Category Archives: Nature

Mammal Tracks: Striped Skunk

Photo of Striped Skunk tracks

In New England, a wide range of habitats host Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis), from old fields and wetland edges, to marshes, beaches, and urban areas.* Skunks go mostly unseen by humans, since they're primarily active under cover of darkness, but the presence of their tracks in sand or snow reveals their passing.

In the coldest part of the year, Striped Skunks limit their outside time, preferring to hole up and conserve their energy, often in communal dens, but unlike Woodchucks and Black Bears, Striped Skunks are not true hibernators.

To learn more about Striped Skunks, visit Animal Diversity Web. For book suggestions, check out the Mammal Identification & Tracking section of my Book, DVD, & Audio Picks page.

Photo of Striped Skunk tracks

*I photographed these Striped Skunk tracks at Hills Beach in Biddeford on November 30, 2017.

Lichens: Pixie Cup

Photo of Pixie Cup Lichen

Part fungus and part alga, lichens defy simple classification, and are perhaps best thought of as dual citizens of two kingdoms of life. The fungal portion of a lichen transports water and soil nutrients, while the algal portion produces energy through photosynthesis.* Standing a mere inch tall, the common blue-gray Pixie Cup Lichen (Cladonia sp.) grows among mosses on the forest floor, on dry, exposed soil in sunny spots, on bricks or bare rock, or between planks of weathered wooden decking.

Photo of Pixie Cup Lichen

*This is certainly an oversimplification, but as an amateur lichenologist, I dare not get more specific. If you know more about the fascinating lives of lichens, I encourage you to leave a comment below.

Sorting Sparrows: Dark-eyed Junco

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos sport dark-above, light-below plumage and a light-pink bill, and, even when seen fleetingly as they flush, their flashing white outer tail feathers serve as useful field marks. They breed in forested parts of western and northern New England and during the white season spread throughout our area where they feed in weedy, seed-rich habitats including roadsides, thickets, and fields. Their countershading can make them challenging to spot on dark ground, but a fresh blanket of snow can bring a flock into view.

To learn more about these seed-loving sparrows who'd rather hop than walk, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Washed Ashore: Soft-shelled Clam

Photo of Soft-shelled Clam

Soft-shelled Clams (Mya arenaria) are among the best known marine mollusks harvested from mud flats throughout New England. Also known as Long-necked or Steamer Clams, these shellfish are food for many species, including Atlantic Moon Snails, Green Crabs, various gulls and diving ducks, certain fish, Northern Raccoons, and, of course, humans.

The two halves of this bivalve's shell are similarly shaped, with the exception of the hinge area. The left valve has a spoon-like shelf, and the right valve has a corresponding groove to accommodate it.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Fern Allies: Common Interrupted-clubmoss

Photo of Common Interrupted-clubmoss

Common Interrupted-clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum) is a spore-bearing vascular plant who grows in forests throughout much of New England. This plant creeps by horizontal stems that often hide just below the leaf litter. Upright stems are ~6" tall; often branched near the base; crowded with narrow, bristle-tipped leaves (another common name for this species is Bristly Clubmoss); and have noticeable interruptions that indicate where one year's growth ended and the next began. Each fertile branch is topped with a stalkless, solitary, 1-1.5" long cone-like reproductive structure, called a strobilus.

To learn more about this evergreen fern ally, visit Go Botany. To view the following images in full-size, click here.