Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
One of the original hacked birds, a female, nests near the Guntersville dam. She does not seem to mind the proximity to people. Her head is yellowish that is how you can identify her. Older bird's white feathers yellow with age.
There are eagles year round on Guntersville Lake. Many of the nesters stay as residents, but right now is the highest the local population will be for the year with the influx of winter migrants. The migrants are mostly from the Great Lakes regions and they will return there starting in February.
For a great opportunity to see and learn about bald eagles come to Guntersville and stop by the park. Keep an eye out for eagles all along the Tennessee River in Alabama. If you cannot get to Guntersville, Pickwick Lake is another excellent spot to see eagles.
To see the Lake Guntersville State Park's Eagle Awareness 20009 Brochure go to:
Thursday, December 25, 2008
This afternoon, of course, was spent putting it up and testing it. Here the Stealth Cam is up, and I started trying it out...
Monday, December 22, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Alabama supplejack (Berchemia scandens) is easy to spot at this time of year in the bare north
The supplejack, also know as rattan vine, climbs up supports by scrambling up over trees or twining up tree trunks with its pliant vines. It prefers moist soils, but it is not unusual to find it growing on dry, dolomite glades in the Ozarks tangled across the rocks. The lianas are quite strong measuring up to three inches across, and sometimes they throttle the supporting trunk killing the tree. Many walking sticks with a natural spiral form were made by supplejack vine! The "rattan" vines have been used in making wicker in this county, and although I do not think it is being commercially used, for artisans it is a good basket material.
The flowers bloom in May and June. They are non-descript tiny, star-shaped green flowers grouped in panicles at the end of stems. Some places the vine is thick enough to be the dominant pollen used to produce a dark colored amber honey. In
The supplejack in this photo is the same as in the above winter photos. Can you find it? Look in the right hand top corner.
Pam Croom © 2008
References about Supplejack:
Kurz, D. 1997. Shrub and Woody Vine of
Lieux, M.H. A 1971. Melissopalynological Study of 54 Lousiana (
Miller, J.H. and K.V. Miller.
Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, C. R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the
Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Continued from "The Corpse in the Garage"
total length 3 3/4 inches, body length 2 1/18 inches, tail length 5/8 inch, forefoot length 3/8 inch (without nails), hind foot length (without nails) 9/16 inch
The shrew I found in the garage was tiny, if you have never seen one, it is apparent from my measurements that they are quite small. Since his tail is only slightly longer than his back foot, he is a short-tailed shrew. In the southeast, there are several short-tailed shrews. There is the least shrew (Cryptotis parva), but they are very small and distinctly bicolor. My guy is not like that. The other short-tailed shrews are in the Blarina species. There are three or four Blarinas depending if you are a taxonomic lumper or splitter: northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), southern short-tailed shrew (Blarina carolinensis), Elliot's short-tailed shrew (Blarina hylophaga), and Everglade short-tailed shrew (Blarina peninsulae) as a species if you are a splitter, or Blarina brevicada peninsulae as a subspecies if you are a lumper. In north
What are the differences between the northern and southern? Minor, and somewhat esoteric, skull differences are found and to some degree, size. The best detectable difference is chromosomal count, but as far as I can tell, there has been no comprehensive genetic study of short-tailed shrew distributions in
So, not knowing what shrew it was, I thought I would consult the authorities, and I whipped off an email to the Anniston Museum of Natural History:
“I am trying to find out what short-tailed shrews live in north
I promptly received an answer back from Dr. D. Spaulding, Curator of Collections. He sent me an
“I have attached a list of all the Land Mammals of
His answer or lack of answer tells me volumes...that there is probably not a definitive answer without genetic studies. So I do not know what kind of short-tailed shrew it is (I’m leaning to southern, but what do I know).
Next, what is its gender? I've been calling it a he, but I really do not know its gender. These shrews do not have an external scrotum as the testes are housed internally in the body, a primitive feature. The birth canal of the female is not a separate external opening. A shrew is a primitive mammal and has a cloaca, the external opening, into which the urinary, intestinal, and reproductive tracts empty. So there is no obvious external gender difference. There are minor size differences reported between males and females, but that is relative and not a definitive marker.
