Under The Shed ~ The Mystery Continues

It seems I spoke too soon with my last blog post!

You see, after the video where the fox went under the shed, there was this video showing the male bringing her a meal.  I felt this was a sure sign the vixen was having kits, because the female stays in the den with her young for the first couple weeks while the male hunts for food.  Turn on your sound to hear the two of them “talk”.

 

But the next couple of days showed only one fox visit, and in it, he brings a meal, but leaves with it right away. No calls. No lingering.

I feared I had chased them off unwittingly, after all.

The next couple of videos brought us back to squirrels and birds.  But not as many as before . . . so I still hoped the foxes were around.

And then suddenly, all in one night, there were six videos showing a porcupine coming and going from the entrance to the den under the shed. I suspected it was the climbing the young pine tree next to it, eating. This is the last video of the night . . .

 

It went inside!  That showed us two things, one, I was right about the female fox not being inside with kits. Perhaps I scared them into moving to their backup den, or perhaps they hadn’t had the kits yet, after all.

But this brought up a new question, did the porcupine have a porcupette under there?  (They typically have only one – two is very rare)  It is breeding season for them as well, after all.

That’s it, I thought. We’d be documenting porcupines this spring. They’re cute. And interesting!   This could be fun!

Then the next night, after a video or two of the porcupine hanging out, the fox returned to check on what was probably now their “back up” den.

Doesn’t he look a little surprised????

And the next day, I pulled the memory card again . . .

 

 

Did you see the porcupine move toward the den opening to protect it?  That’s the fastest I’ve seen it move yet!  The other behavior I noticed right away was how it slapped it tail in a “I mean it” way.   I was glad to see the fox take the movement seriously, so it didn’t get hurt.

So now I’m not sure who will end up claiming the den!

Stay tuned . . . I don’t think this is over yet . . .

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Under The Shed, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Under the Shed: Mystery Solved!

Just a couple days ago, I had begun a blog post to report out that whatever had been digging at the base of our shed, had stopped.

For the last couple weeks the trail camera picked up video after video of birds and squirrels foraging. And squirrels and birds. Gray squirrels. Red Squirrels.  In fact, those darn Red Squirrels got into the shed and taking a roll of paper towels, they strewed them everywhere!  It almost looked like they’d TP’d the place.  Which was a little comical, honestly.

So when the temperatures warmed up on Monday, I decided the coast was clear to pull some chairs from the shed to put on the porch.  My first Spring action!   After locking the shed back up again, I grabbed the memory card from the trail cam and went back in the house.

Later that night, I sat at my computer to watch what I thought would be more squirrel and bird footage.

Instead, I sat with my mouth hanging open when I found this . . .

Now, I find myself hoping I didn’t scare them off already!  I have two trail cameras aimed at that shed, and every finger and toe crossed that I can cross.  Wouldn’t it be fun to have some kit pictures as they emerge from the den for the first time???  Okay, I know I already did that, but it doesn’t get old. Ever.

Or Mom and kit photos?   Happy sigh!

Or . .. dare I suggest it .. . a live fox cam!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First we have to determine if they’re going to stay after I tromped all over the inside of the shed, lecturing the squirrels on cleaning up their “room”.

More to come . . .

Posted in Cooper and Packrat, Under The Shed, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Our Little Shed Mystery

I was so happy to see that our new house had this cute little garden shed.

We moved into our house right after Thanksgiving, so we only had time to store some of my gardening things inside, close the doors and before we knew it, winter arrived.

I looked out at it longingly through the weeks, thinking about opening it up in the Spring, carefully placing my stone ducks and turtles and frogs in the garden behind the house. I mentally placed my planter hooks based on which corners of the yard had full sun, and which had shade.

When temperatures reached 60 degrees a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t resist walking the yard and checking out any and all plants poking through the snow.

And then I noticed this . . .

Oh boy! Here we go again!  was my first thought.  The last time I found a hole and my  nature geek side began “wondering” what lived there, this happened.

And right there on that day, my third Cooper and Packrat eco-mystery book, Mystery of the Missing Fox was inspired. Written. Rewritten. Rewritten again. And published.

