Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

We are now officially out of hibernation here in Stockholm. The sun is out, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming!

Last weekend we went for a walk near the sea. We saw these two diving sea ducks, a male and a female, taking turns going under. I love watching diving birds, waiting for them to re-surface, watching how easily and gracefully they slip under the water and pop back up. These birds are called Common Goldeneye in English and Knipa in Swedish. They nest in tree-holes, eat fish, crustaceans and insects and can be found in the Northern Hemisphere in coastal waters.


Common Goldeneye (Knipa), Stockholm, Sweden in late March

I am no expert on birds. The wikipedia article is pretty good, in English here and Swedish here.

I looked up the word ‘knipa’ in the dictionary – it is a noun meaning a jam or a fix, and as a verb it means to pinch, win or obtain. I was surprised, these words don’t seem to have much to do with the bird! The entomology section of the wikipedia article in Swedish says that the name first was used in 1611 and may have been used to describe the way the wings sound when the bird takes flight (it is onomatopoeic). It might also be related to a  sailing term

I was surprised to see so many local names for this bird, every area seems to have its own language here! I’ve listed them below from the wiki article.

Skatand (Värmland), knijper, strandkniper, knip, kneip, knipoxe, knipånn, knipand, gnällvinge (Närke), isand (Bohuslän), dopping och doppand (Göteborg). The female has been called knipkärring and brunnacke.

In English, the name ‘goldeneye’ speaks for itself. It has been called ‘the Whistler’ given the sounds the wings make. Next time, I will wait to hear what they sound like when they fly – I was too focused on trying not to scare them off this time!

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It’s getting a bit cold here in Sweden and there are few flowers left blooming in the wild. Berries and acorns adorn every tree and bush and mushrooms are popping up everywhere. Swedes seem to have a special place in their hearts for mushrooms and mushroom hunting and it isn’t uncommon for people to pick their own mushrooms here. I was always told not to eat any mushrooms I found in the wild, but apparently if you are well-practiced in their identification, it is possible to avoid poisoning yourself.

One mushroom that really sticks out and is most definitely poisonous is the Fly Agaric or in Swedish Röd Flugsvamp (meaning ‘red fly mushroom’).

Röd Flugsvamp or Fly Agaric

Röd Flugsvamp or Fly Agaric

It gets its name because it was once used in powder form, sprinkled in milk to kill flies. This mushroom starts off by looking like a white egg, and slowly grows into what you see pictured above, which is an example of a mature fly agaric (with a flat hat and white spots).

Flugsvampar, or ‘fly mushrooms’ (the agaric genus Amanita), characteristically have free gills (located under the hat), which in Swedish are called ‘skivor’ (literally meaning ‘slices’ or ‘disks’). As an immature fruiting body, it looks like a white puff ball. Once mature, they have white spots on the cap (or ‘hatt’ = hat) and a ring round the stalk (or in Swedish ‘fot’=foot) of the mushroom. There is also a kind of sock at the base of the stalk (in Swedish ‘strumpa’ = stocking) which in English is called the volva. Sometimes the white spots wash off in rain, so don’t use that as the only identifier. Not all flugsvampar are poisonous, but most of those in my Swedish mushroom book (9 total) are listed as poisonous, very poisonous or at least inedible. Fly agaric also has hallucinogenic properties if ingested.

There are so many different kinds of mushrooms, and now that I am learning about them I am seeing them everywhere! This seems to be a much more complicated thing to identify than flowers since mushrooms can look very different depending on age and may vary greatly in color. I am starting with at least learning the parts of the mushroom and I hope to explore more new fungi soon. For now, the red fly mushroom is a good start. It is the easiest to identify with its recognizable features and is quite thrilling to come across it, bright and cartoon-like, in the forest!

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Northern Flicker

It has been so long since I last posted! My camera broke and the winter arrived, so I went into hibernation. I have been so inspired lately by the beautiful birds at the bird feeder, that I’ve decided to go into my archives to try to identify some birds I have photographed.

These photos were taken in September in Boston. I had some trouble identifying this bird at first, but thank goodness for google! I googled “brown bird black spot chest” and found it right away. This Northern Flicker is quite distinctive because of its spots and red nape crescent on the back of the head, which you can just barely make out in one photo. I had seen this bird foraging on the ground, but it turns out it is a woodpecker that also looks for insects on the ground. Flickers are large woodpeckers that are often seen on the ground in open areas (reference: Sibley Guide to Birds).

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

I couldn’t tell right away if it was a Yellow-Shafted or Red-Shafted Flicker because I didn’t catch it flying to see the under part of the wings. But odds are that this is a Yellow-Shafted (Taiga/Eastern) Flicker because I saw it in Massachusetts and the face is brown, not gray. This is a female Flicker because the face is all one color, there is no black malar (the feathers along side of the lower jaw) as is found in male Yellow Northern Flickers (the malar is red in Red-Shafted males). For more information, check out the website www.eol.org.

