June’s Wildlife Sightings

June has been a very exciting month for wildlife watching! I couldn’t resist showing you some of the sightings over the past few weeks.

I’m so in love with our new location. There’s so much to see, so many animals to watch and learn from!

 

Now that we’re on the verge of summer, I’m out on the lake more and more.  I’ve learned there’s three beaver huts . . . and at least one is occupied.

Beaver sighting

Because I received a warning, not once, not twice, but three times!

A beaver tail splash!

Many mornings I see a cormorant diving for breakfast, so I knew it liked to frequent the lake. But imagine my surprise to come upon it hanging its wings to dry while perched on a tree branch!

 

A cormorant hangs its wings to dry

 

Cormorant in flight

Cormorant from a distance

I know there’s a visiting heron too!  I haven’t been able to get close enough for good photos, but here’s the proof, all the way on the other side of the lake.

From loons . . .

To painted turtles . . .  

I’m greeted by wildlife around every corner.

Goose and gosling enjoying dandelions for lunch

Canadian gosling

 

Mallards

Just this past Thursday morning, a snapping turtle laid eggs in my garden!  I was late for work, watching her move around, looking for just the right spot.

I’ll post more on that experience later, after I’ve edited all the photos.

School is out in just a few more days!  Check back soon for more posts on my backyard nature sightings, and some travel nature sightings as well!

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This Spring’s Backyard Visitors

When I talk to students at school visits, I always show my wildlife photography on the big screen.  Loons, eagles with chicks, fox kits at their den with the adults, bears, snapping turtles battling.  I talk about how researching them first-hand from hiking trails and my kayak inspires my stories and helps me find just the right describing words so that readers all over the country can picture these animals in their minds.

I end the visit with backyard photos, and tell my readers that with a little patience, they can wildlife watch, too!

I’m fortunate to live near a lake, and I never sit by it without my camera, as you never know when you’ll have visitors to photograph!

This pair of loons seemed to be searching along the shoreline in early May.  After they passed by the first time, I grabbed my camera and ran down to sit on the rock wall at the edge of the water.  Sure enough, forty minutes later, they passed by again.

My patience had paid off!  Because I sat so still, they came right past my dock . . .

They even seemed to be checking “me” out!   I’d hoped they would nest nearby, but alas, I haven’t seen them that up close and personal since.  Only from afar.

And only one at a time, so I suppose there’s a chance the other is on the nest.  I hope to get out in the kayak soon to investigate.

Another time, a Canadian Goose family came close enough for me to capture a photo with my long lens.

I kept hoping they’d come by the dock too, but they turned and traveled across the lake to the other side.  I saw enough to know there are three families traveling together!

One of my favorite photography subjects in my new backyard, is the hummingbirds.

I must take two hundred photos to get one good one!

They’re so quick!! They’re wings beat 53 times per second!   I may just have to use my camouflage cloak to try to photograph them.

I have tons of flowers in the yard and by the lake ~ hanging pots, flowering bushes, and perennials. They won’t go hungry in my gardens!

A visitor I had had in the campground each Spring, without fail, was the Baltimore Oriole.  I’d put out oranges  May 15th, and two or three pairs would arrive almost immediately.  When I heard they’d been seen in the area, I put out a couple orange halves, even though it was only May 5th.  I waited and waited, but I only had the one visitor around May 20th for a day or two.  But it takes time, so I haven’t given up quite yet.

Another day, as I crossed from the house to my gardening shed, I saw this gorgeous Garter Snake, doing the same!

It was crossing from the shed toward the house, but he took a quick turn to head down to the lake.

It was so long!

What I loved most while watching this snake, was how it would slither through the lawn, then raise his head slowly and sway back and forth with the grass while the wind blew.

I really enjoyed watching the Garter Snake. As long as I was at the end of my long,  500mm lens, that is.

There are so very many birds flitting in and out of my yard this spring!

We have a pair of cardinals . . .

And a pair of hungry Hairy Woodpeckers down by the lake.

There’s also two pair of Robins who are collecting grasses for their nearby nests.

There is so much to see in our backyards if we only stop for a moment to watch and listen.  Listen and watch. From Insects to birds to reptiles to mammals . . .

I’d love hear what you find.

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Loggerhead Sea Turtle Release

Those who have followed along on my wildlife adventures, might remember that I have a connection to Sanibel Island.  My husband’s parents introduced me to it years ago and it has become a home away from home.

It’s been a couple years since I’ve been able to go, and I couldn’t wait to get back with my camera. It’s a routine for me to get up in the morning and walk the beach just after sunrise, because the stillness of the world at that time of day and the softness of the light, makes it one of the best times for wildlife watching.

On our second day in, I almost didn’t take my morning walk because David had twisted his knee a bit and had decided to rest a day and you know .. . I thought, “if he isn’t going” . . . any old excuse to sleep in a bit.

But he encouraged me to go. So we made plans for me to walk the beach, then on to one of our favorite breakfast places, where he’d meet up with me. It was a half mile to the beach from Periwinkle Park Sanibel, two miles to the Sanibel Lighthouse and another half mile to a little restaurant for breakfast.

On the way, I got teary several times with all the beauty and wildlife around me . . . . ospreys feeding chicks, herons wading, a little banded Snowy Plover (Endangered! More on it later), a type of heron I’d never seen before (research needed), dolphins, more osprey, and shells galore! My heart was full.

And then, I saw a crowd on the beach up ahead. A news crew was there. People were smiling, nodding, and at the center of it all, an actual Loggerhead Sea Turtle! *GASP*

I’m such a nature geek . . . you all know that . . . I ran to join the group and waded into knee deep water with my 500mm lens and camera bag . . .

and to witness CROW – Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc. release this gorgeous creature back into the wild. it was such a humbling experience!

The turtle was a female, who was suffering from red tide poisoning and loggerhead anemia poisoning. Congratulations CROW on a successful rehabilitation!

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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 . . .

 

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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 . . .

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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!

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

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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!

 

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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.

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