So what do I know? The shrew is small, it is either a northern or southern short-tailed shrew, its gender is unknown, and it died from undetermined causes. I would make a poor policewoman! I am not the only one lacking the facts, science know very little about these shrews. Their semi-fossorial (semi-burrowing) lifestyle along with that they do not reliably enter into traps makes them difficult to study.
Why care about a small mammal such as the shrew that you may never see, well...
Assuming that each individual consumes an average of about one-third its own weight each day (eight grams), the army of 84 million mole shrews [his name for short-tailed shrews] in Wisconsin consumes more than 500 million tons of pests annually, and equivalent of two big truck loads a day for each county in the state. If we assume that each Blarina averages less than three invertebrates (insects, snails) a day and less than two mice a year then numbers consumed would reach the almost unbelievable, yet not unlikely, number of 90 billion invertebrates and 150 million mice...The mole shrew must be accepted in the class of mammals as a very useful ally to man.
Just think, without shrews in your yard you might be overrun with roly-polys!
Later what is known of the cool natural history of short-tailed shrews...
Pam Croom © 2008
References used in "The Corpse in the Garage" and "The Facts, Just the Facts, Mam"
Brown, L.N. 1997. A Guide to the Mammals of the
Chapman, S. 1990. The Natural History of Shrews. The Natural History of Mammals Series. Comstock Pub.
Choate, J.R., J.K. Jones, Jr., and C Jones. 1994. Handbook of Mammals of the South-Central States.
Fry, B. G., The Poisonous Primate?!, http://www.venomdoc.com/loris/slow_loris.html accessed 12/3/08
George, S.B., J.R. Choate, and H.H.Genoways. 1986. Mammalian Species. 261: 1-9
McCay, T.S. 2001. Blarina carolinensis. Mammalian Species. 673: 1-7
Pepling, R. S. 2004. Critter Chemistry: The Stunning Saliva Of Shrews, Researchers are trying to unravel the mystery of the shrew's venomous brew. Chemical & Engineering News. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/critter/8242shrews.html. accessed 12/3/2008
Schwartz, C.W. and E.R. Schwartz. 2001. The Wild Mammals of
Pam Croom © 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
“Looking askance at the black blob on the garage floor, I simply could not imagine what dark colored thing the cats could have urped-up. Standing over it, the blob resolved into a small still body, the little corpse was that of a shrew, an unlikely find in a garage-a mouse highly likely-but a shrew no. I smoothed the dark fur then picked up the sad little body turning it over inspecting the stiff and cold body the only apparent injury its poor little bloodied nose. It seemed unlikely a shrew, somewhat fossorial in habit, would voluntarily venture across such a vast plain of concrete drive only to enter a garage containing a dreaded nemesis's litter boxes. I am not sure, if it crept in injured and died or my cats did it in, but my best guess is that one of the two calicos roaming the yard caught the poor creature and was playing with it on the drive when it slipped under the garage door to escape it tormentor and died in its retreat. The idea that the pugnacious little shrew encountered my naive indoor kitties was amusing; I imagined them corned by the fearless little hunter, but I would never know for sure.
My first encounters with short-tailed shrews was in childhood when my cat, Sassafras, from somewhere beyond the barn, would catch them and then bring them to the short grass of the yard where she could easily keep track of the fleeing creatures. Sassy’s erstwhile quarry-turned-toy first was hurled to great heights then expertly pinned to the ground, but shrewdly, her prey slipped the bounds of the velvet paws squeaking and turning the miniscule gladiator fought back, clearly, she enjoyed the shrew’s tenacious fighting verve. By and by, the more durable ones she would let escape to the tall grass or those less fortunate would die from their battle wounds, but she never ate the remains she would simply nudge the corpse gently and lay her head down on her paws waiting for her playmate return to life. I always took these opportunities to inspect these mites, and despite my status as a giant, I always jumped when they lunged at me. My city-raised mother inexplicably knew that these creatures were the poisonous short - tailed shrews, and why she thought that telling me they were poisonous would make me leave them alone I do not know as it only served to pique my interest for I found them as compelling as my cat did. In the time intervening childhood and now, I learned more about these little underdogs in books, but only in my childhood yard, did I learn and come to appreciate the bravery and bravado of this miniscule predator.
