Tag Archives: night

Amazed By My Dog’s Ability to do This

schr-1063If you’ve been following along you might remember that I adopted a puppy in December, after fostering him and his two siblings for 5 weeks after their mother was killed by a car. Well Schroeder, the puppy, is now just about 7 months old. A lot has changed in that time, including that he no longer sleeps in his crate, an adjustment that has taken some time getting used to because he growls and then barks at every unfamiliar sound in the night–though this has gotten better as he is learning we are not fans of this.

…and you remember I said I lived in the woods, right? Well all kinds of animals are out and about when we are trying to sleep. There’s no telling how many raccoons, opossums, fox, coyotes, owls, bats, bears, deer, skunks, and other animals pass by the house in the dead of night.

Outside of our house... a deer in a sunbeam

Outside of our house… a deer in a sunbeam

Last night Schroeder woke us up at 3:30am, and it was pretty obvious from his loud and insistent bark that this was more than a mouse scurrying through the underbrush. We thanked him for alerting us, then hushed him and listened quietly, hearing an odd sound that was hard to identify.

Now fully awake, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen in the dark to turn on the spotlight. And waited a few minutes. At first there was nothing, but then, very quietly despite his GIANT size, a lone black bear came around the bend of the deck and strolled out into the backyard, schr-6063disappearing into the woods.

When I checked this morning, all 3 of our hanging hummingbird feeders were empty, though interestingly, still hanging perfectly. This bear has learned that 1. sugar water is good, 2.that we have sugar water and 3.that he can get it without  breaking or knocking the feeders to the ground. I imagine him standing on his hind legs, using his front feet to tip the feeder, drinking from the feeder like a person would drink a beer! (We will bring the hummingbird feeders in for a few nights after this in case he is still in the area and hoping for more sweetness)

We learned that our dog has AMAZING senses, as do all dogs. He can be asleep in his bed on the floor at the foot of our bed, the windows closed, and yet he is aware of a bear outside the house. His bark telling us a bear is present is much different than other animals that pass by. How does he do it?

From my research on the senses of dogs it seems the answer is SMELL.

Schroeder as a smaller puppy

Schroeder as a smaller puppy

Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, so much more acute than ours that it is hard for us to fathom. They have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses–to our 6 million. According to a page about dogs on Nova’s website, “Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. “Let’s suppose they’re just 10,000 times better,” says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”

Schroder a month ago

Schroder a month ago

…”Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.” (Click HERE to read more of that article from Nova or HERE to read 10 things you may not know about bears.)

Amazing right? If the senses of dogs is that amazing, imagine what it must be like in other animals–like fox, coyote, bears etc. Knowing that, it seems amazing that we ever get to see them in the wild! And fully illustrates why every time I get a glimpse, however brief, of a wild animal in its natural habitat, I feel lucky. Do you? What animal encounters have you had lately?

Posted in Animals, Encounters of the Furred Kind, Just for Fun, Mammals, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , , , , , 2 Comments

Weekly Puzzler Answer #70

katydid-3As you’ve heard me say a time or two, I live in the middle of the woods. Lately, the songs of the KATYDIDS have been deafening at night! It always amazes me that such a small insect can create such a loud noise!

If you didn’t already guess it, the Katydid–a nocturnal insect– is the animal responsible for the sound from last week’s puzzler. Have you been hearing them at your house yet? Do you like the sound? Have you ever actually seen one? They are very well camouflaged, usually on something green making it difficult to distinguish them from a leaf. If you’re looking closely though, you can find them! I often see them when I’m out in the mornings doing photography in one of my favorite fields.


For me, I love to hear them, leaving the windows open at night to fully appreciate their chorus. The past few nights I have also heard the screech owl, which is an entirely different sound, but appealing in another way.

If you live in western North Carolina, you might want to join me in a few weeks when I give another program at The Compleat Naturalist–this one about Creatures of the Night on August 21st. In addition, I will be offering night hikes on several different dates that you will need to sign up for ahead of time. More information will be coming soon.

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend! Check out the next puzzler if you like!

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Quote of the Week #26

nite--2I recently spent a night camping on one of the balds along the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain. It was one of the those 90 degree days that often brings drama in the afternoons, but my friend Maggie and I figured we’d chance it, ready to take cover below if need be. As we finished our dinner and nibbled on chocolate and hot lemonade with pineapple rum, we heard a faint boom behind us, turning to find a wall of thick, dark clouds on the distant horizon.  Would they come our way?

