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To identify the species of amphibian that may be living in your pond is very simple.  There is a ridge of skin that runs on both sides from the back of the eye, this is called the dorsolateral ridge.  If the ridge runs from the back of the eye to the hind end you have a green frog.  If the ridge runs around the eardrum and curves down to the front legs you have a bullfrog.  To sex your frog, notice the throat.  Male frogs have yellow throats and eardrums much larger than the diameter of the eyes.  Females have white throats and eardrums about the same size, if not smaller than their eyes.  Green frogs produce six different vocalization, the most common is the single note which sounds like a plucked banjo string.  They will also give a sharp yelp when startled.  Male bullfrogs vocalization sounds like "jug-o-rum".  After mating each species deposits huge, semi-floating masses that look like frothy, tiny bubbles.  The eggs hatch relatively quickly, and the mass will disappear within a week.  Bullfrogs grow up to 7 inches in length and are quite long-lived.  They can remain tadpoles for up to 2 years.  Maturity for mating may take up to 4 years.

The great blue heron has the widest range of all the long-legged waders found as far north as
Nova Scotia and south to Mexico, these heron breed locally in tall trees.  Nests are large, saucer shaped affairs, often disguised with a packing of leaves.  The great blue is often confused with sandhill cranes, the difference most noticeably in flight, the blue flies with its neck folded.  An adaptable feeder, the great blues eat fish, frogs, mice and birds.  Because of this variety of choice, they tend to stay local.  A huge bird, they stand up to 5' 10" and a weight of 39-52lbs.

Butterflies
are insects belonging to the order lepidoptera whose members differ from all other insects because they have scales over all or most of their wings and body.  Within the order, butterflies are separated from moths due to their wing structure and behavior.  Moths are for the most part nocturnal whereas butterflies are active during the day.  At rest butterflies tend to hold the wings vertically over their back and moths may fold or keep their wing extended.  All butterflies have knoblike clubs at the tips of the antennae, moths lack this feature.  The order lepidoptera is broken down into two superfamilies, true butterflies and skippers.  Skippers are stocky, compact, and hairy with short triangular wings.  True butterflies tend to have narrow bodies, long antennae and brightly colored, full wings.  From superfamilies butterflies are then distinguished further to families, genera then specific species.

The Chippewa Indians named the adorable rodent chetmon which eventually evolved to chipmunk.  There are 21 species of ground-dwelling, solitary, diurnal chipmunks in
North America and each is as cute as the next.  The American chipmunks' diet includes acorns, hickory nuts, beechnuts, cherry pits, berries of all types and basically everything birds eat.  They fill their cheeks as full as they can and run back to the burrow to unload the groceries.  Their most compelling trait is hoarding.  Not only do they hoard in their dens but have "scatterhoards" outside the burrow.  They constantly thieve from each other, each ripping off the other's hoard.  This thievery goes on endlessly while they are active.  Chipmunks make their home in rock walls, shrubby thickets, woodpiles, and gardens.  The burrow entrance is about 2 inches in diameter and drops down for 4 inches before sloping off.  There are rooms for sleeping, storage and a latrine.  In late fall after months of preparation the chipmunk will plug up the entrance and go to sleep.  They are not true hibernators, and when it is time to come out they have sex on their minds.  There is an intense courting period and then the first of two breeding seasons.  Mother delivers about 5 babies and after 6 weeks they too are on their own learning the rules of chipmunk society.  There is quite a collection of sounds and meanings to the chipmunk vocabulary.  They are solitary little critters so this vocal communication system is important.  Chipmunks are very clean and spend a great deal of time grooming, hence no parasites.  They are 3 ounces and about 9 inches of absolutely adorable, pesky energy.