As I mentioned these shrews are poisonous, which makes them mammalian curiosities. Poison is not an uncommon strategy of the hunt or defense in nature, but it is unusual in mammals. The list of mammals that produce toxins is rather short: the North American short-tailed shrews, Eurasian water shrew, solenodons, slow lorises, and male platypus.
The platypus is that down-under monotreme curiosity that looks like it is made up of one part duck and two parts beaver. In the platypuses, only the male platypus has a calcaneus spur located on its hind leg, and as the male only has the spur, it seems the spur must play a part in reproduction like males fighting.
The slow loris, a big-eyed cute primitive primate or prosimian, is found in
Solenodons are found in
Shrews secrete a poison from the submaxillary saliva glands at the base of their lower incisors. The shrew does not actively inject the poison, but it flows by capillary motion and is delivered by the bite. A short-tailed shrew’s saliva contains a neurotoxin, which may aid the shrew in killing prey larger than itself, but more interestingly as a way to stock and keep a larder full of “fresh” food. Only the northern short-tailed shrews’ poison has been confirmed by an arduous chemical analysis, but it is likely the other three short-tailed shrews, the southern, Elliot’s, the
“Madame, for your facial would you prefer a deadly bacterial toxin or shrew spit?” Ahhhh…the cost of beauty!
To Be Continued...
Pam Croom © 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
Above the forest reeled two red-shouldered hawks and somewhere below in the canopy a plaintive wail that translated in any species’ language, “feed me!” Their offspring was having a hard time cutting the apron strings, he found feeding himself a tough road to hoe, and reverted to begging from his parents who ignored his cries, of course, even if they had wanted to the hunting in the area had been ruined by his all-alarm cry. Further along, a turkey flock scratched for its repast, at first, they were rather tolerant of our presence, but finally they trotted off. From the lower story of the trees flew out a large hawk, he had been sitting above the turkeys and followed them beyond sight into the trees. From his size I guessed he was a red-tailed hawk, a hunter of open areas not the deep forest, and equally odd to find one above turkeys who blithely ignored his presence. I normally would have noted this as odd and memorable, but it was a case of déjà vu, I had been through this before when a few weeks before the same scenario played out with same flock that patrols the forest near the river, and now what was memorable was now very interesting. The hawk trailing the turkeys through the woods might be coincidence, but it just might be purposeful, which opens interesting possibilities and questions. What did the hawk get out it? What did the turkeys get out of it? Following the turkeys might be lucrative for the hawk as they forage the turkeys inevitably scatter rodents that shelter below the leave litter providing the hawk with a tasty treat. Do they tolerate him swooping down? Do the turkeys get anything out it? What could they get out of it? Tantalizing, as it appears it may all be coincidence, but I will have to try to trail the flock one day and see if he shows up.
Besides turkeys the woods abounded with blue jays, cardinals, titmice, yellow-rumped warblers, assorted nuthatches and sparrows, but as we passed from the oak-hickory forest into the open park-like beech forest the birds were more scarce without their protective understory trees and thickets. Amongst the lianas along the river the robins massed taking turns bathing in the shallows below to return to the vines flapping their wings to dry in the warm sun. The beech forest glowed with light bouncing off golden brown leaves on the ground and still on branches above, and the scent of the oak-hickories was noticeably absent. The floor here was visibly less colorful than multihued oak-hickory forest floor. This open beech park was more quiet, perhaps the large spaces between the trees allowed the sound of footfalls to travel away from the ear and not bounce back or perhaps the monotypic leaf litter allowed the same shaped leaves fit together making a silent treading mat. The Flint River bordered this tall wood and as the clear water made its passage out of the beech wood it sounded out in resonant, melodic, tumbling tones.
Leaving the beech wood we traveled onward to the bottomland cornfield, here the pliable soil was rich with organics and sand that held the shape of the feet that had trodden it. In the sandy soil was the obvious sign that many animals had passed before us in the last few days since the rain last washed the field’s slate clean. There for us to behold were the tracks of deer, turkeys, raccoon, feral hogs, and coyote, but noticeably absent were bobcat and fox, but perhaps those prints lurked further out in the corn stubble. Beyond the cornfield the afternoon sun soon caressed the treetops signaling the time had come to go home and eat. In the waning afternoon we left the birds and animals to themselves and their own thanksgivings for such a lovely sanctuary to live in.
Pam Croom #&169; 2008