In this photo, you can just catch the red mark on the back of the neck. She is in the process of looking for insects in the grass, most likely ants.

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

Northern Flicker, Boston, MA in September

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This year’s spring has been beautiful – it started earlier than usual so we’ve been able to enjoy the spring flowers for longer. My favorite thing this time of year is seeing the flowering trees. There are magnolias, dogwoods and cherry trees. The magnolias have all finished blooming, but the cherry trees seem to hold on to their flowers for longer. This year, they have hit their peak bloom in April, whereas last year it was early May that they were at this stage.

Cherry Tree, The Fens, Boston, MA in April


The cherry tree’s genus is Prunus and it is in the rose family (not surprising when you see the rose-like flowers). Cherries have trunk bark with numerous cross streaks and buds with many scales. The whitish flowers are in long grape-like clusters cherries are always thornless. The leaves sticks and seeds from cherry trees often contain hydrocyanic acid, which makes the crushed twigs smell a little sour and if ingested, can make cattle or horses sick (or kill them). The fruit of the cherry tree is important to birds and mammals for food.

There are several species of cherry tree, but many of them are ornamental and not native to the U.S. The main way that the book I use distinguishes among species, “A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs” by George A. Petrides, is to look at the bark, the leaves, and the placement of the flowers. Is the bark rough and dark or smooth? Are the leaves sharp-toothed or blunt? Egg-shaped or narrow?  Are the flower clusters umbrella-like or in long clusters?

Cherry Tree Leaves, Boston

You can see that this cherry tree’s leaves have egg-shaped sharp-toothed leaves, with teeth that are so small they are almost hair-like. They are red underneath and green on top. I don’t know what type of cherry tree this is, but I know it’s good to sit under and read on sunny days and watch the birds fly from tree to tree.

Cherry Tree, Boston, MA

The flowers are quite showy and have not fallen off yet, despite the heavy winds the other day.

Cherry Tree Flowers, Boston, MA (April, 2012)

Cherry Tree Flowers, Boston, MA April


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April in Boston, walking along the marshy banks of the Fens, you expect to see people jogging, Canada geese grazing and the common mallard swimming around looking for hand outs. I was surprised and delighted to come across a muskrat! Due to my ignorance about identifying this species, I at first thought it was a beaver. Apparently, his narrow tail and smaller size lets you know he is a muskrat, although this semi-aquatic rodent also (like the beaver) likes to live in wetlands, marshes and ponds.

I caught him on video!

Here he is eating some leaves off of a branch:

And here he is running into the water once he realizes he’s been spotted:

Apparently muskrats can stay underwater for over 15 minutes, so I didn’t stick around to find out where he’d pop up.

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It’s a snow-less winter so far, so it is not quite as colorless as this time last year. But nevertheless, the dull browns and grays are tiresome, and that is why this little spot of red I caught looking for food was a thrill over the holidays.

Pileated Woodpecker, Massachusetts, Dec 2011

This bird is called a Pileated Woodpecker. You can tell this particular one is a male because there is a red line from the beak to the throat (instead of a black one on females). The loud noise it makes pecking holes in trees looking for insects makes the woodpecker’s presence known. I wonder how its brain is protected from all that banging against a tree? As a child, I thought all woodpeckers were similar to the cartoon Woody Woodpecker (hence the title of this post), but I don’t think the woody woodpecker call is the same as the pileated one from nature.

This bird also brings to mind the drawing of pileated woodpeckers by John James Audubon (retrieved from wikicommons). In his drawing, you can see that they eat insects from trees and berries.  Females are on the top, males are on the bottom and you can get a gimpse of the white underside of the wings.

John James Audubon - Pileated Woodpecker


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End of 2011

I haven’t been inspired to post much since it got cold here and everything is hibernating for the winter. Today I saw The Big Picture’s 50 Best Photos from the Natural World.  The photos are beautiful and make me so thankful that we have such an amazing and diverse world to live in! As another year comes to a close, I can’t wait to have more adventures in 2012.

50 Best Photos from the Natural World 2011

Back to hibernating!


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Wild Turkeys!

Out in the suburbs of Boston, I saw a gaggle of turkeys making their way across the lawn. These birds are so interesting looking, and are a bit creepy and funny to watch!  It is amazing to me that they have done so well living in the wild, but apparently they are omnivorous and the suburban woods  are good places to forage.  The best time to see turkeys is early morning or late afternoon when they go foraging. These pictures were taken in the afternoon (also taken from inside the house, so they didn’t turn out as clear as I would have liked).