Contentedly finding shapes in the swirling clouds and chatting pleasantly, we relaxed in our “lounge chairs,” waiting to see what would happen. After the sun was swallowed by the thickening clouds, we watched, seeing a wall of gray fall from the sky above the distant ridge. Rain. But not on our mountain top. Eventually the sky above the city lights darkened and we could hear booms of thunder, like far away bombs. Bolts of lightning behind the clouds lit up the night in a dazzling display of Mother Nature’s fury. What a show!

Amazingly, the storm dissipated before reaching us so we stayed warm and dry at our grassy campsite, retiring hours later to our tents beneath a star-filled sky. Much better than fireworks…or TV!

And that brings me to the quote of the week:



Posted in For My Soul, Quote of the Week, The Appalachian Trail, Wisdom for your Wednesday | Also tagged , , , , , Leave a comment

Awakened at 3AM By Guess Who?

bearnow-So last night I was sleeping peacefully when I gradually became aware of some weird noise coming from the front porch. It sounded like something was moving back and forth, kind-of rhythmically but it was nothing I could explain. As you’ve likely heard me say before, I live in the middle of the woods, on a 5 acre piece of land at the bottom of the mountain. If I walk out my back door I can be in Pisgah National Forest in a few minutes. For those not familiar, this forest consists of more than 500,000 acres! So essentially, my backyard is a rather big and wild place!

Still hearing the unidentifiable sound, I grabbed my robe and walked through the dark to the living room, where I could see out onto the deck that runs around 3 sides of the house. In the dim light I could see a dark shape standing at the edge. I moved to the wall, and flipped the switch for the lights, all 4 of them and saw an empty deck. Now I was fully awake and thinking BEAR.

bearnow-9313I looked again and noticed the hummingbird feeder–one of 5 (3 hanging, 2 suction-cupped to windows, including a 2nd floor window) — was set neatly on the deck, empty of its sweet nectar. Hmmmm, it was looking more and more like bear. So I got the hand-held spotlight and stepped out the door, shining it in all directions but seeing nothing. No sounds either. Where could he have gone and how did he move so quietly?

I walked around to collect the other two hanging feeders, both empty. The one outside the back door, like the one in front, was set neatly on the deck rather than thrown halfway across the yard. I brought them in, turned on more lights, looked around, but still saw nothing. So went to bed.

But I was far from sleepy.

A little while later I heard a noise again, this time seeming to come from the back of the house. Again, I grabbed my robe and made my way through the darkness to the back door. This time I flipped on the light–a giant one that floods the entire deck and half the backyard in light. Wow! Guess what I saw? A big, black bear standing on his hind legs, reaching up to where the hummingbird feeder used to hang. He took up the whole space, nearly hitting the ceiling! Such black fur, so healthy and full-looking! The light didn’t phase him very much, though it did seem to force him into retreat-mode. He clumsily climbed over the deck railing, onto the stone patio and ambled towards the yard. He stopped short and then stood up again by the sunroom windows, then walked off and guess what? He stopped to get a drink from our birdbath! With his thirst now quenched, he sauntered off, swallowed by the darkness.

The backyard--and a previous bear visit.

The backyard–and a previous bear visit.

It is amazing to live in this place where wildlife regularly wanders into our yard. Wow! I enjoy the chance to see things and to learn about the animals who are my neighbors, including bears. It’s an animal most people will have to go to a zoo to see and an animal that provokes great fear in many.

For us this latest encounter does present a dilemma. Every night we bring in our seed feeders for the songbirds. Will we now have to bring in the hummingbird feeders too? I guess if it happens again, we will consider it. At least he was neat about things and didn’t break any of the feeders! I imagine him standing there in the dark, guzzling the sweet liquid, thinking wow, I have to make this one of my regular stops!

Bears are not strangers to our yard

Bears are not strangers to our yard

If you want to read more about black bears, Click HERE. 

Posted in Animals, Encounters of the Furred Kind, Mammals, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , , 2 Comments

Weekly Puzzler #56

Okay, so the other night when I was walking back from my pond exploration I came over a rise and heard this very deafening sound.

I am thinking many of you KNOW what animal is making it, so that as my puzzler won’t be all that challenging.

Do you know the size of this animal, or what it looks like? Or their latin name and why it is so perfectly fitting?

Thus, this week’s Puzzler has a BONUS question.  First, what animal is making this sound? and Second,  What size is this animal?CLICK HERE to learn the answer.

Are you hearing this sound yet where you live??


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Guess Who I Saw at the Pond Last Night


It is 6:15 pm. I sit on the ground, hidden amid dried reeds beside a pond, looking out at the still water. The vegetation swallows me and the camouflage jacket across my legs aids in my intended disappearance. Before my arrival, a chorus of American Toads filled the evening with song. I know if I sit long enough they will forget my presence and carry on.

In the distance, the mountains of western North Carolina decorate the horizon, just as the sun decorates the cloud-filled sky. I am here for the second time in one day, hoping for a glimpse of the otter family that I suspect lives in the hole in the muddy bank. Earlier today as I explored this site and the large meadow beyond. I found several piles of fresh scat loaded with fish scales, lots of tramped-down plants, mud flats with eaten freshwater clam shells and a tunnel disappearing into the ground halfway along the oval shaped pond. These signs TELL me otters have been here! Now I just have to wait and be patient.

The toads have indeed forgotten me and though they are loud enough to drown out all other sounds, it is surprising how few I can see. Most call from beneath the overhanging vegetation, preferring the natural roof to the open sky where I sit. Interesting how when I was here this morning they were much more bold, calling from several feet out where I had plenty of chances to photograph them. Now they are invisible.

Though I would love to see some larger animal, like an otter or fox, I am content to watch the changing light, be serenaded by the toads and do nothing. In our hurry-up lives, many of us never make time for this. I have always enjoyed this rare pleasure, fully aware of its power to rejuvenate me.

The sun has been swallowed by the mountains and a breeze now blows across the grasses. The otter must have had other plans, not wanting to make an appearance here this evening. It’s okay, I will return another day, many more days in fact. One day I might get lucky. And if I don’t, well that’s okay too, as there are plenty of other reasons to keep returning.

Here are a few “gems” from my day:


Sunrise over the meadow Spiders are AMAZING artists!A Meadow of Little Blue Stem Raindrops decorate the grassA toad hopes for a mateMating ToadsThis toad fills the air with songFlowers in the field Waterdrops on everything A hunting bluebirdA perfect design!Jewels on silkHanging on a thread Art in Nature More art Silken wonders Drops of water Perfection Spider art MoreMore spider art

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Not Your Average Evening….

DSC_0177Have you ever gone kayaking or canoeing at night? By the light of a full moon? Imagine the darkness, the singing of the crickets, the slap of a beaver’s tail. If you haven’t ever done it I highly recommend it. Without a flashlight, without a motor, just you and your paddle cutting silently through the black water.

As the sun was setting two nights ago, we quietly pulled our two kayaks into the water and let the current take us. The western sky was a lovely shade of coral, with the clouds backlit. Before we had been on the river two minutes I spotted two otters running on the left side of the bank, moving steadily through the brush. When they saw us, they stopped momentarily, checking us out, then slid silently into the cold water, disappearing in the darkness. I have had many chances in my lifetime to observe wild otters, having lived at the edge of a wetland in eastern New York state for ten years. My experience tells me they are very playful and can be curious. In the winter, their slides on the ice into open spots of river were common.  I was thrilled for the chance to see them in my new home state of North Carolina.

An otter i photographed when I lived in NY

An otter i photographed when I lived in NY

As the darkness descended on the river, the almost-full-moon rose up into the cloudless sky, shining brightly across the water. I spotted a muskrat swimming towards me but as I got closer he ducked under and disappeared just like the otters. Here and then gone. A little while later there was a  loud crash, like a big animal jumping into the river. And then, before a minute had passed, an even louder SLAP of a beaver’s tail against the still surface of the water, shattering the silence. SLAP! Again and again, even as we paddled out of sight.

In the 5 miles of paddling we surprised 7 beavers, all of them crashing into the water loudly and then repeatedly slapping their tails.

Beaver on Petawawa RiverDo you know why they do this? They do it to alert other beavers that there is some kind of danger in the area. Even though we meant them no harm, this is not something they know. They simply see us and think we are a potential predator.

It was an amazing night of paddling, absolutely thrilling to me to learn about all these animals that make the  French Broad River their home. Before it was all over, we saw otters, muskrat, beavers and even an opossum. Most people never see these animals unless they visit a zoo.

Did you know beavers can hold their breath for 15 minutes? Or that they spread an oil that they produce onto their fur to waterproof it? Do you know how long they live or what they use their tails for besides warning others? Do you know how they see underwater? To learn more about beavers, check back on Monday as they will be next week’s Creature Feature.  Until then, have a wonderful weekend. Make time to be outside for a while–you never know what interesting animals YOU will see! See you on Monday for this week’s CREATURE FEATURE.

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