Tracks in the Snow

Winter is coming to an end and Spring is just around the corner. I should have written this blog a couple of months ago but I was our recently with my camera and found some tracks in the snow.  Sometimes, you might not see the animal or bird that is in the woodlot but these tracks show me that they are there, happily living in my woodlot.  Winter is not my personal favorite time of year, however, it is a good time of year to look for signs of our winter residents.  I do enjoy getting out to see these signs life, even if I don’t see the actual wildlife that made these tracks.

Rabbit tracks are one of the most easily identified tracks as well as one of the most plentiful.

Rabbit tracks are one of the most easily identified tracks as well as one of the most plentiful.

Rabbits, which are actually Snowshoe Hare in my area, are usually one of the most plentiful mammals found in the woodlot.  They are very active winter animal and therefore leave lots of tracks to find.  It is important to me to know there is a healthy population of rabbits as they are a prime food source for some of the larger hawks and owls.   These birds of prey are welcome in my woodlot and I know I can do some things to encourage them to live here.   Things like creating good habitat for some of their favorite food sources.  Great topic for a future blog.

Mice are also very active in winter.  Here a single rabbit track is crossing severl rows of mice tracks.

Mice are also very active in winter. Here a single rabbit track is crossing several rows of mice tracks.

By getting out in the winter and looking for the tracks it is possible to do a bit of senses taking.  The more tracks found by one species or another is an indication of how plentiful they are.  On my outing on this day I found a lot of mice tracks.  There are several species of woodland mice and I am not an expert in these small rodents.  However, they too are an important part of the food chain and ecosystem of the woodlot.  Some mice will tunnel under the snow where they are of course safely out of site of potential predators.

Squirrel track next to cell phone (for scale).  The red squirrel track is very similar in shape to a rabbit but it is much smaller.

Squirrel track next to cell phone (for scale). The red squirrel track is very similar in shape to a rabbit but it is much smaller.

Squirrel tracks are another commonly found track in the snow.  Although they spend most of their time in the tree tops they often come down to the ground or snow.  You will usually see their track running from the base of one tree to the base of another tree.  Squirrels will often knock their food to the ground and then come down later to pick it up.  You can especially see them do this in the Autumn.  There are two species of squirrels that I know live in the woodlot.  Besides the red squirrel there are also very elusive and seldom seen flying squirrels.

Landing spot for a Ruffed Grouse.  Note the long slide before it walked away to the top right of the photo.

Landing spot for a Ruffed Grouse. Note the long slide before it walked away to the top right of the photo.

Ruffed Grouse, commonly called partridge in our area, are a common bird found in the woodlot.  They spend a lot of time on the ground walking.  Their tracks are distinctive.  The photo shows a long sliding landing site.  I think a crusty layer of snow was covered with a light dusting of new snow and perhaps gave this larger bird a bit of a surprise landing.  The signs of wildlife living in the woodlot in the winter can be pretty noticeable if you take the time to look.  It can make a winter walk on snowshoes or skis more enjoyable.

Tracks of the elusive Ermine.  Very easily identifable "two" tracks often far apart.

Tracks of the elusive Ermine. Very easily identifiable “two” tracks often far apart.

One mammal I almost never see but can usually find tracks in the winter is the Ermine.  Ermine, which are commonly called weasels, are quite elusive.  Like our snowshoe hare, they turn white in the winter and back to their brown and white color in the summer.  They are a carnivore and prey on mice and voles among other creatures.  They are very fast-moving and any small mammal has little chance of escaping them.  They are also known to climb trees where they may find the occasional birds nest but they seem more at home on the ground.  Winter can be a quieter time of year for viewing wildlife.  A lot of species are either further south or hibernating.  But it is also a good time of year to look for signs of life that you might not see the rest of the year.  If you are like me, I am looking forward to spring and the return of many of the migrating birds and sleeping mammals.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image.***

Looking Out My Kitchen Window

Something I don’t believe I mentioned in any previous blogs is the fact that my house is located in one corner of the woodlot.   It is great to live on the woodlot for many reasons.  One of them is being close to the wildlife that lives in the forest.  It’s great to have the wildlife come to you on those days when you do not want to go outside.

Blue Jay picking up seeds below the feeder.

We encourage many of our feathered friends to come and visit us and pick up a snack while they are at it.  Of course the enticement is food and we have a couple of bird feeders out year round.  As the seasons change so do the visitors to the feeders.  The main source of food is black oil sunflower seeds.  We did use mixed seeds but found that the straight sunflower seeds work just fine.  There is one small feeder of nyjer (finch) seeds for the finches, who seem to like both.  The other food put out is suet blocks.  With these food sources we are able to attract some very beautiful birds to our back yard.

Black-capped Chickadees are our year round feeder visitor.

Black Capped Chickadees are pretty much year round residents at the feeder.  Blue Jays are sporadic at our feeders and I’m okay with that.  They can be big consumers of seeds if they arrive in small flocks.  As common as blue jays are I always think of them as one of the most strikingly beautiful birds in our forest.  Imagine, if you had never seen a Blue Jay before just how beautiful they would look with their brilliant blue color.

