Monday, August 19, 2019

Growing up in nature

By Beth Sullivan
This period of later-mid summer is really a great time to be a nature watcher, particularly of the younger generations. So many species had their young earlier in the season, and they are beginning to step out and explore a bit more. Like kids everywhere, their learning forays are often awkward and can be quite hilarious to observe. It is interesting to note the similarities and differences between species, including our own.
Baby rabbits are independent pretty early on, yet somehow know to find the tastiest morsels to nibble. 

Baby rabbits

This year I am over-run with rabbits, and I am quite sure they are not the cherished, protected, New England cottontails I spent so much effort on to protect on Avalonia’s Peck-Callahan Preserves. These common eastern cottontails are quite prolific but have never quite taken over my yard and garden as they have this year. My first discovery was that all the string beans I had in my garden were nibbled, and then gone. There is a fence around the garden that has always kept out larger rabbits, but these little ones seem to have an early talent for independent foraging and take advantage of their really small size to squeeze through the holes. They never seem to be with an adult rabbit. Besides, the parent wouldn’t fit. At first they seemed somewhat fearless, staying and nibbling as I approached, then scooting out when I got too close. Over time they began to tease my dog, sitting still to remain invisible. Then, with a flick of the ear, they would catch her attention, and wait until the very last moment as the poor dog gamely tried to get up some speed. She was never fast enough and I believe the torment is deliberate. How did that little rabbit learn so early, about string beans, fence holes, and the delicate timing it takes to torment an old dog and remain safe?
Raccoons on the other hand like to hang with their families. I think they learned as a gang, with parents teaching them how to open my metal can full of bird seed. My can has heavy pavers and bungee cords to hold on the cover. It takes a tribe to figure that out and accomplish the task. I have caught families on my deck, walking the rails, testing the seed feeders and learning how to guzzle the hummingbird nectar. You just know those kids are learning new tricks and loving every minute.
The young squirrels will sometimes come with siblings which is true fun. I believe the game of tag was invented by squirrels. But even solo, you can almost see the wheels turning as they try and figure out the best way to climb a pole, reach a feeder, or balance on a very small branch. They can be pretty clumsy, and watching them tumble into the bushes and rise out, sheepishly looking around, has made me laugh out loud many times. They never give up.
One evening we watched a doe come out carefully into the road. She was followed by her spotted fawn. In the middle of the road, the little one gave a quick jump and kick, apparently just for fun, then continued on its way past mom. I wonder what she was thinking.
Young raccoons always seem to be looking for some trouble to get into, and often do, as a gang. 

You can almost hear the gears turning as a squirrel tries to figure out the approach to a loaded bird feeder.

All legs and spots, fawns are often left alone, but show great playfulness when out and about with mom. Photograph by Rick Newton

And baby birds

This past week I have mostly enjoyed watching families of different birds approach the feeder outside my kitchen window.
The ones I have enjoyed most are the chickadees. A family of five has been coming to the same tree and feeder for over a week. The young ones remind me of inquisitive little monkeys, without the hands. They pick at everything. They explore the bark and lichen on the trees. They pick at leaves and try to catch bugs. They approach the feeder from every angle, and often times will be seen hanging upside-down from some part of a branch or feeder perch. One little one fit itself entirely into the hole of the hopper feeder, then emerged head first out a different hole. They are a bit impudent as they will fly at a much larger cardinal, for no apparent reason. The only bird I have seen stand up to a chickadee, is a titmouse. This family also comes in with a lot of energy and flits around all over the tree, at times diving down to the feeder to grab a seed or sometimes splashing around in the birdbath without a worry as to what other creature might be using it. A young squirrel was at the feeder when a titmouse dove in, frightening the squirrel into falling off the feeder he had just mastered.
The house wrens have had multiple broods in my birdhouse. They are unbelievably noisy when they are awaiting a parent with food. When the little ones exploded out of the house on the day they fledged, they scattered all over the yard and could be heard begging for food from all corners of the yard and seen popping up and down in the bushes. Busy parents!
Just for a moment compare all this wonderful energy and learning behavior to our own young ones. It is not all that different. Nature offers the best playground, and the best education, for all species.
Chickadees are acrobatic, nimble, and comical. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The titmice come in with attitudes and energy.

House wrens make a huge amount of noise as they present their big yellow gapes waiting to be filled. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Every young creature needs to spread its wings. The best place to do it is in nature.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

1 comment:

  1. My mother put empty beer bottles on their sides to scare away invading rabbits. Is this an old wives' tale, or something people still do? She said the noise of the breeze through the bottles scared away critters...