next breeding season. During that time they will learn the hunting skills that will sustain them through their lives. A bobcat lives about 12 years in the wild. The longest known lifespan of a bobcat in captivity is 32 years.

Behavior

Bobcats are solitary and elusive animals. They are active year-round, mostly at night, but studies have shown that crepuscular (dawn and dusk) activity peaks match the activity patterns of major lagomorph (rabbit) and rodent species, especially in winter. They have keen eyesight and well developed senses of smell and hearing. When hunting, they follow prey stealthily along from one cover to the next until they are close enough to strike. Or, they may lay motionless in a tree listening and watching for prey. Another technique is to crouch in ambush on or near an animal trail. Sometimes a bobcat will crouch for hours in one spot shifting slightly in a circular fashion to change its view and creating an impression in the snow, called a hunting bed, that shows paw prints all around. They are not long distance runners and can only move about 15 mph. They will climb trees to rest, escape dogs, chase prey or catch birds. They patrol a home range of about 2 square miles, larger if prey is scarce in a given year. Females hold smaller territories; a male's territory may overlap several female's territories.

Wildlife viewing tips

Both bobcat and lynx are secretive and therefore not often seen by people. By snowshoeing in remote regions, one may come across the tracks of a cat or possibly the remains of a recent kill.

Lynx, Lynx canadensis

Range

The original range of the lynx encompasses wooded North America south of the timberline from Alaska to Nova Scotia; south to southern New England and New York; west to the Michigan Upper Peninsula, northern Wisconsin, and southern Saskatchewan to the Pacific Ocean; and south through the Rockies into Colorado and central mountains of Utah. Presently, the greatest populations occur in Canada and Alaska. They occur in low numbers in the states of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The ranges of the lynx and the bobcat meet at about the United States and Canada border. They overlap in northern New England and eastern Canada. The lynx is listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List as Threatened and is listed as Endangered on Vermont's List of Rare and Uncommon Animals. The lynx is listed on Appendix II of CITES* list.

Habitat

Lynx prefer the interiors of extensive, unbroken forests well removed from human activity. They often will be in swamps, bogs or rocky areas within their general habitat haunts. They rarely venture into open land.

Description

Males and females are colored similarly. Males are slightly larger. A male lynx is 32.7" - 39.4" long with a relatively short tail that is 3.9" - 5.1" and long hind feet that measure 8.7" - 9.9" from toe to heel. An adult lynx weighs 15 - 35 pounds. The head has a brownish crown with white tipped hairs; the nose and cheeks are grayish. The ears are grayish-white inside, edged with buff; the back of the ears are black with a gray spot and there is a continuous black margin and long black ear tufts that constitute a key feature for identification in the field. The long cheek ruffs that hang down either side of the face as well as the chin and throat are grayish white or light buffy brown and marked with brownish black bars. The long guard hairs of the body are white at the base, dark in the middle and black tipped. The body has a frosted, gray look and the underparts are buffy white mottled with light brown. The short tail has a completely black tip (unlike the bobcat which has a tail with a light under surface and black on the upper surface only). The hind paws are very large and densely covered with fur which allows the animal to travel in deep snow conditions.

Diet

The snowshoe hare is the primary food for lynx. The population of Canada lynx is directly tied to the population density of snowshoe hare. The two species are known to fluctuate in linked cycles of about 9.6 years. Lynx have very sharp teeth and long, retractable claws which enable the animal to swiftly capture their prey; they generally tear off chunks of meat that they swallow whole.

Reproduction

The breeding season for lynx is in late winter. The female builds a den in a natural cavity, on a ledge or in a thicket. Gestation is 60 days. The litter ranges in size from one to four kittens that are born in May to early June. Their eyes open in 9 - 10 days and they wean in about 2 months. The family, including the mother and litter of kittens, will disband in 6 - 9 months. Lynx live about 14 years in the wild. The longest known lifespan of a lynx in captivity is 26.75 years.

Behavior

Lynx are active year-round, mainly at night. Their excellent vision gives them the ability to hunt in very low light levels or on very dark days. The word "lynx" is derived from the Greek word for lamp. They are agile climbers and can travel easily through dense forest, among fallen timber, over and around moss-covered logs and boulders. The lynx's hind feet are heavily furred in winter and act like snowshoes for moving in deep snow. Like bobcats, they are not long distance runners and move with an awkward gallop when disturbed. A dog can easily outrun a lynx. They are inquisitive and may follow a person just out of sight in the shadows for hours. They are not known to attack people.

Wildlife viewing tips

Both bobcat and lynx are secretive and therefore not often seen by people. By snowshoeing in remote regions, one may come across the tracks of a cat or possibly the remains of a recent kill.

Bobcat and Lynx: Summary

In general, a bobcat has shorter legs than a lynx and shorter, more spotted fur. In winter, the lynx has such a thick coat of silky loose fur, especially around the neck, that it makes the animal appear fluffy. There is a considerable overlap in size and weight between bobcats and lynx. Though typically believed to be larger (that is taller), the lynx is marginally lighter in weight than the bobcat.

