Common Musk Turtle

Common Musk Turtle (Scientific name: Sternotherus odoratus)

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This “Meet Your Neighbours” photograph of the Common Musk Turtle was taken by Twan Leenders

The Common Musk Turtle is also commonly referred to as the “stinkpot”, because it can produce a fluid in the glands beneath the top of its shell that gives off a pungent musky odor. When a musk turtle is captured or disturbed the turtle releases the musk odor to deter would-be predators and occasionally kids who want to keep this adorable turtle as a pet.

Common musk turtles are small turtles, usually 5-12 cm in length, with dark brown or black shells that may be streaked or mottled, with light spots along the edges of the shell. The head of the common musk turtle typically has two distinct parallel yellow stripes that extend from the nose to the neck. This species can be differentiated from the similar mud turtles by their relatively small plastron (bottom of shell), which has one weak hinge and exposed areas of skin. Musk turtle can also blend well into their surroundings by allowing green algae to accumulate on their shell.

Common Musk Turtle we caught in one of our hoop traps.

The common musk turtles can be found throughout the eastern U.S. in a variety of aquatic habitats. They are most common in shallow water-bodies with low currents, abundant aquatic vegetation, and soft organic bottoms. Although Musk Turtles are primarily nocturnal and they are often seen foraging in shallow water in the evening, they can sometimes be spotted during the day. They are omnivorous (e.g., seeds, insects, snails, tadpoles, algae) and will occasionally scavenge on fish carrion.

Surprisingly, common musk turtles have been seen climbing trees. The common musk turtle has been known to climb trees overhanging waterways and slanting boles as high as 6 or more feet above the surface of the water. If a turtle ever falls on your head or drops into your watercraft while you are out kayaking or canoeing, it probably will be this or one of the other musk turtles.

Bluet Damselflies

You’ve likely seen this friendly blue damselfly fluttering around shorelines, resting on grasses, or even on your boat, kayak or fishing rod.

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A Male Slender Bluet Damselfly photographed in the Meet Your Neighbours style by Twan Leenders.

Among the many species of damselflies, there is a category called Bluets that covers many of the species in which the male is at least partially colored blue. All of the members are gorgeous, with bodies colored a variety of shades of blues, greens, and turquoises. They also have some interesting striping patterns, with the location and size of darker stripes being a good way to distinguish different species.

Damselflies can be easily mistaken for dragonflies. One major distinguish difference is that the damselflies hold their wings tucked upright tight against their body, while dragonflies hold their hind-wings straight out from their bodies like airplane wings. Another difference between dragonflies and damselflies is the location of their eyes. Dragonflies have eyes that touch and are located at the top of the head, while damselflies have eyes that are well separated.

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A female Slender Bluet, photographed in the Meet Your Neighbours style by Twan Leenders. Note that the damselfly is holding its wings together while at rest.

Female Damselflies lay their eggs in submerged vegetation and when the eggs hatch the young nymph damselflies are fully formed.   Damselfly nymphs come in varying shades of green or tan and possess finlike gills.   These nymphs spend the winter underwater, where they molt (shed their skin) roughly one dozen times while growing. When nymphs are approximately 1 inch long, they emerge from the water and break out of their skin one last time and become adults.   Adults typically live less than two weeks, spending their final days feeding and breeding.

Here we have a pair of Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) damselflies in a “wheel”, a male and female joined together for mating. They are perched at a pond in this case but they can also fly this way. The male will likely remain with her until she lays the eggs.

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A pair of Familiar Bluet Damselflies mating. Photographed by Twan Leenders.

Bluet damselflies don’t sting or bite humans, but they are formidable predators of other insects. The nymphs hide in underwater vegetation and ambush the larvae of insects such as mosquitoes and mayflies.   The damselflies large eyes and ability to fly in any direction make adult damselflies excellent aerial hunters. Damselflies typically prey on mosquitoes, small moths, flies, and mayflies. What’s more the presence of damselflies at freshwater sites usually indicates clean water, abundant native vegetation, and other aspects of a healthy ecosystem.

It is prime time to spot the bluet damselflies, which are out in great numbers during the months of June and July. So get out there to any local bodies of water to see what you can find!

Northern Leopard Frog

The Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) is one of many species that frequents New York’s grassland areas near ponds and marshes and can easily hide itself in the tall grasses during the summer months.