 

Crickets, grasshoppers and katydids are famous for their chirping song in the late summer into fall.  Combined with the "song" of the cicadas evenings can be a deafening cacophony of clicks and trills.  All belong to the order orthoptera and all are champion jumpers.  They have powerful jumping legs as well as two sets of wings and their hearing is acute.  The life cycle is considered an incomplete metamorphosis comprising of three stages; egg, nymph and adult.  Molting their exoskeletons as many as 15 times during their life, they grow but otherwise change very little as they develop.  Eggs hatch in the spring and may take forty to sixty days to reach adulthood.  Each species has a distinct song or stridulation that the male uses to attract females.  Crickets create their song by rubbing their front wings together.  Grasshoppers move the bumps on their hind legs against their front wings like pieces of sandpaper.  Katydid males like to gather in groups in the summer and sing throughout the day to attract females but generally all are solitary types.  But, and this is the stuff legends are made of, if they become crowded and their food sources diminish, they gather in huge swarms, migrating long distances to find a better place to feed and breed often traveling hundreds of miles.  Individually all these bugs will eat their own weight in plant material in a day; a swarm devours all plants, fruits and flowers within hours.  Certainly we have all heard that crickets can tell the temperature, andn fortunately they announce it regularly.  Count the number of chirps in 14 seconds, add 40 and you have a very accurate estimate of the temp in Farenheit.

The American Crow is considered to be one of the most intelligent birds and it is one of the most widespread.  They feed on carrion, garbage, insects, worms, invertebrates, eggs, nestling, small reptiles, grain, fruit, suet... basically anything edible.  Relative to ravens, jays and magpies this is the black bird of songs and nursery rhymes.  They enjoy the company of their own kind and will congregate in huge community roosts where there is much raucous cawing before they settle for the night.  In early spring, the flocks break up and pairs begin the business of nest building, preferring tall evergreens with concealing branches.  The nest itself is a course affair built of sticks and twigs, comfortably lined with strips of soft bark, straw, hair, moss and fine roots.  The female lays 4-8 eggs which may be bluish green, spotted or blotched irregularly.  Eggs are rather large, 1 1/2" long, with the female doing most of the sitting while the male brings dinner in.  Growing 19 to 21" a crow knows little fear except owl and man.  They are smart and have the ability to learn and mimic the human voice.  A flock of crows will post a sentinel to give signal when danger approaches.

When fish spawn it is a frenzied activity that takes place early till mid morning, daily for a week or so.  Females full of ripe eggs are hotly pursued by a gang of males into the nooks and crannies of the pond's edge.  The eggs are deposited and then the swarm of males fight for the honor to fertilize the eggs, often to the peril of the female.  Later in the day the fish feed on the eggs but plenty survive to compete for life within the pond community.  Examining the eggs, eyes are visible on day 2 of gestation and fry are hatched after four days.  At each stage they are a food source for the general pond population and visitors.  The list of  predators at any given stage of development is impressive and answers Mother Nature's reason for the gazillion eggs necessary for a handful to survive.  Complicate matters by adding the human touch with pond filters and water condition, plant cover and pond depth and current, many eggs never become viable.  Species that dine, whether under the cloak of darkness or by light of day are snakes, toads, frogs, ducks, turtles, salamanders, larvae of beetles and dragonfly, worms, crustaceans, underwater spiders, marsh hawks, herons, raccoons, and muskrats.  All of which find your pond fish a wonderful part of their diet depending on size.

The Canada goose is the most widespread of North American waterfoul, whoops, waterfowl.  "Honkers" eat mainly grasses, sprouting crops, mollusks and crustaceans.  Their nest is a pile of vegetation gathered by the female, usually near water and close to other nesters of their kind.  They lay on brood per season, 4-6 large, white eggs and incubation is by the female for 25-28 days.  They mate for life in their third spring, but remate if their partner dies.  Often seen in flocks of thousands, it is the strongest male who leads the way, breaking the air for others behind.  Mostly we are plagued with locals who only seem to move from one spot to the next in a limited area.  Once close to endangered protected breeding brought the Canadian goose back with a vengence.