The bobcat has a more southern range and is more adaptable to a variety of habitats that may include a greater variety of prey to hunt than its northern cousin, the lynx. "Where the two animals inhabit one area, the bobcat sticks to the low-lying, open areas where there is less snow in winter, and the lynx is found at higher elevations in the more heavily forested areas where there is more snow". It may be that "snow depth in winter" is the "main factor in distribution" of the two species. [see: Rezendes, p. 219] Studies have shown that the hind feet of the lynx are twice as effective in supporting its weight on snow than those of the bobcat. Both are exquisite animals with many adaptations to life in the wild north.

* Appendix II of CITES list, Conservation on International Trade in Endangered Species. If an animal appears on Appendix II, it means that the 150 signatory countries to the document agree to trade commercially in the species only if it does not endanger the survival of the species. [Species listed on Appendix I are completely protected from any kind of trade among the participating countries.]

- Deborah Benjamin.

Recommended Reading


  • New England Wildlife: Habitat, Natural History, and Distribution, Richard M. DeGraaf, USDA, General Technical Report NE-108, 1986.
  • Wild Mammals of New England, Alfred J. Godin. John Hopkins University Press, 1877.
  • Tracking and the Art of Seeing, Paul Rezendes, Harper Perennial, 1999.
  • The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, John O. Whitaker, Jr., Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.
  • University of Michigan site: www.animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Animal Diversity Web species pages.
  • Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Toronto, Canada. www.conserveonline.org/docs/2002/11/WCSlynx.pdf
  • World Conservation Union, Species Survival Commission, Cat Specialists Group. www.catsg.org and http://lynx.uio.no/lynx/catsportal/cat-website [includes excellent photographs]

Small Mammals of Vermont

in the Order Insectivora
and the Order Rodentia

History

Some of the smallest mammals in Vermont account for the most numerous numbers of species and of individual creatures in the landscape. We have many names for these small creatures that have evolved to inhabit most regions in the world: mice, rats, shrews, moles, voles, lemmings. Many have no difficulty living in close proximity to human habitation; others are strictly speaking wild. Most of the species that we see in Vermont are native - some exclusively to the New World, some to both the Old and New Worlds, and a few as recent arrivals from the Old World.

Importance

Collectively, these small mammals perform several important ecological functions: serving as food for many carnivorous animals, dispersing the nuts and seeds of many native trees and plants, and fertilizing and aerating soils through tunneling. For us, they provide a subject of study in how very small creatures live, reproduce and thrive in a landscape that presents many challenges throughout the seasons (not to mention how they have served as a source of inspiration for many cartoon characters and timeless childhood stories).

Definition

As a group, mammals form the Class Mammalia (in the Phylum Chordata of the Kingdom Animalia). They are warm-blooded animals with backbones that bear live young. They feed the young a rich milk delivered by way of mammary glands and so provide a time of offspring rearing during which the young learn many of the skills needed to survive. Mammals have some type of hair or fur and almost all adult mammals have teeth, the arrangement of which is often the means of distinguishing a species and of determining the age and health of an individual. Two Orders of mammals are the subject of this review: Insectivora (insect-eating mammals) and Rodentia (gnawing mammals).

Insectivora

The Order Insectivora includes shrews and moles. Shrews and moles are solitary animals that live in burrows or tunnels or just at the soil line. They have a very long, pointed snout that extends way beyond the mouth, tiny beady eyes and velvety fur. The fur is specialized in that it does not lay in a single direction. When the fur is brushed one way or the other by the animal moving in underground tunnels, it does not lose its insulating and protective qualities. They have five toes with claws on both the fore and hind limbs (which distinguishes them from mice which have only four clawed toes on the forelimbs).

Shrews (Family Soricidae) are some of the smallest mammals and have a very high metabolism. They are active year-round and eat continuously. They have a continuous set of teeth between the incisors and the molars called the unicuspids. They are fiercely aggressive toward one another and to other creatures, which gives some insight into the usage of the name to describe a human that has a nagging personality.

Moles (Family Talpidae) live largely in subterranean burrows and tunnels that they constantly dig with their specially adapted powerful shoulders and huge hand-like front limbs. Moles, like shrews, have long snouts, tiny eyes and ears and velvety fur. Moles have a narrow pelvis that allows the creature to easily turn around in its tunnel. Moles are active year-round.

Rodentia

The Order Rodentia with 3000 species comprises the largest mammalian group on earth. More than 50% of mammal species are rodents; greater than 50% of individual mammals on earth are rodents. In North America, the Order Rodentia includes: beaver, squirrel, chipmunk, woodchuck, prairie dog, gopher, mouse, vole, muskrat, lemming, rat, jumping mouse, porcupine, nutria.

Three families of rodents are included in this review:

  • 1) Cricedae - New World Rats and Mice, including deer mouse, white-footed mouse, meadow vole, southern bog lemming;
  • 2) Muridae - Old World Rats and Mice, including Norway rat and house mouse; and
  • 3) Zapodidae - New and Old World jumping mice, including meadow jumping mouse and woodland jumping mouse.

Habitat & Physical Characteristics

Rodents live in all imaginable habitats in a region from underground burrows to arboreal cavities and nests to semi-aquatic or nearly fully aquatic environments. They are most known for their very large, sturdy incisor teeth with chisel-like cutting edges. Their teeth grow continuously in order to support a life of gnawing on bark and sturdy nut shells, just two of the many materials needed for shelter and food. There is a gap between the incisor and molariform teeth.

Mice are omnivorous and mostly nocturnal. They have large eyes and ears, long tails, long legs, and teeth with well-developed cusps. Voles and lemmings are vegetarians and may be active anytime of the day or night. They have a more stout body with shorter legs and tail, and teeth with flattened crowns with ridges in "loop and triangle patterns" for constant chewing of fibrous grasses. Jumping mice have very long tails and large back feet, are primarily nocturnal, spend a great deal of time in deep hibernation during winter and do not build caches of stored food.

There are eleven species of small rodents in Vermont: 3 mice, 3 voles, 1 lemming, 1 rat (Old World), 1 house mouse (Old World), and 2 jumping mice.

- Deborah Benjamin.

Recommended Reading


  • New England Wildlife: Habitat, Natural History, and Distribution, Richard M. DeGraaf, USDA, General Technical Report NE-108, 1986.
  • Wild Mammals of New England, Alfred J. Godin. John Hopkins University Press, 1877.
  • The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, John O. Whitaker, Jr., Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.
  • University of Michigan site: www.animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu.

Nature Gear

Equipment for Observing Wildlife

Binoculars

This is the most important piece of equipment for anyone wishing to observe birds and animals at a distance or small animals at close range.

Binoculars are described by two numbers separated by an "x". The first number refers to the power of magnification, usually ranging from 6 to 10. Binoculars with high magnification are well suited to viewing distant objects. With this high magnification comes the greater difficulty of locating objects and then following them as they move.

The second number refers to the diameter of the focal opening. This number should ideally be 5 times the first number. The focal opening determines how much light enters the binoculars. A smaller focal opening won't let in enough light for viewing in a dense forest. A nice compromise is to look for binoculars with a 7x35 or 8x40 power.

Cameras

Although there are many inexpensive cameras with a small zoom lens and built-in flash, most of these are inadequate for taking photographs of wildlife. If you hope to have any success with wildlife photography, you should plan to purchase a 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera. The two main reasons are the lens and the shutter speed options.

Most cameras come with a 50 or 55mm lens which approximates the view one has with the human eye. With this size lens you will be disappointed to see how small objects look in your photographs when they seemed so much bigger through the viewfinder. The small zoom lens on an inexpensive pocket-style camera isn't much better.

You will need a 75-200mm zoom lens in order to make most wildlife appear large enough when viewed from a distance that doesn't alarm the subject of your photograph. Automatic focus is an important feature since you may not have time to adjust the focus while keeping your subject properly framed.

The second reason for buying a 35mm camera is the shutter speed options. With wildlife photography you need to be able to "stop" or freeze the movement of your subject. A faster shutter speed (1/250 sec. or 1/500 sec.) will accomplish this. You may also want a sharp focus over a long distance, known as "depth of field", that comes with a smaller lens opening, or "aperture". Only 35mm cameras have this kind of adjustability.

In order to have a properly exposed photograph with this smaller aperture and faster shutter speed, you will want to purchase film that is intended for such "fast" settings. This will be a film with an ASA number of 200, rather than the typical 100, 64 or even 25 that is sold for most inexpensive cameras.

Hand Lenses

Another way to enjoy the natural world is to unlock its secrets in miniature with the aid of a hand lens (or loupe). Flowers, seeds, mosses, insects and the texture of tree bark and stone are fascinating to look at with the aid of a hand lens.

The best hand lenses are made of glass and stainless steel. Hand lenses come in a variety of magnifications.The most useful levels of magnification are 10 x, 14 x, 16 x, and 20 x. As the magnification increases, the depth of field decreases (which means the subject will look more flat than three-dimensional). Also, as the magnification increases, so does the price (from $20.00 - $80.00).

Many plastic magnifiers are less expensive and are very good for introducing children to the natural world close-up.

Most university bookstores sell hand lenses. A good source of scientific equipment is Carolina Biological Supply Company. (www.carolina.com) They specialize in supplying science educators with materials and equipment. The Ben Meadows Company (www.benmeadows.com) also sells hand lenses and has a larger selection of binoculars. They are an excellent source of equipment for all aspects of natural resources management.

- Deborah Benjamin