Friday, August 31, 2007

Somniloquent singers?

Long after its season of nighttime wooing has passed, the Eastern Gray Treefrog occasionally erupts in daytime song, but no one seems to know just why.

These arboreal acrobats that can climb glass windows as well as trees can also deftly snag an insect in mid-air as it passes by a branch. They feed mostly at night and sleep by day.

However, in late August, their brief, bird-like trills can occasionally be heard at almost any time of the day, especially if there’s been a shower. You might hear a call from one tree, then a response from another, and depending on how froggy your neighborhood is, two or three other treefrogs nearby may join in the exchange.

In the spring, their calls are part of the expected nighttime chorus of courting critters, but by this time of year, all that love-making is long past. So why sing when they’re supposed to be asleep? Perhaps they suffer from somniloquy and are just sleep-talking as they dream of happy, youthful encounters those long months ago.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Acorn Rain

On an early morning walk in late August, you are bound to hear the click-clacking of the oak trees. High in their branches gray squirrels are picking and dropping acorns that fall through the leaves and twigs like so many giant raindrops.

Squirrels learned long ago that, rather than pick and carry each acorn or hickory nut to the ground to bury, it’s a lot easier to drop a bunch at a time, then climb down to collect and cache them.

But they have to be quick about it sometimes.

One day a few years ago, we came across one of the drawbacks of the squirrels’ efficient operation. Under a bountiful oak raining with acorns from a half dozen squirrels stood a herd of a five deer, eating these gifts from above as quickly as they landed.

Even in nature, no system is perfect – unless you’re a deer that likes good service.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Up on the Roof

Some wildlife has taken kindly to suburbia, delighting in man’s manipulation of the landscape. Deer and the Canada Geese like our environment so well, they’ve overpopulated into pests.

Others are more subtle at adapting. The Killdeer, a common plover that looks as if it belongs on a beach where most of its cousins live, is doing well, population surveys report. This might seem odd since Killdeer nest on the open ground, and in the suburbs, about the only open grounds are lawns and parking lots.

Killdeer will in fact nest on grassy islands in the middle of shopping center lots. If a shopper gets too close, mom or pop will stage the famous broken-wing act, fluttering along the ground to draw attention away from a well-camouflaged nest.

Many Killdeer have discovered much safer nesting grounds. The flat roofs of the shopping centers and office buildings that fill our business districts provide fine Killdeer homesites. The parents don’t have to worry about four-legged predators – or two-legged interlopers – and can concentrate on watching for the usual enemies from above, such as crows and hawks.

For the Killdeer, up on the roof can be down home.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Really good raspberries

It’s been another bumper year for berries, but few have been as bountiful as the raspberry. Big bunches of them have been bending canes with their weight this season, and that’s a boon to both man and beast.

The raspberry is among the most valuable food sources for scores of species of birds and small mammals. Fortunately, the thorny canes have prevented a big mammal, deer, from decimating the plants, which favor the same wood edges that deer do.

Roadside berries are free for the picking, and considering the prices that even rural farm stands are charging – $3.50 a half pint at one in northern Vermont on Sunday, it’s a sweet treat that’s well worth the effort as well as a few scratches.

What’s more, they are good for us – really good. Raspberries are rich in antioxidants that promote healthy hearts. They have lots of vitamins A, B1, 2 and 3, and C, plus calcium, iron, and potassium. And because each berry is a cluster of tiny berries or “drupelets,” the raspberry has lots of skin, which is full of fiber – up to one-fifth of the berry’s weight – making it among the most fiber-filled fruits in North America.