Wild Turkeys, Outside Boston, MA

Wild Turkeys, Outside Boston, MA

There are six species of wild turkey, these are most likely the Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris), the same species the Puritans encountered in New England in colonial times.  I think they were all female because males are a lot larger than females and should have a kind of “beard” that hangs from their chins. Be careful if you come across turkeys with their babies, they will fight you (broods appear in June, the babies are called “poults”).  They also attack shiny objects, so if you are attacked that might be the reason (mostly during breeding season).  If you google “wild turkey boston, MA” you will discover that Boston and the surrounding suburbs have witnessed an increase in the number of turkeys who even make it into the city. Some people have seen groups of them of almost 20 at a time and they tend to stop traffic and have harassed residents.

I especially liked the article on “How to Live with Turkeys” http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/living/living_with_turkeys.htm

More information on wild turkeys in Massachusetts: http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/facts/birds/turkey/turkey_home.htm

An NPR story from 2006 on wild turkeys: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6504117

It is only September, but thinking of turkeys makes me excited for Thanksgiving!

Wild Turkeys, Outside Boston, MA












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Last week I went for a walk in the woods in the suburbs just west of Boston and came across a very special flower.

White Trillium is a striking flower – found in the woods, where you wouldn’t expect it, its single white flower stands on a stalk above 3 broad leaves.  From the lilly family, this flower has several different names: “large-flowered trillium”, “white trillium” or “wake robin” (latin: Trillium grandiflorum).  The name “wake robin” comes from the fact that this flower blooms around the time the robin appears, during the spring time.


White Trillium, May 2011

The flowers usually are from 2 to 4 inches and turn pink with age, blooming from April through June. They grow from 12-18 inches high.  To distinguish between other trilliums, this one’s flower stands above the leaves instead of drooping  down.

This flower is unique in several ways. Firstly, it is native to Eastern North America – many of the plants I have posted about have been brought over from Europe, Asia or Africa.   Secondly, the seeds are mainly dispersed by ants!  this is not very common. This means the plant does not spread its seeds as far as other plants.  Thirdly, the seeds require double dormancy, meaning it takes 2 years to fully germinate.  Lastly, this plant is special because it is considered “vulnerable” (in Quebec and New York), or endangered (in Maine).  It is slow growing and its habitat has decreased and white-tailed deer (that have taken over what is left of the woods in Massachusetts, at least) love to eat it.  The flower is very pretty, but hard to cultivate – it is unclear whether those found at stores are taken from the wild or not because it hasn’t been show that much cultivation has been done.

White Trillium - 3 Broad Leaves

As always, you should never pick flowers!  Especially Trillium, which are rare and threatened.  Enjoy wildlife by observation, not by interaction with it. Leave the flowers and the woods as you found them.

Thanks very much to the wildflower sanctuary where I found these trillium – what a magical place!  It reminds me about how important land conservation is and how much I appreciate that people have made space available for people like me to enjoy nature.  Thank you!

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

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The common mallard, or green-headed duck, is the type of duck we see on ponds and lakes, especially in urban parks.  The ducks near my apartment live in the Back Bay Fens where there is water and marshland and plenty of people to throw them some bread crumbs.

January in Boston, Massachusetts

I was so impressed with the color of these ducks’ heads, I had to take some pictures.  How bright and radiant the color green!  And how orange the bill and feet!

Common Mallard, Boston, MA in January

Male Common Mallards, January

You can tell he is in his mating plumage because of the green head. When not in mating season, the males look similar to the females with drab brown heads but still have the bright orange beaks.

The female ducks were nearby as well, brown with a blue stripe on the wings.

Male and Female Common Mallards, January in Boston

Common Mallards, Male and Female, January in Boston

I just learned about this new site, Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), and I think I’ll be using it much more from now on.  EOL has a good description of the common mallard and has several links to other sites with good information.

I also came across an interesting and different way of learning about ducks recently, specifically learning about their mating habits which were not what I imagined… I was listening to Science Friday on NPR, and the guest, Isabella Rossellini (an actress and film maker), was discussing her new show on the Sundance Channel (www.sundancechannel.com).  The series, called Seduce Me, describes the mating habits of several animals in a kind of funny way, acting them out with puppets and people.  After watching the duck episode I will never think of ducks the same again…(a little rated R, just to warn you!).  Check it out here.  In a nutshell: Male ducks have corkscrew penises and force copulation. The vaginal canals of female ducks have evolved to be like a maze – the male duck that the female would like to mate with will have a higher chance of successfully mating with her.  Pretty interesting!

Well it snowed here again today… not very much but enough to make my hopes of spring dampened a bit.  Snowdrops and crocuses are out, though, so spring is starting!  I can’t wait to post more about flowers.

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