I'm glad to be cozy-warm in our cabin this month, but I wonder about how animals are staying warm right now. Check out the critters I learned about:
Golden crowned kinglets build nests under spruce branches when there is still snow on the trees. Spider’s silk, moss, tiny twigs, hair and feathers keep the cold out.
Chickadees have dense fluffy feathers to help them stay warm. They huddle together in tight little spaces when they roost at night.
Some animals hibernate and lower their body temperature: Bears curl up in a cave; frogs bury into the mud; some squirrels bury themselves underground.
These animals avoid the cold and don’t have to worry about finding food. Others are busy all winter looking for food and finding places to rest protected a little from the weather.
Tell us what animals you see outside this season. What have you learned about how they are surviving?
In the spring and summer the air was often full of buzzing and chirping sounds of insects; but now it is quiet.
Where are all the insects in winter?
Some, like monarch butterflies, have migrated to warmer places.
What do you think happened to the caterpillars of butterflies and moths that stay in your area? Have you seen any pupal cocoons in the shrubs?
Many insects laid eggs that will overwinter in the ground, under leaves or other protected places before hatching in the spring. After laying eggs, the adults died.
Have you seen any signs of these dormant stages?
Some tough invertebrates are active in the winter - like spiders and winter stoneflies. Have you spied any of those lately?
At my mountain home, the autumn rains are in full swing.
The wet forest floor is perfect for mushrooms to pop out of the ground.
Remember how the big mushrooms I found were attached to fine threads of fungi in wood and in the ground?
What do mushrooms where you live look like, and where do you find them?
Can you see the fungal mat attached to them?
What are natural signs of late autumn around your house?
Have you noticed the days getting shorter and the air getting cooler?
The resident animals know its time to prepare for winter.
Have you seen small animals getting ready for winter?
Whoooo are they?
Some animals have ways and to take advantage of what they find before winter arrives.
Chipmunks fill their cheek pouches with seeds to store in their underground burrows.
Chickadees stash seeds into holes and crevices that they go back to later.
How are the animals you’ve been watching collecting food?
Its time to move! The birds and butterflies (but not the bees) are migrating. They use traditional flight paths to cross great distances.
What flight path do you live on?
Do you see herds of whales, flocks of geese, flights of monarch butterflies or songbirds headed south?
(webresource: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/jr/KidsJourneyNorth.html http://www.learner.org/jnorth/gwhale/index.html; http://www.learner.org/jnorth/humm/index.html)
On these warm, sometimes hot, summer days, there aren’t too many wildflowers in bloom for honeybees or bumblebees.
The flowers and soft berries (like blueberries and huckleberries) of earlier summer are gone.
Still, I love looking for bumblebees; each species has distinctive stripes and coloring.
They can fly more than one mile from their colony looking for pollen and nectar!
What kind of bees do you see? What flowers are they foraging on?
(webresource: http://www.discoverlife.org/bee; http://www.xerces.org/bees)
This morning I saw a bright yellow flash in the shrubbery – a Wilson’s Warbler! Both adult and juvenile Wilson’s Warblers are bright yellow.
Nestlings have probably fledged, and they’re learning to forage in the willows near the stream.
Many juvenile birds still have some downy feathers while they’re learning to fly, and it’s fun to watch their flying lessons.
What young birds have you seen learning to fly?
The songbirds are nesting and raising their chicks now - plenty of insects and seeds for them to eat. Parent birds are busy catching food for their young, and there's a little less time spent singing.
Flycatchers dart from tree limbs to catch flying insects in the air, wrens scratch on the ground, and warblers explore shrubs for catepillars and other crawling insects.
What are birds in your neighborhood doing?
(On the Journey North site (www.learner.org/jnorth) Signs of Spring section, "Going buggy! Insect eating birds" captures the many bird insect-catching strategies).
The air is a-buzz with insects! Some have many generations every year - many are true flies like mosquitoes and midges, but there's some stream mayflies.
Other insects have just 1 generation in a year - like butterflies, many beetles, and most stream-dwelling caddisflies.
A few live v-e-r-y slowly - sometimes because their food isn't very nutritious. Beetles that live in decomposing wood take many years to grow from larvae to adults.
What insects have you seen lately? Where did you see them? Can you tell us how long they live?
(A handy website for identifying all kinds of invertebrates is http://bugguide.net)
Rufous hummingbirds are returning to our forest this month. They're the only "hummers" we see here, but many places have several hummingbird species.
Rufous adults are mostly brownish-orange - on their bellies and usually on their backs, so they're pretty easy to identify. They'll live here in spring and summer, then migrate southward all around the West during cooler seasons.
I love to watch the hummers take turns feeding at our feeder. Usually one waits at a nearby shrub while another feeds, but sometimes they'll squabble if two birds are incoming at the same time.
Here's the recipe we use for our hummingbird feeders: 1/4 cup sugar stirred into 1 cup boiling water. Cool before putting in the feeder. (We don't add any color, and the birds are attracted to the color of the feeder).
What hummingbirds have you spotted lately? What are they doing?
(There's all kinds of hummingbird action at Journey North)
The prize for the first flower at the Andrews Experimental Forest goes to: Trillium!
These beautiful white flowers pop out of the ground just after snowmelt on the forest floor.
Flower species each require a certain accumulated temperature and enough sunlight per day before blooming.
What was the first flower to bloom where you live? When did it bloom? Show us your blossoms!
To see what other follks have been seeing check out the Data Map on the Project Budburst website
It's freezing cold outside, and I've been thinking about the birds and mammals trying to survive outside. What is there for them to eat? How about berries still on the bushes?
Not the soft, sweet fruits of strawberries, blackberries or other treats of summer. It's the tougher, more weather-proof berries of autumn that stay on bushes much longer- they're special food treats this time of year. Sometimes a crowd of birds swoop down and devour the berries all at once!
Do you see any berries outside now? What kinds are they? In the Pacific Northwest these might be: Holly berries (red berries also called winter berries), Snowberries (white berries the size of small marbles on bushes without any leaves), Salal (blue-black berries on bushes with leathery green leaves), Huckleberries (red or blue berries on delicate shrubs)
Is anybody eating the berries???