Once called the sparrow hawk, the American kestrel is the most common member of the falcon family.  They are easily recognized by their hunting habits of hovering above on an updraft, or sitting on a wire searching for prey.  Once spotted they will swoop down and take a small bird, rodent, reptile or frog with their talons, but generally during times of plenty, large insects.  This marauder will indeed visit bird feeders but not for seed.  The kestrel has a rust-colored back and tail, pointed wings and white underparts.  Once spotted there is no mistaking this for anything other than a meat eater.  The kestrel nests in tree cavities and nest boxes and claims a home range of 250 acres and defends his territory with vigor.  Jays can be counted on for sounding the alarm that a kestrel is in the area.

The opossum is prehistoric, while dinosaurs and mammoths perished , this critter remains relatively unchanged, laying claim to the smallest brain and at the bottom of the IQ range if compared to similarly sized species.  A solitary creature possessing no social skills, there is no courtship rituals if a male scents a female in heat they mate.  Transient, therefore no interesting nests to report, any old place will do, and they have adapted very well to urban sprawl.  Will feed on anything and everything scavenging dinner from delectable roadkill, berries, corn, fruits and insects.  Slow moving with too short legs and nocturnal eyesight is generously described as myopic, the hearing senses nothing special.  A plus is a long coat that can look well groomed but often is wind blown, dirty and unkempt.  Weight and height comparable to a household cat.  A distinctive grin with more than 50 sharply pointed teeth, more than any other mammal in
North America, although this creature is not a mammal.  Add to this unappealing description a prehensile tail that  may act as an anchor or balance when it finds itself in a precarious position.  Without question it wins the butt-ugly competition.  When American naturalist Ernest Seton was brought a dead specimen, he didn't know if perhaps it was quick and squirrel like or slow and cautious like a raccoon.  The supplier of the critter replied, "It's just the slowest, stupidest, crawlingest thing that ever was in the woods, and it's nothing but itself".  It is North America's only marsupial and the opossum bears up to 20 preemies after a short gestation period.  They are hairless grubs who must laboriously drag itself to the pouch 3 long inches away, casualties abound.  They then attach themselves to a nipple where they spend up to 70 days until they open their eyes.  By 85 days they are weaned, but go back and forth and remain with the mother for another 3-4 months.  Add to beyond stupid and remarkable ugly, total passivity.  If an opossum cannot escape by climbing a tree it will play dead, feigning death.  Until recently the accepted belief was the opossum's deathlike trance was a deliberate effort, but it is now believed that it is an involuntary reaction of a beast who is scared and too stupid to know what to do, fainting from fright.

The great horned owl is one of the most powerful of all North American birds.  Preeminently they are birds of twilight and darkness, when most birds are flying swiftly to their roost the owl is galvanizing themselves to action.  Owls have the most frontally situated eyes of all birds which narrows their field of vision, but owls are particularly well equipped to make use of whatever light is available, and can detect and approach objects in conditions of illumination that far exceed most mammals by 35 times and 100 times better than our own!  Their hearing is just as acute as their eyesight.  When a mouse first rustles some leaves the owl turns its head toward the prey to orientate location.  Many nocturnal rodents have miserable sight, their power of hearing adequately compensates for survival.  Owls have silent flight as they are endowed with generously proportioned wings supporting body weight over a low wing load enabling an easy glide at low speed through woods.  And  owls can actually out climb a swift flying peregrine falcon.  The wing structure also aids maneuverability, an important asset in habitats crisscrossed by twigs and branches.  The weight and body of an owl is relatively small; it is the feathers, their construction and arrangement giving an illusion of bulk and weight.  Prey of the great horned owls consists of other birds, small mammals ranging from shrews to rabbits and occasionally fish.  They take the prey whole often crushing the skull.  Owl pellets are used to monitor changes that may be taking place in the small mammal community in the owl's hunting area.  Pellets may be dissected by soaking in warm water then separated on paper using tweezers, a good lens is useful in identifying the remains.  They will nest in large aboandoned nests of squirrels and crows and they will take to an open ended nest box at least 15 feet from the ground.  They lay 1-3 white eggs.  Incubation is by both parents, January through June.        

 

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