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An example of the Northern Leopard Frog photographed in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style by Twan Leenders.

Northern leopard frogs are so named for the array of irregularly shaped dark spots that adorn their backs and legs. They are greenish-brown in color with a pearly white underside, light-colored ridges on either side of their backs, and a white stripe on their upper lip. They are considered medium-sized frogs, reaching lengths of 3 to 5 inches, nose to rump. The Northern Leopard Frog’s rounded spots with light borders help to differentiate it from the Pickerel frog, which has square spots and bright orange or yellow on the inner part of their hind legs.

The Northern Leopard Frog is found throughout northern North America, except on the Pacific Coast. They generally live near ponds and marshes, but will often venture into well-covered grasslands as well, earning them their other common name, the meadow frog.

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Photographed by Elyse Henshaw

Northern leopard frog tadpoles and froglets are herbivores, feeding mostly on algae and other aquatic plants, which they scrape off submerged rocks and twigs with a rasping mouth. They grow rapidly and by late spring are about 1 inch long and begin to develop legs. These tadpoles metamorphose into frogs, and by early summer the small frogs leave the water to begin their life on land.

Not only can adult frogs can live out of water, but they can breathe through lungs as well (although they also obtain oxygen through their moist, thin skin). Furthermore, unlike tadpoles and froglets, adult Leopard frogs will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. They are known to eat beetles, ants, flies, worms, smaller frogs (including their own species), birds, and garter snakes.
During the winter Leopard frogs hibernate on the bottom of ponds. When winter ends, Northern leopard frogs are one of the first amphibians to emerge from hibernation in the spring and they are the first prolonged breeder to start calling.

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Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

The Northern leopard frog is often difficult to hear because it does not call in large groups’ as do other frog species. Individual leopard frogs call from the edge of the water. The Northern leopard frog has a distinct mating call. The call is a deep rattling snore interspersed with clucking grunts that may be single or multiple syllables. The leopard frog call can also be described as the sound a finger rubbing against a balloon.

The habitat of the adult frog is the narrow zone between water and grassland. Furthermore, Northern leopard frogs have innumerable predators. Fish, large salamanders, snakes, raccoons, mink, skunks, bullfrogs, herons, and hawks all prey upon frogs. One adaptation that frogs like the Northern Leopard Frog have developed to avoid predation are powerful legs for swimming and jumping. Leopard frogs can leap an astonishing 5 to 6 feet in a zigzag pattern to avoid predators.

Black- Crowned Night-Heron

Black-Crowned Night-Heron

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Black-Crowned Night-Heron photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

Here we have a foraging Black-Crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), a long-legged wader of marshes, ponds, and wetlands, enjoying fresh, salt or brackish waters. They can be found across North America and are actually the most widespread heron in the world!  These spectacular herons have been spotted along the Chadakoin River here in Jamestown.

The Black-Crowned Night-Heron often spends its days perched on tree limbs or concealed among foliage and branches. During the evening and night the black-crowned night-heron forages in water, on mudflats, and on land.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are opportunists feeders that eat many kinds of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine animals. Their diet includes leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, clams, mussels, fish, amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles, rodents, birds, and eggs. They also eat carrion, plant materials, and even garbage from landfills.

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Black-Crowned Night-Heron Foraging For Food! photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

The Black-Crowned Night-Heron is a small stocky bird compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They have thick necks, large, flat heads, and heavy, pointed bills.  The black-crowned night-heron has broad rounded wings and short legs, which in flight, barely reach the end of the tail.  During flight the black-crowned night-heron folds its head back against its shoulders almost making its neck disappear from view.

In the light of day adults are striking.  Adults are light-gray to white colored with red eyes and a neatly defined black back, black crown and all black bill.  Young immature black crowned night herons are brown with large white spots on the wings, blurry streaks on their underside, and have yellow-and-black bills.

These are social birds that tend to roost and nest in groups, although they typically forage on their own. The Black-Crowned Night-Heron will even nest in groups that include other species, like great blue and green herons, egrets, and ibises.

Interestingly, breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will raise any chick that is placed in its nest. The herons apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents.  Another interesting behavior of black-crowned night heron’s is that the young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month, but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old.  They move through the vegetation on foot, joining up in foraging flocks at night.