And now I needed to know what lived in this hole!

So I set up my trail camera and looked around the shed for clues as a blizzard bore down on us.  I smelled the faint odor of musk.  It could be a skunk.  Or a fox marking.

There was no second opening.

I checked the memory card every day for the next three days. It didn’t pick up any images, but on the third day, I noticed the opening had been dug out a little more.

My curiosity grew! What could it be?  People online had connections, stories and ideas.  In addition to fox and skunk, people had had woodchucks, minks, and feral cats living in rock walls and under buildings and porches.

The blizzard came and went with no signs at all. I checked again for another opening. Nothing.

On the next day, temperatures inched into the 40’s. I ventured outside for another look and found we’d had some activity overnight!

I grabbed the memory card and plugged it into my computer.  There were a dozen videos of snow falling and the end of the camera’s tie cord fluttering in front of it.  I began to wonder if it was another night of nothing videos.

The very last video showed something completely different . . .

Digging under the Shed

It’s not yet proof of what’s living next door to us, but it’s certainly a clue!  This fox has either claimed the hole under our shed as their den or backup den.  Or it was hunting for what moved in.

I’ll keep you posted on what happens over the next few weeks. It’s very possible we won’t see any more wildlife at all . . . But I hope we have a story in the making!

Posted in Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Our Little Shed Mystery

Portland Headlight

The Portland Headlight, Maine’s oldest lighthouse, is open year round. And while I love to visit in the summer when the gardens are in full bloom, the grass is green, and the warm breezes are blowing, it’s quite beautiful in the winter as well.

My son Ben wanted to take his drone to get aerial footage. Of course I asked to tag along with my own camera . . .  and I brought every lens I had.

As Ben sent his drone into the air . . .

I took to the cliffs in search of interesting photos.

and I found them!  Along the cliffs with my wide angle lens . . .

 

And out on the open water with my 500mm lens . . .

Ram’s Island Lighthouse

Even the wildlife, was abundant!  We saw several kinds of ducks, seagulls, loons and

Long-tail duck

Red-breasted Merganser

Female and Male Mallards

 

Ben and I did not take the short walk over to Fort Williams Park this time, but the 90 acre park is perfect for picnicking and beautiful, scenic views.

Between the Headlight and the Fort, there are a couple geo-caches here, too, if you’re looking to add to your list of finds.

Once Ben has edited his videos, I’ll be sure to post it here. The Headlight from the air is certainly impressive!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Hiking/Kayaking, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Portland Headlight

The Big Move

For those of you who follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter, you probably realize why I haven’t posted on my blog for so long.   Having a book launch for Mystery of the Bear Cub last October, then selling our beloved campground in November, packing up 27 years of our lives, settling into a new house, all in the midst of the Thanksgiving – Christmas season . . . . all while going to school every day . . . well, it took every ounce of energy I had.

And just when I was getting my feet back under me, our beloved 13 year old pup, Cookie,  became ill and passed away.  I was heartbroken.

I won’t kid you . . . I began to miss our land, because those walks grounded me.

Lower Range Pond right out my front doorstep . . .

It’s trails, it’s wildlife . . .

and the opportunities to study, research and then put those nature findings into Cooper and Packrat’s adventures . . . and then to take these photos and wildlife sighting stories into schools to encourage another generation to wildlife watch with respect and care . . .

well, it had become my love. My passion.

 

Now mind you, we had moved to a beautiful home in a beautiful location . . . only steps from a the edge of a new lake.

But I didn’t get the chance to explore it before the cold weather moved in. And I didn’t have a trail I could fall out my backdoor and step onto at a moments notice when the writing got hard. Or I wanted to procrastinate a bit.

I kept asking myself, would I, could I,  still get my nature geek fix here?

The sunsets were certainly amazing!

I set up my bird feeders and waited anxiously. It was a first step.

Slowly they began to arrive . . .

Junco

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Downy Woodpecker

Yellow Finches

Chickadee

And then, they came.  The bird I’d been trying to attract to my Poland feeder for  27 years with no luck.   My Grandmother’s and mother’s favorite bird.

