Saturday, September 28, 2013

Raven Sightings Increase at the Preserve - Also, 2 Garter Snakes Found in a Bush

Sightings of Common Raven at the nature preserve have been on the increase
Over the last 3 years the number of Raven sightings at the nature preserve has been on the increase. I say sightings, but more often its their low pitched croaking call that is heard without anyone getting a glimpse of the bird itself. In New York State, I've always associated the Raven with the Adirondacks and with very large tracks of forest, but that seems to be changing now. In recent decades as forest replaces much of the farm land in the central part of the State, habitat opportunities for the Raven have improved. They also benefit from a reliable supply of carrion that is provided by frequent car/animal collisions. The Ravens are not alone in benefiting from that - vultures, coyotes, crows and many other opportunistic carnivores and omnivores can rely on supplementing their diet with fresh roadkill.
A reliable supply of road-kill helped Turkey Vultures expand their range northward 
Competition for food between Ravens and Vultures may explain the behavior that I witnessed 2 days in a row this week. Turkey Vultures have been in the process of migrating south for the past few weeks. However, lately when they sail over the nature preserve they can count on drawing a response from one or 2 Ravens. The Ravens, though around half the size of the vultures, don't seem to have any trouble escorting their potential competitors to a higher cruising altitude and thereby ushering them along on their migration. Nothing to feed on here, vultures. You just keep moving right along.
A Turkey Vulture soars out of range of the Ravens
Both Ravens return after the Vultures are ushered on their way
The Ravens are remarkably agile in the air - soaring, diving and rolling. After they showed the vultures to the aerial door, the 2 Ravens playfully spared with each other in the air. It was as if they were exhilarated by a job well done.
One raven tucks in its wings and dives into the path of its companion
 Ravens aren't happy about the vultures and this crow is not happy about the ravens
We may not have the ravens at the preserve for too much longer; as our over-wintering population of American Crow increases their presence, the Ravens will more and more become the focus of the crows’ ire. The crows, through sheer weight of numbers are able to effectively escort the Ravens to the periphery of their wintering grounds where they present little competition for food resources.
A large female American Toad perches on a large rock in the middle of a foot trail
At the preserve we’re starting to see the last of the reptiles and amphibians for this season. Soon all will retire to their winter quarters – whether that means burrowing down into the pond mud or retreating underground into a den. For now, many are still quite active as daytime temperatures are reaching up to 70 degrees F.
This Northern Two-lined Salamander was found beneath a rock at a woodland stream
Red Spotted Salamanders are still being found in the old woods
Some of the massive numbers of young toads that hatched at the ponds and emerged from the water in early summer are still being seen daily. In some places, it’s a challenge not to step on them. Red Spotted Salamanders are also fairly common in the old woods – and along the creeks both Slimy Salamander and Two-lined salamanders are still found.

2 Eastern Garter Snakes intertwined in a Honeysuckle Bush
Ever see a snake in a bush? I have a number of times. Usually they are not hunting, but appear to be coiled up and resting – perhaps waiting for the sun’s energy to warm up their cold-blooded bodies. One day this past week, I found 2 Eastern Garter Snakes together “sitting” about 3 feet high in a trail side bush. The 2 were tightly intertwined and at rest. They were not mating, but perhaps the second snake was lured to that unlikely spot by a pheromone trail laid down by the first snake. Probably the intention of the first snake was not to find a mate, but to find a companion that it could leech warmth from. Snakes sometimes do this in order to warm themselves up sufficiently to become active enough to hunt. They tend to do this on days when the sun’s warmth is not able to do the job alone.

It was a little hard to tell which snake head belonged to which snake body

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