Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Much Maligned Snapping Turtle

Cute & cuddly, he's not.
While a good many of nature’s creatures have their share of admirers, there are those which the general public, for the most part, hold in low esteem. But like all of God’s creatures, those same critters held in disdain by many, all have a role to play in the natural order.  The Snapping Turtle is one such creature.

The dark green moss covering this turtle's back
 is proof positive he's a sloooooooow moving fella.
His head is larger than a grown man’s fist, characteristics which speak to his longevity. And no, he isn’t much to look at, but he is important to the environment. In addition to dining on plant and animal matter, he is an aquatic scavenger, cleaning up decaying and rotting flesh from its watery environment. 

The claws of the Snapping Turtles come in handy when excavating a nest
 in gravel and hard ground where they like to deposit their eggs
The Snapping Turtle also has earned a bad rap for eating ducklings. While they do on occasion take unwary birds, to be fair, their own young offspring suffer a high mortality rate. Whereas the adults have few predators to contend with, mink, raccoons, opossum, fox, skunks and crows will readily unearth a Snapping Turtle nest and feast on the eggs.  Last weekend, while hiking atop one of the berms on Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area, we counted no less than a dozen or more nests that had been unearthed, all within a half-mile stretch.  The threat doesn’t end there for the young. Hatchlings are subject to the same predators in addition to herons, bitterns, hawks, owls and fishers just to name a few.      

This turtle uses every inch of his long neck while scanning his surroundings. 
Longer than most people realize, the turtle's neck is also heavily muscled and quick as lightning, able to strike in the blink of an eye. He’s an excellent swimmer and while he may move slowly along the ground. many a would-be Good Samaritan attempting to “help” one across the road has learned the hard way just how fast and how far back they can extend their neck.

Lastly, the Snapping Turtle has no choice but to tough out our long northern winter. It was once believed that all Snapping turtles go into a semi-hibernation called torpor, buried in a layer of mud and silt. While some indeed do spend the winter beneath a layer of muck, telemetric studies have shown some specimens fitted with transmitters to be active beneath the ice – nowhere near as active as in the warmer months, but barely moving about and using minimal oxygen.

For sure the Snapping Turtle is frowned upon by many, yet he has been on the scene since time immemorial and he has endured. He is a touch customer a verse from the Good Book comes to mind.  

Job: 41:1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?”

Until next time,
Jim & Claudia 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Killdeer Memories

The Killdeer can often be heard calling out it's name
 as it flies across the countryside.
It was May of 1962 when my family moved from the South side of Batavia to a newly constructed home on North Spruce St. in the Northeast corner of the city. Prior to moving there I had experienced feelings of trepidation, the angst of leaving old friends behind. However, any misgivings I might have had dissipated while we were still unloading our belongings.

A young lad the same age as me; his name was Pete Tierney, my  neighbor as it turned out to be, stopped to say hello. What’s more, just beyond our new home was a large stubble field and beyond that a swamp, both of which were bordered by a vast woodlot. Pete and I became fast friends from the start, exploring the woods, swamp, and fields as any curious and nature-loving twelve-year old boys would. 
It’s been fifty four years since my first spring on Batavia’s Northside, to a time when my attention was drawn to a number of strange-looking birds with a shrill call. Pete told me they were Killdeer, and together we discovered how they would feign a broken wing if you happen to get too close to their nest and/or young. One or both parents would run quickly in the opposite direction of the nest while holding one wing askew, as if to say, “come get me, I’m easier pickings.”     
These eggs are easy to miss, a natural defense mechanism.
Here lies one of the more remarkable examples of camouflage in nature. The female Killdeer deposits her eggs in nothing more than a slight depression out in the open, usually in a gravel and/or stubble field. Though easy to spot in this photo, chances are, if you were within a mere five feet you would never know it was there.  

These photos were taken last week while hiking one of the trails at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. On this day, while watching the Killdeers run along the ground and then hearing their shrill, airborne cry, they brought back recollections of Pete Tierney and our days of nature discovery. In those years the shrill cry of the Killdeer was heard on a daily basis from May thru August.  But that’s no longer the case.

The stubble field, the swamp and the wood lots are gone now, long since replaced by apartment complexes, condominiums and housing developments. Gone too is the cry of the Killdeer. Still, I’m grateful for those early years and sun-filled days of discovery and a companion like Pete to share it with. I’m thankful too, that the Lord saw fit to allow us to enjoy it long before the developers laid their eyes on it.

Psalm 84:3 - Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Nature's Babies Are Here!

Spring of the year is a time to welcome nature’s babies into the world, and while some youngsters of the wild tend to look both adorable and helpless, for the most part wilderness parents are excellent protectors and providers.   

A newborn fawn will spend most of its first few weeks lying very still, trying not to be seen.
We were doing yard work when we came across this fawn lying in a flower bed. Probably born the previous evening, it already knew enough to remain motionless and it never so much as twitched while we finished our task. We were also aware that its mother was close by, watching our every move. 

With dad in the lead, these goslings swim right alongside mamma's side.
"I wonder what's over here?"
A tad bit older than the goslings pictured above, and perhaps feeling a wee bit more independent, this youngster puts a little bit of distance between himself and his mom – but not too much.  

"Stay away from my babies, or you'll be sorry!"
Momma Goose is never too far way and always on the alert, ready to repel threats if necessary.  If by chance a person gets too close to her young, she’ll rear her head up, open her bill and hiss loudly. If, while in this mode, she starts to spread her wings and move toward you, it’s a good time to be someplace else!

This young squirrel was orphaned when a utility company
downed the tree its family called home.
Squirrels have two litters a year, the first taking place approximately sometime between February and April while the second occurs in August and September.   Interesting tidbit; they are one of the few mammals that can climb down a tree head first.  

Gen. 1:24 - Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures…….and it was so.”

Until next time
Jim & Claudia