My son saw them first.

The male  . . .

And then the female . . .

Cardinals!!   I’d always wanted to study Cardinals!!  This pair is still elusive, and I’m still trying to get that crisp, clear shot, but they’re here!

And just a week later, a flock of  nine turkeys showed up . . .

I hadn’t had turkeys on my back lawn before!

I set up my writing secretary in the sun room, where I had a view of the outdoors in every direction. Skylights, floor to ceiling windows …

And oh, I quickly realized that was a big mistake. I began to have the hardest time concentrating!  But I was in heaven.

A Pileated Woodpecker showed up one day . . . . at least 75 to 100  yards  through the trees.

I hear him quite regularly now, and when I do, it makes me smile.

And I heard the call of a Barred Owl, clear as a bell from across the lake, on another afternoon.

I found a new trail, just a short drive away, and friends encouraged me to lookup a couple more in the area. Then lake froze over and I made plan to snowshoe its edges, too. But what a difficult year for snowshoeing it has been!  Lots and lots of rain between the snowstorms.

Then last Wednesday, on a school snow day, I saw a familiar shape and color through the treeline at the back of the property.

A pair of foxes!!   I grabbed my camera and flew to the second floor window.  Opening it, I listened.  I knew from studying our foxes and their den for four years, that this is mating season for them.  Would they come closer?  Would I hear them call?  I waited . . .

and waited . . .

And was rewarded . . .

When this adult trotted through my backyard.

Click, click, click went my camera.  This fox heard. And paused.

Coming to a full stop, it looked around for me. But I was tucked in the house in the shadows. I captured a photo or two, before it trotted off to the neighbor’s backyard.

I had tears in my eyes, for in that moment I remembered my own words of encouragement to readers . . . whenever I speak at my school presentations, I always end by telling them that if they look hard enough, no matter where they live, they will find nature in their own backyards, too.  You just have to slow down, and look for it.  Be open to it.

Yes, there’s going to be plenty of wildlife in this new location. And if too much time passes between sightings, I can always hike by Lower Range Pond to check the eagle, loon and fox nesting/den spots as I always have, thanks to a generous offer from the new owners.   AND my husband and I will be hiking, geocaching, sailing, kayaking and more this Spring and Summer. I plan to report back on those adventures, the pros and cons, whether they are family friendly hikes or more difficult, so you all can go out and try them, too.

I hope to post once a week – sometimes about my writing goals, sometimes on school visits, and of course everything nature. I am, after all a nature geek.

Please come back often, or follow me on Facebook (Tamra Wight – Children’s Author),  Twitter (@TamraWight), or Instagram (tamrawight).

Here’s to 2018 and a new chapter full of adventures!

 

 

 

Posted in Hiking/Kayaking, Uncategorized, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Big Move

Breakfast For Little Kingbirds

While kayaking early one morning, I spied this Kingbird sitting at the top of a tree.

I raised my camera to capture it’s profile against the dark blue sky, when suddenly, it took flight, swooping to a nearby nest.  Sitting so low on the water, I couldn’t see inside. And I just HAD to see inside.

Paddling back up the shoreline, I found a spot where I could pull my kayak up on land. Pushing through tall blueberry bushes, I made my way up a banking until I could look down upon it. Focusing through branches and leaves, I was so pleased to see  . . .

little beaks.  One, two, three.

Mama checked each one . . .

then flew off.

They settled down in their home.   And I waited. And waited. And waited. The loons came by. The eaglet called out .  I was just about to leave, when one little chick raised its head high.

When it opened its beak, I knew it sensed a parent nearby.

Two beaks showed themselves.  I focused my camera . . .

And suddenly, Mom was back! With a huge dragonfly!

She stuffed it in the lucky chick’s beak . . .

But it didn’t fit!  She pulled the dragonfly back, and I felt so sad for the little one who had his meal and lost it in less than a minute.

But I needn’t have worried, she tried again . . .

And this time he took it!