Some of the other birds that arrive in flocks at certain times of the year include the Purple Finch and the American Goldfinch.  We can usually count on both of these in late winter and spring.  When the goldfinch arrive it is often hard to tell the males from the females.  However, as the weather warms the males become very noticeable as they change to their canary yellow mating plumage.

A female Downey Woodpecker stopping by for some suet. The males have a red patch on the back of their head.

Some of the birds that prefer the suet feeder are the Red Breasted Nuthatch and both the Downey and Hairy woodpeckers.  We have been very lucky this year to have pairs of all of these.  If you see a Downey or a Hairy woodpecker in the forest it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart.  The Hairy Woodpecker is considerably larger but without something to reference the size they are very similar in appearance.  They are pretty easy to tell apart at the feeder as the Downey is closer to the size of the finches and the Hairy Woodpecker is more Robin size and takes up noticeably more space on a feeder.

Other birds that show up at various times through the year, either individually or in small flocks, include; Pine Siskins, Juncos, Common Redpoll and several of the woodland sparrow species.   Birds that we use to get more frequently but now are very rare at our feeders are the Evening Grosbeak and the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.   We wish these would both come back in bigger numbers.  The rarest bird to ever visit us (that we know of) was a Summer Tanager.  This little fellow was a long way from home and no doubt arrived on a strong wind that came from the south.  He stayed for a few days and when word got out of his arrival several of the local bird enthusiasts came by to get a glimpse of this rare sighting in Prince Edward Island.

The very cute Red-breasted nuthatch is often seen hanging upside down to feed.

Flocks of Purple Finches and American Goldfinches sharing space on the feeder at feeding time!

It is always a pleasure to look out through the kitchen window and see some of the wonders of nature this close to home.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

(click on any photograph to get a larger image)

Wildlife in the Woodlot – Nest Boxes

Tree Swallow & Nest Box

Being close to nature and having wildlife in our woodlot is a very important part of the enjoyment of owning and managing a small part of the forest. There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing or being near a wild creature of the forest. Those of you who have this feeling know what I am talking about. But managing for “Wildlife” can be a complex process of decision-making and compromises. I expect that many people who read this blog will share this interest in managing for wildlife in the forest.   With even a little information you can begin to understand some of the things that can be done to help attract or keep certain species in your woodlot. Simply to say “I want to manage for wildlife.” is frankly too broad of a statement. I hope to write many blogs about wildlife both from the enjoyment aspect, which I want to share with you, and from a management point of view.

(Click on any photo to see a larger image)

Adding nest boxes to your woodlot or back yard can be beneficial to some species of wildlife.

As this is mid winter, perhaps it is a good time to prepare for the coming nesting season of some of our feathers friends. Nest boxes can be a very helpful way to encourage some species to your woodlot or to your back yard. Many of our local species are what we call “cavity nesters” . As this term implies, these are species that build their nest in a cavity space that is safe for them to raise their young. In fact, if they do not find a suitable cavity or some sort of inside space to have their nest they will not be able lay eggs and raise their young. Most cavity nesting birds have no ability to build a nest on a branch or any other external area. They must find a suitable cavity to successfully raise their young.

Nest Boxes need some way to be opened so that they can be cleaned each year after the nesting season.

This is where you come in. You can build and erect suitable nest boxes that many species will take to with great ease. I happen to like tree swallows and I have had good success with putting out boxes for them. The same size box I use for tree swallows has also been used by chickadees and squirrels, both red squirrels and flying squirrels. Nest boxes can be built to sizes that attract many different species of birds or mammals of all sizes. Of course the box has to be placed in suitable habitat as well. You are not going to get Barred owls nesting in a box in the city or in the open but you will if you locate a suitable size box deeper in a more mature forest. Of course I am talking only about the species in my area in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Your species may differ in your region so you will need to know the habits of species in your area.

To help you with designs of nesting boxes, I am attaching a few websites for you to go to find out more. Designs are usually quite simple. All species have their preferred size of box and opening. The opening size is quite critical to some species. Here are some websites for you to have look at:
http://www.shawcreekbirdsupply.com/plans_tree_swallow.htm

http://www.bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/bdow/nest_box_plan.htm

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/nestinginfo/nestboxref/construct

Nest boxes will need only a little care. They must have a way to open so that the old nesting material can be removed after the nesting season. This will reduce the parasites that will affect next years brood. The adults are quite capable of finding new nesting material each year so there is no need to leave the old material in there. The exception might be the owls who use course woody stems for nesting material.

This box has nesting material that is moss. This is an indication that it was used by chickadees. It needs to be cleaned before spring arrives.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to use the comment box. If you do not want your comments posted on the web just tell me in your comments, as each comment must be submitted to me before they are posted online.  I hope you find this blog useful and enjoyable. Your comments and questions may help me provide even better information in the future. There are many interesting things to see in Watts Tree Farm throughout the year. I am happy to share them with you.

Until next time, keep safe and well.