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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

February Owl Prowl & Wildlife in Winter

BucktoeCreek Preserve, TLC’s 297-acre private sister preserve, had a lot of visitors this past weekend, as we had both our Full Moon Owl Prowl on Friday night, and our Wildlife in Winter: Adaptations on Saturday. Both of these programs had been rescheduled from the brutal weekend of Winter Storm Jonas, when we had multiple feet of snow on the ground.
 

Full Moon Owl Prowl

Fortunately, no snow was coming our way this weekend, so we bundled up Friday night, met our full group of owl prowlers, along with our two owl experts, and started learning about the owls that frequent Chester County. Tim and Kelley, our owl experts for the night, went through the 8 species of owls that can be spotted in Chester County, spouting fascinating facts about owls to our captivated audience. Did you know owls are completely silent when they fly? All other birds’ feathers make a “whoosh whoosh” noise as they fly through the air, but owls’ feathers are completely silent, making it easier for them to sneak up on their prey.

Learning about the largest resident owl in Chester County, the Great Horned Owl

It was a windy, chilly night, making our chances of seeing or hearing an owl pretty low, but we had high hopes as we split our group into two for our hike. This allows each group to be quieter, which theoretically gives us a better chance of sneaking up on an owl. As the group I was with proceeded into the woodlands, we stopped to try to call for an Eastern Screech Owl, followed by a Barred Owl. We were unsuccessful, but decided to search for eye shine in case we hadn’t seen the bird fly in. As we scanned the trees, we noticed two small eyes, with greenish/yellow eye shine peering back at us from a tall, distant tree. The creature kept staring at us, turning its head away a few times, but it seemed generally undisturbed by us, until we finally decided to move on, unsure of who we had just crossed paths with. Afterwards, one of our participants Annette, did a little detective work and found out that owls only have red eye shine. I followed up her detective work with a little of my own to find raccoons are the most likely animals to be in that habitat with a greenish/yellow eye shine. How fascinating that you can identify nocturnal animals by the color of their eye shine! We continued on, but unfortunately the wind was keeping the owls quiet. We met back up with the second group, who were unable to find owls either, for a nice wrap up with some delicious hot chocolate to warm up with. While we didn’t see any owls, our participants were certainly not disappointed, and I’m sure we will see them back for the next owl prowl, held on April 22nd from 7:30pm-9:00pm.
 

Wildlife in Winter



Searching for evidence of wildlife in winter

Saturday was the day of our Wildlife in Winter: Adaptations program, but with the weather being in the 60’s it certainly didn’t feel like winter! Many families joined Environmental Educator Holly Merker, eager to learn a bit about our native animals, and hopeful that we would find some evidence and maybe even spot some critters living on Bucktoe Creek Preserve. We started out learning a little bit about the adaptations animals may use to help themselves survive through the winter. Some animals, such as fox and squirrels, do a behavior called caching. This means when their food source is abundant, they save some and store it for a time when it might not be so easy to find food. Other animals use camouflage to keep themselves hidden since the habitat in the winter is much sparser. Our taxidermy fox was a perfect example, the browns and reds of the fur blended perfectly with the meadow. We learned that some birds go into a state of torpor every night, meaning their heart and respiration rates slow down and their body heat drops, effectively conserving the energy they have so diligently built up during the day.


Once we were filled with interesting tidbits on adaptations our native animals use, we went out on the trail with a scavenger hunt as our guide. We wanted to find tracks, scat, and any other sorts of evidence left behind, and we were not disappointed! Almost immediately after being on the trail, we spotted some fox scat, along with little holes built by rodents on the sides of the trails. A participant quickly spotted a praying mantis egg case, and a little further down the trail we found an insect gall. We were lucky enough to see a rabbit scurry into the bushes, and hear an Eastern Towhee singing from the brush. Everybody had a wonderful time, and maybe even learned a little bit too! Join us for a last Wildlife in Winter program held on March26th from 1:00pm-2:30pm, focused on Migration.
Looking at a praying mantis egg case

We had a great weekend exploring the outdoors and learning about our native creatures! Join us for one of our upcoming programs and have your own outdoor adventure!




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