I think this “you-doubted-me?” look, was meant for me

Inch by inch, that little one slowly swallowed the dragonfly . . .

until there was nothing left!  Where on earth did he put it?

I wasn’t able to get back to the nest for nine days, and sadly, they were already gone. I hope these little three made it!

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Breakfast For Little Kingbirds

Fox Family 2017

Over April Vacation, I spied a pair of cardinals hanging around my bird feeder.

In the 26 years we’d owned the campground, I had NEVER had a pair of cardinals visit me! To say I was excited was an understatement!  When I saw the male feeding the female during their courtship, I was in love. I couldn’t wait to photograph them.

It didn’t take long for me to realize, though, how skittish they were. I swear, I’d put a finger on the house window to open it, and they’d be gone. For hours.  But I had a plan . . . my cloak of invisibility! A camouflage colored cloth that covers me from head to toe, with a looking window and a slot for my camera.

Early one morning, I found a spot among the bushes in front of the house and I waited.  And waited. And waited.  Juncos came. Blue Jays were fooled into visiting. Chickadees and sparrows and even the flycatcher that likes to nest in the eaves of our workshop, stopped by to snack.

Just as I was about to throw off the cloak, I saw a flash of orange from the edge of my lawn.

But she hadn’t seen me! The cloak did it’s job!

Soundlessly she entered the front yard, hoping to catch some little squirrels, or perhaps a mouse eating seeds.

Well, she couldn’t see me, but she quickly heard me.

The click, click, click of my camera caught her ear .  . . they have very good hearing. And I wasn’t far away at all.

The fox visited my front lawn several times over school vacation week. This isn’t the first time we’ve had April fox sightings. Their den is nearby and just after the kits emerge, the adults tend to hunt closer to home. But the minute my campers start rolling in, the fox finds a new trail to hunt from.

I went to check the den often toward the end of April and the beginning of May (but always from afar) hoping to catch sight of the kits.  I even sat on a tree stump under my cloak of invisibility one day –  for two hours!  The adult walked by, but never even looked toward the openings in the banking. I told my husband that day that I’d given up hope. “They’ve must have chosen a new location.”

Then one afternoon, after closing up the campground store, I told my family I was heading to the lake to photograph the eagles. But as I stepped of the porch, I turned toward the fox den instead. I hadn’t yet taken down the trail camera, I reasoned. “Today’s a good day for it,”

That day turned out to better than I expected. Because there, playing on the banking, were the kits!

How adorable are these little buggers?

There were five in all!

They wrestled, nipped each other’s ears and pounced. If a strange noise filled the woods, they were in their den in a flash, only to come back out again the minute it passed.

Their antics had me giggling silently. I could have watched them all day!

What do you suppose these two are looking at?

I hope the hustle and bustle of the campground doesn’t stress out the adult foxes, causing them to move to a new den. I’d love to watch these little ones for a bit longer and collect some behavior to talk about with readers at next year’s school visits.

Oh, and by the way, I did finally capture those elusive cardinals . . .

I sure hope they stick around awhile, too.

Edited to add:  The fox family did move shortly after I’d written this post.  I sure do wish them well.

Posted in Campground, Cooper and Packrat, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Fox Family 2017

Nesting Eagles ~ 2017

Our eagles have been patiently sitting on their eggs since mid-March. 

Through wind and rain and snowstorms too!

I’ve been trekking down to the lake every four days or so to check on them.  As long as I see one of them on the nest, I know all is well.

One day early last week, I’d checked to find everything as it should be.  I’d begun to walk home, and was just out of sight of the nest when I heard the adult crying out over and over and over again. I raced back to find this . . .

A juvenile eagle in the area!  And it seemed to be chasing the adult!

This was new-to-me behavior!

Usually, it’s the other way around, with the adult shooing off a juvenile.

The adult came back to sit on the nest, the two of them hollering and warning and fussing together, until that juvenile left the area.

Then everything was quiet again.

After a few moments, the adult that had flown in, lifted up into the air . . .

And it was then I saw it . . .

It had supper in its talons.  THAT’S what the juvenile had been after.

