Undercover Larva

The fluffball was on the move. And it carried a big stick.

I immediately recognized the fluff as a debris-carrying lacewing larva. These insects wear impressive camouflage. Sometimes I’ll see plant material, bits of lichen, or spider silk. Or dead insects; carcasses the larva piled on its back after sucking out the victims’ guts. But never had I seen a larva sporting such an outsized element of disguise.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Brad Smith.

Farewell to a Favorite Tree

Our broken, branchless beech finally fell.

The tree was about fifty-five years old* when we bought our home in 2004. On our well-wooded property, it didn’t command any particular notice. Then in 2015, Pileated Woodpeckers chose it for their nest. That was quite a show, which I filmed. But the poor tree! The woodpeckers removed about five gallons of wood to dig a cavity some 19” deep.

That’s when the tree’s trouble—to my eventual great delight—began.
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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

A Snag, a Storm, and a Surprise

Two white-rimmed ears caught my eye.

Something was inside a cavity in our old, broken tree. That snag had a history of sheltering woodland creatures. But the tree was in terrible condition. It was well-rotted.  And the trunk that snapped years earlier was letting that day’s downpour reach inside.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

The All-You-Can-Eat Squirrely Buffet

Squirrels are such messy eaters!

They toss their food trash everywhere. In fall, it’s discarded acorn caps and broken shells. These days, they’re dropping bud and leaflet leftovers. It’s raining half-chewed twigs and seed clusters, too.

Yesterday, I saw squirrels scarfing down samaras, the maple seeds we call helicopters or whirligigs. The seeds aren’t quite ready to drop from the trees. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at our walkways. Squirrels seem to drop three clusters for every one they eat.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Joanna Brichetto.

Deer Crossings

Deer were gathered at the ice’s edge.

Deer cross our lake in all seasons, moving back and forth from an island opposite our home. They swim until ice covers the water, and then they travel on foot.  I often see them at dusk, lined up like kids headed for recess.  But on this day, it was one p.m., an odd time to see deer in the open.

Two deer started the crossing. They walked for ten or fifteen seconds and then switched to a sprint. Another deer followed suit. My spotting scope was trained on that third deer when he abruptly halted. He slipped and skidded before coming to a full stop. I looked up from the scope for a wider view and saw what had spooked him.

The leaders had fallen through the ice.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

When a Woodpecker Proves You Wrong

Why was the woodpecker pounding such a puny branch?

The Hairy Woodpecker could only be seeking food. The branch was too tiny to surround a roost cavity.

I could see why a woodpecker might choose this red oak to forage. It has several branch stubs: jagged wounds where fungi can enter. Many wood-boring insects prefer laying eggs on decayed and damaged trees. The hatchling larvae can easily chew their way inside, where depending on species, they may overwinter.

But this particular branch? It’s so skinny—maybe four inches in diameter—it must have been frozen to its core in yesterday’s 14-degree weather. Wouldn’t an insect mom want an egg-laying site with more mass? A trunk or a thick limb that would retain warmth to help her babies survive a Michigan winter. I was sure the woodpecker wouldn’t find food in this branch.

He pounded and chiseled. It took him just six minutes to prove me wrong.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Squirrels

I’m surrounded by forest ninjas.

They’re stealthy, incredibly agile, and like all ninjas, they excel at their craft—in this case, larceny from my neighbors’ bird feeders. Our woods are full of them.

I’m talking about jet-black, bushy-tailed tree rodents, the local teenage mutant ninja squirrels. They’re not all teens, of course. But every one of them is indeed a mutant.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

The Balcony

I just love rotting trees.

They’re wildlife magnets. I’m particularly fond of one such tree just outside my window. It has held my attention since 2015 when Pileated Woodpeckers nested there.

But the snag’s rotten story began about a decade earlier when we had a limb removed.

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Image Credits: Carol Doeringer.

Silk Crossing

The katydid crept cautiously.

She was scaling our home’s vinyl siding. Slowly and deliberately, she would lift a leg. Sometimes, she waved it in the air. Then her foot patted the siding several times before committing to a landing spot. She seemed to be checking for obstacles like a sight-impaired person might use a cane to survey the sidewalk.

I peered closer. Then I saw the reason for her wary walking.

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More than a Mustache

Whiskers!

We’ve all seen them on our pets’ faces and on squirrels and other rodents, rabbits, beavers, walruses, and some other mammals. Until recently, I didn’t give whiskers much thought. Then I learned they’re not just facial hair… and they’re not always on faces.

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