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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kingfisher Chatter

(a blog about Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge)

NOTEEnter your email address above and click "Submit" to subscribe/receive email when new Kingfisher Chatter posts are published.  Also check out WWW.FARNWR.ORG to catch up on news, calendar and photos of Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge.
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18 Feb 2014

Trail Cam Update

As mentioned in the last post, the motion-triggered, night-vision Trail Cam was moved away from the deer carcass site since the carcass was completely devoured and/or carried off.  New locations were scouted for photographing beaver.  It is a low resolution camera. The Trail Cam is to set out to determine time, position and habits of wildlife so good high-resolution photos can be taken in the future.  The first site proved a bust. There were trees with gnawed bark (winter snack for beavers) in the area but after several days there was no new gnawing and no tracks in the snow.  Another area was chosen. The site was selected on three criteria:
  1. noticeable beaver work
  2. beaver tracks in the snow
  3. open water with evidence of something (beaver, otter, muskrat) keeping the ice open (there were several pieces of ice pushed up on the ice shelf)
The camera was set up in this undisclosed location.  Recorded images were downloaded 4 times over the last 2 weeks.  So far, no beavers were recorded but there is ample evidence that a beaver was in the area; footprints and a newly felled tree adjacent to the camera but out of the camera's field of view.  

Felled tree-evidence of active beaver work (picture courtesy of Paulette Freedman)
Beavers are much less active in the winter, but as their stocked food supplies dwindle in and around their lodges, they venture out to find new food sources.  This may mean felling a tree or just eating a tree's inner-bark.

Tree gnawed by beaver.  A good mid-winter snack

They may also venture out, as do otter and muskrat, to keep holes in the ice open so they are not trapped under too long an expanse of ice.  The site chosen showed ample evidence of that. 

Beaver dam and ice-freed area maintained by aquatic mammals (e.g., beaver, muskrat, otter)
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) was captured by the Trail Cam.  Follow this sequence:
Out of the water and onto the ice shelf

Clear profile of otter.  Note the ice on the otter's whiskers

Back into the water

In the water

One last swim in the open water before disappearing

Although otters are generally crepuscular (most active at dawn or dusk) note the time stamps on the frames above.  They were all shot between 12:17 PM and 2:33 PM.
Everybody knows that otters are naturally playful and curious.  Below is a picture of the otter checking out the Trail Cam.  It was too close for a good portrait.  Look closely and you'll see its whiskers.

Trail Cam shot ("selfie") of otter checking out Trail Cam.  Look at the long whiskers

Here's another Trail Cam shot showing otter whiskers in the lower right of photo (Trail Cam in night-mode)

In addition to the otter, a pair of raccoon were also captured by the Trail Cam.
Raccoons shot in night-mode

Kingfishers (me and my friends), Mallards, Canada Geese and Black Ducks have also been frequenting this open water spot maintained by the aquatic mammals.   Certainly the extended cold has made beaver viewing all the more difficult.  This site will continue to be monitored for beaver unless a better site on the refuge can be found.  Any suggestions?


"Owl Prowl"

John Milhaven gave a well-attended talk on owls on Saturday night, February 22nd, at the Visitor Center (VC) in preparation for a post-talk "Owl Prowl".  John, Kizette and Gary led about 24 "owl prowlers" on a star-lit walk on the refuge listening to owls.  The leaders were equipped with audio devices to launch calls for Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl in hopes that upon hearing the audio an owl would call back.  

Gary's group of 14 took the long root from the Visitor Center (VC) around Puffer Pond via Harry's Way to Otter Alley to Taylor Way to Winterberry Way and back to the VC; a distance of about 2 miles.  Twelve of the hikers were on snowshoes and two with just boots.  A Barred Owl was heard at the onset of the trek and again at the end of the trek.  Neither time did it respond to the audio.  

At the intersection of Harry's Way and Pine Garden Trail, one in Gary's group spotted the outline of an owl high up in one of the bare deciduous trees.  It was too dark and to indistinct to make a positive identification but from size and shape it was most likely an Eastern Screech Owl (wrong silhouette for Saw-wet and too small for Barred or Great Horned...no feathered "ear-tufts" as would be characteristic of Long-eared Owl).  It is safe to say it was a Screech Owl which is not uncommon in this area.  The stars over Puffer Pond were spectacular...unforgettable!  Remember the Refuge closes at sunset and it is only with special permission from the rangers that the nighttime "Owl Prowl" could take place.  

Please obey Refuge rules and come see me there.

- The Kingfisher-


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kingfisher Chatter

(a blog about Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge)

NOTE: Enter your email address above and click "Submit" to subscribe/receive email when new Kingfisher Chatter posts are published.  Also check out WWW.FARNWR.ORG to catch up on news, calendar and photos of Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge.
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2 Feb 2014

Trail Cam Update
As reported in the last post, a motion-sensor Trail Cam with night-vision capability was deployed adjacent to White Pond Road Trail and focused on a White-tail Deer carcass which was found on the trail and moved off-trail by Bob K.  In the previous post the last observation was from January 17th.  Many hundreds of photos have been downloaded from the Trail Cam since.  

First, take a look at the progression of deer carcass from January 15th to February 1st:

January 15, 2014

January 17, 2014

January 24, 2014.  Carcass has been hollowed out by scavengers

January 28, 2014 (empty site/carcass gone)

January 28, 2014.  Head, leg and some hide dragged about 50 feet from original carcass site

February 1, 2014.  Head, leg, hide are now gone.  Only some fur and bone fragments remain

Likely Eastern Coyote territorial marking near the deer carcass site

Fisher tracks near carcass

Bone fragment along coyote trail leading away from carcass site along trail into thicket and woods

Another bone fragment further along the coyote trail

Plenty of fur marking the trail used by the coyotes

Here are some of the most interesting images from the last Trail Cam downloads:

Daylight photo of  a Red-tailed Hawk
Night-vision photo of Eastern Coyote.  Although it looks like he is baying, but it is suspected that Wiley is sniffing for other predators

Night-vision photo of Fisher
Daylight photo of Fisher

Night-vision photo of Eastern Coyote

Night-vision photo showing two coyotes.One of the last photos taken by the Trail Cam and the only photo showing multiple animals at the carcass site

It could be that the two coyotes working in tandem could pull the carcass apart more efficiently. The picture above was taken just before the carcass disappeared.  Since nothing remains of the carcass, the Trail Cam at this site has been decommissioned and redeployed.  Live beaver is next, hopefully.

Trail Cam sightings were cataloged.  Its interesting that most feeding only takes place for a few minutes at a time.  Here are the data.  Note times have been rounded up or down as appropriate

Feeding on the carcass chronologically

Sorted by animal with average feeding time.  Note that the average is statistically crude but gives the picture of feeding habits.

Very often the feeding animals would disappear for a few minutes and then return.  It is suspected, in most cases, that there is general nervousness about other predators or scavengers in the area.  Raccoon wins, feeding for an average of 24 minutes with one session lasting almost an hour.

While deployed, the Trail Cam was strapped to a tree with nylon webbing and secured to the tree with a locking cable.  Before being dismounted, it was noted that the camera was significantly crooked as compared to how it was originally positioned.  There was a blurred picture in one of the last frames on the Trail Cam.  A clump of dark, almost black fur was found on the locking cable.  A fisher probably dashed up the tree and used the camera a step causing it to skew.  Although fishers spend more time on the ground than in the trees, fishers are excellent tree climbers and will use the trees for safety and escape.


Birding on February 1st

Although the Refuge has been quiet lately, birds are still about if you stop, listen and watch.  Here are some that were seen last Saturday:
  • American Robin
  • American Crow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Blue Jay
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Sparrow (sp.)
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (M)
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Brown Creeper
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Dark-eyed Junco (slate-colored variant)
  • Pileated Woodpecker (heard only)

Come to the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge and enjoy!