The adult silently flew to a nearby island.

Landing in a tree, it ate its meal in peace and quiet.

Every now and then, when I’m down at the lake, I’ll hear the adult on the nest call out. I haven’t seen the juvenile since, but I have a feeling he’s hanging around still, looking for a handout! We’ll have to watch closely to see if it becomes a danger to the chicks after they are born.

Posted in Hiking/Kayaking, Wildlife Sightings | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Nesting Eagles ~ 2017

Winter Wildlife – Otters

Oh, it’s been so very long since I posted! And I apologize, dear reader. You see, Book 4, Mystery of the Bear Cub has been the hardest of all of Cooper’s adventures to write.  I absolutely love the content: Black Bears, the evils of trash dumping, and kids making a difference.  But when you write a series, the trick is to keep each book different enough to be interesting and the mystery a surprise, yet you want it to have some of the same content so you feel as if you’re curling up with a best friend.  Right this minute, Mystery of the Bear Cub is with my editor and a Black Bear expert!  I’m so very lucky to have the advice of Melissa Kim and and Deborah Perkins as we put the final touches on this one.

Whenever I get stuck, I find myself doing one of two things:  One, stand in front of the food cupboard and nibble as I think.  Or two, take a walk around the campground property. Those of you who know me best, know I take my camera everywhere I go. And I’ve caught some pretty interesting wildlife on the move lately!

When I go to school visits, I’m always asked what my favorite animal is . . . that’s like asking who my favorite child is!  I can’t choose. But this otter had me fascinated for most of the winter.  I devised ways to get closer and closer still to his fishing hole.

If anyone had watched me stalking this otter, they would have giggled at me. We have a long skinny piece of shoreline that juts out into the lake. It’s a piece of old cart road, before Route 26 was built. It’s really only a footpath wide. If I knew he was out there on the ice, as I reached the beginning of this section of path, I’d take off my squeaky snowshoes and wait.

The minute he slipped into the water after his next meal, I’d walk closer and closer still. When he popped out again, I’d freeze.

Otters have very good hearing, but their eyesight is not so good. So as long as I stood still, he would stay fishing. If I moved too much, or too close, he’d dive in and slip away, never to return again that day.

Up to this point, I had only gotten interesting, but dark and grainy photos because of the distance. I longed for close ups. Crisp photos with lots of detail. So I decided to add the extension to my camera lens, and lug down my cloak of invisibility, which is no small feat . . . it’s heavy!

Using my stop and go technique, I got as close as I dared.  Finally, when he dove again, I raced forward to a spot closer to his favorite hole in the ice, where I could stand behind some bushes. Then I threw the cloak over me and the camera. And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I was rewarded!

Still not as crisp as I’d like, but a little better still.

Look at this otter chow down! I swear this guy does nothing but eat! And I wondered where on earth he “puts it all” It makes sense though when you hear that its body digests food in only an hour.

I sat there for close to two hours that day, just focusing on him. And while I still wasn’t as close as these pictures make it seem, I can use my camera lens like binoculars to observe and take note of his behaviors.

What I love most, is how he uses his front feet to hold the fish. From what I read, otters will also eat freshwater mussels, large water beetles, crabs, crayfish, bird eggs (could explain the loons eggs lost during last Spring in the first nesting), fish eggs, and small mammals (muskrats, mice, young beavers). So far, I’ve only seen them eat fish. Lots and lots of fish.

Now that the little patch of open water has grown, he doesn’t show up like he used to. But I’m content with research I gained, and those lovely hours of solitude by the edge of the wintering lake.

You can be sure, he’ll end up in a book sometime.

 

Posted in Cooper and Packrat, Hiking/Kayaking, Wildlife Sightings, writing notes | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Winter Wildlife – Otters

Teachers and Librarians! Win a Classroom Set Of COOPER AND PACKRAT Books!

Long before I walked through the doors of Whittier Middle School as an Ed Tech (only 5 years ago), I held the librarians and teachers I knew in high regard.  I have friends and family in these positions, and of course, I met my community members in our local schools when my children attended. I thought I knew the roles pretty well.

