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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!




Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mammals of Southeastern Pennsylvania


As I’m writing this blog post, rain and ice has been falling since yesterday. The cold temperatures, rain, and ice may make you want to stay inside, bundled nice and warm, but here at TLC, we believe “the warmth is in the walk!” Despite the 16-degree weather last Saturday, a room full of winter-ready, excited participants joined me and expert TLC Naturalist, Gary, to learn all about the Mammals of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
 
The program started out indoors at TLC’s Walnut Hill Headquarters, where Gary laid out fascinating pelts, skulls, and antlers of mammals from our area. Gary began the program by talking about what makes a mammal a mammal: being warm-blooded, having hair, birthing live babies (except for Platypuses, which lay eggs, of course), and having mammary glands. He touched on the apex predators which historically lived here, including the Eastern Timberwolf, the Bobcat, and the Black Bear, and how in their absence, the ecosystem has changed completely. Naturally, this brought us to a discussion about the White-tailed Deer, whose populations have exploded in recent years because of the lack of the apex predators. This explosion in Deer has given the invasive plants in our area an advantage; the White-tailed Deer have evolved to choose the native plants as their food source leaving invasives like Autumn-olive, Multiflora rose, and Mile-a-Minute completely untouched.
The photo on the left shows Gary holding the pelt of a Nutria, an invasive species in North America which is part of the rodent family. On the right, he is explaining how mammal's skulls have evolved to eat meat, vegetation, or both.
Then, we started to talk about other families of mammals: Canines (Coyotes, Eastern Gray Fox, and Red Fox), the Felines (Bobcats), the Weasels (Minks, Otters, Martins) and more.  Gary discussed the different senses these mammals use—how Canines with their long noses utilize their sense of smell, and Felines have short noses, but big eyes which allow them to hunt primarily by sight. He pulled out a Coyote skull, and showed us how these carnivores have teeth built for tearing and slicing meat as opposed to the teeth of herbivorous deer, which primarily have molars for grinding vegetation. As omnivores, human teeth fall somewhere in-between, with both incisors for tearing and molars for grinding.
 
At that point, we grabbed our Tracks & Scat field guides, bundled up, and headed outside to search for evidence of mammals in the area. Since we had already learned most mammals are nocturnal, we knew searching for evidence is the best way to understand what is living in our area. Just steps away, right beneath the Chandler Mill Bridge we were able to find a large amount of frozen tracks in the mud. We immediately spotted some tiny tracks leading up to the creek, which we keyed out to be a gray squirrel. We moved further along the creek, and found raccoon tracks, more squirrel tracks, domestic dog tracks, and what we believe were mink tracks!
The tracks on the left were left by a Raccoon, the photo on the right shows various different animal tracks.

TLC offers a host of outdoor education programs all year round at Bucktoe Creek Preserve. Up next we have Wildlife in Winter Part II: Adaptations with Naturalist Holly Merker. This program will be held on Saturday, February 20th from 1:00-2:30. Learn how wildlife in our area survive the extreme winter weather by using different types of adaptations, such as camouflage. Check out all of our upcoming programs here.


 

 

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