Category Archives: Mammals

Nighttime Gardeners

Nighttime gardeners trimmed these trees, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Every night gardeners roam Pennsylvania’s forests and trim the vegetation. We see their footprints in the morning and the landscape they’ve left behind. Our nighttime gardeners are white-tailed deer.

A doe browsing in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Unlike human gardeners, deer cut back the plants they like instead of removing weeds. It’s easy to notice what they over-browse (see arborvitae above), but the mix of plants they leave behind tell a story of poison and preference. Last weekend I decided to read that story in Schenley Park.

In early June the forest floor is green with native plants that deer won’t eat and invasive aliens that deer don’t like.

The “poison” story:

Native plants that thrive in Schenley Park are those that are toxic to deer.

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), photo by Kate St. John
Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea), photo by Kate St. John
White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), photo by Kate St. John

The “preference” story:

These alien plants are unpalatable to deer and some are toxic. Interestingly some aliens cannot out-compete native plants without the help of deer. Where there are fewer deer, there’s less garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) at DPW staging area in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Check out the mix of plants in your local forest or woodlot. If you find only toxic natives and unpalatable aliens it’s the cumulative effect of too many “gardeners” every night.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Five Little Foxes

  • Five little foxes, Schenley Park, 25 April 2020 (photo by Frank Izaguirre)

Looking back to a month ago…

Back in April, five little foxes lived with their mother in a den under the old log cabin in Schenley Park.

During the day, while mom was asleep, they came out to play inside the chain link fence that surrounds the cabin. Frank Izaguirre photographed them on 25 April 2020 and tweeted about them here.

Inevitably the fox kits attracted a crowd.

Six people watching the fox kits in Schenley Park, 27 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

As soon as they were old enough to move, their mother got them out of there.

The kits have grown up and haven’t been seen in a long time.

(photos by Frank Izaguirre @BirdIzLife)

Unusual And Wonderful Things

African penguin, Boulders Beach, Cape Town, SA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 May 2020

No matter what stage your local COVID-19 shutdown is in — whether it’s active or about to end — make a list right now of the unusual and wonderful things that happened while we stayed at home so we don’t forget.

When the shutdown eventually ends I will miss amazing wildlife in cities, free time, no traffic, and clean air.

Here’s #1 on my list:

What will you miss?

Leave a comment with your answer.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click the caption to see the original)

He’s Stealing The Carpet!

Raccoon appears at a cat door (screenshot from YouTube video)

24 April 2020

While we shelter indoors for COVID-19, raccoons are busy all night in our neighborhoods. With kits in the nest they’re on the lookout for an easy meal. It can lead to hilarious results.

If you see a raccoon don’t approach and don’t touch, not even the babies. Remember, raccoons are rabies vectors. Stay safe and take a video like one of these.

From 2012: Raccoon Steals a Carpet.

From 2018: A cat tells a raccoon where to go.

If you have raccoons in your house, call for help. This 20 minute video from Gates Wildlife Control in Ontario, Canada shows how a family of raccoons got in and how they got them out!

(screenshot from YouTube, videos embedded. Click on the YouTube logos to see the originals)

Lions Reclaim The Land

With South Africa shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, wild animals are taking back the human spaces in Kruger National Park.

Above, a pride of lions takes a nap on the road just outside Orpen Rest Camp on 15 April. Click on the photos in the tweet below to see closeups of the lions.

The BBC explains:

But why anyway, you might ask, would lions prefer tarmac to the softness of grass?

Probably for the simple reason that it had been raining on Tuesday night and, as Mr Phaala explained, “The tar was drier than the grass at the time – big cats and water don’t mix.”

— from Coronavirus: Lions nap on road during South African lockdown, BBC News, 16 April 2020

While the humans are away, the cats will play.

(tweets embedded from BBC News and Kruger National Park; video from The Guardian)

Twirl A Squirrel

Squirrel reaches for the pole while the feeder gives him a wild ride (screenshot from Twitter movie)

10 April 2020: As expected the U.S. now has the most COVID-19 cases on earth.

We really need a laugh. Squirrels to the rescue.

Watch this bird feeder gave a squirrel a wild ride. He reaches out to grab the feeder pole but misses every time.

If you haven’t laughed enough, here’s a fox squirrel with more staying power. Imagine how dizzy he felt when he landed!

In case you’re wondering, this is Droll Yankee’s feeder called the “Yankee Flipper.”

(videos from Twitter and YouTube; click on the embedded video to see the originals)

Wildlife Returns While Humans Stay Indoors

Limpkin on patio railing in Boca Raton, FL (sent by Natalie Mitchell, 31 Mar 2020)

As we shelter indoors, wildlife is reclaiming our neighborhoods faster than we thought possible. Limpkins in Florida, deer in Pittsburgh, and wild boars in Italy!

Limpkins in Florida:

Now that human activity has slowed in Boca Raton, my sister-in-law says that limpkins have moved into the neighborhoods and are shouting all night to attract mates and establish territories. If you’ve never heard a limpkin you’d think it’s a human in distress and you might call 911. Ooops! It’s a bird. Limpkins are a thrill to birders but annoying if you’re trying to sleep. Here’s what one looks and sounds like from 2012. You can hear other limpkins in the distance.

Deer in Pittsburgh:

Deer are getting bolder and coming out during the day now that Pittsburghers are not outdoors. Yesterday, 31 March, Donna Foyle found a family group right next to a front porch in Brentwood.

On 25 March KDKA reported deer on Pitt’s campus in a photo and article.

Wild boars in Italy:

Wild boars can be dangerous but they usually avoid humans. This mama and youngsters were filmed strolling through Bergamo, Italy, posted to Twitter on 30 March 2020.

Have you seen any interesting wildlife in town lately? Leave a comment to let me know.

(limpkin photo sent to me by Natalie Mitchell on 31 Mar 2020, deer in Brentwood via cellphone from Donna Foyle)

Mouse In The Legos Challenge

The new American Lego Masters competition on television reminded me that …

When Matthias Wandel found a mouse in his toolshed he wondered how big a hole the mouse used to get in. Initially he experiments with a wooden maze. Then he used Legos.

Wandel’s five-minute video features a computerized Legos maze equipped with light sensors and a moving gate. Each time the mouse completes a visit, the gate closes a little more, just 1/3 mm. Eventually the mouse discovers he can’t get in. At 10.5 mm (0.413 inches) the gap is just too small.

The mouse takes on the Legos challenge but is limited by the size of his skull.

(video by Matthias Wandel on YouTube)

My Kind of Nature Watch

Central American woolly opossum, Canopy Tower, Panama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In March 2018, ten of us went on a week-long birding trip to the Canopy Tower in Panama. We focused on birds but at dinnertime this mammal stole the show.

Every evening just after sunset a Central American (or Derby’s) woolly opossum (Caluromys derbianus) shuffled quickly past us as we sat chatting about the day’s events. If you didn’t watch carefully you missed it.

One evening I tried to follow the opossum to take his photo but failed. He seemed awkward but he was surprisingly fast.

This photo, taken at the Canopy Tower by Charles J. Sharp, reminded me of how easy it was to see this wide-eyed nocturnal animal. My husband was impressed that the opossum came so close, “That’s my kind of nature watch!”

See Derby’s woolly opossum in two videos below: At night in Panama’s San Francisco Reserve (look at those ears!) …

… and at Cornell Lab’s Panama fruitcam.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. videos from YouTube)