When I sold my first book though, and became a published author, I began traveling outside my county and even my state to visit other school systems. My education circle grew . .

and grew . . .

and grew.

I learned teachers in all districts, states, and grades have many things in common. They work long hours, always at school, and usually at home. They stay late to teach one-on-one. They take extra classes to improve their own learning and they attend the basketball games of their students. All while managing their own family commitments.

But now that I’m there, inside the school walls, I see even more. I’ve witnessed teachers buy food. Join track with a student, so the student can participate.  Donate clothing. Slip books into backpacks. And yes, even purchase the supplies to make one hundred Incredible, Edible Aquifers, in order to make learning about groundwater contamination fun.

They’ve gone to funerals. Thrown birthday parties. Wiped tears. Celebrated their reluctant reader’s book choice.

And I swear, every single one of them buy a hundred, gazillion pencils, even after threatening not to.

Everywhere I’ve gone, every school I’ve presented at, you feel it the minute you walk through the doors. Teachers care.  They do what’s necessary to mold the minds of our future generations. And not just in Science and History and Reading and Writing . . . but they teach values, too.

This has been a tough couple of weeks for all of you.  For me, too.  But I want you all to remember, so many people out “there” have your back. I see the kindness every day . . . from the author who donates a box full of books, to the parent who sends in a box of pencils.

Me, I want to let you know I hear you too. I wish I was a louder person, I’m just not comfortable shouting from a roof top about anything. But I’ve been listening. Watching. Researching. And yes, doing my part, albeit quietly.

One of my favorite things, is to contribute to a classroom/school library. So today, when I feel we all need the positivity most, I’m opening up a contest to all teachers and librarians. To be entered, all you have to do is post an inspiring classroom moment in the comments below. My goal: to compile a list of uplifting, teacher and librarian moments!  Good things happening in the classroom and school!

A celebration of all you do!

Here are the rules:

  • No names of students or teachers or administrators in your story without permission, please
  • To be eligible, give your name, your school’s name, and state.  If you aren’t a teacher or librarian, lead them here to enter under their own name.
  • Tell us an inspiring, uplifting moment in the comments below. It can be between you and a student, you and a parent, another teacher or the class pet!  But again. No names, unless you have permission. Confidentiality is a must.  Well, okay, maybe the name of the Class Pet. I don’t think they’d mind. But if you do use the class pet . . . I’d love to see a picture!  Because, you know, I am a nature geek and all.    Hmmm – maybe my next contest will include them!

Prizes:

1st Prize     A classroom set of hardcover, Cooper and Packrat Books AND a Skype Visit (provided you’ve read or at least begun the books with your classroom and that we can agree on a time and date)

2nd Prize   A classroom set of Cooper and Packrat Books

3rd Prize  One Cooper and Packrat adventure of your choice

All entries must be entered by midnight, February 14th.   A winner will be randomly chosen on Wednesday, February 15th, by my classroom and posted here, on February 16th.  Rules must be followed to be eligible.

 

And just because I wouldn’t ask you to do something I wouldn’t want to, here is my favorite teaching moment:

Taking students to the Fire Station can be so much fun.  Here I am with the teacher I work with, Shannon Shanning (using her name with permission)

The students had challenged us that day, to see which one could get dressed in the fire fighters gear faster.  And you know, I don’t remember exactly who won.  But I do remember the students and fire fighters cheering, Shannon and I laughing, all the while learning at the same time about sportsmanship, firefighter gear and community.


Edited on 2/15 to  add the winners! 

I’m so very glad I didn’t have to judge based on the inspirational stories below . . . each one was told from the heart and brought tears to my eyes.  What amazing students you have . . . and how fortunate they are to have had you in their lives.

Today my students took time out from their National History Day duties to pull three names from a pencil holder. In the order pulled, with first place pulled first . . .

Thank you all for taking the time to enter!  I will be in touch very, very shortly.

Everyone, check back again soon. I tend to do this every now and again . . .

Posted in Contests, Cooper and Packrat, School Visits, Teaching Notes | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments