Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: 'The one animal I never expected to see' — a pine marten

By STACEY COLE September 07. 2018 9:00PM
The chickadee has a black round head, tiny fluffy body and white cheeks. The species does not migrate and will feed on sunflower seeds from feeders. (Courtesy/Cheryl LeBlanc)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Nov. 6, 1971.

As our longtime readers know, this column is dedicated to an exchange of information about all of nature, and although a major part of our mail is concerned with birds, we always welcome letters on any nature subject.

Our good reader in Tamworth who told recently of ospreys also wrote about an experience he had in the wilds of Maine on Sept. 26 of this year:

“We had flown to a small pond, where there are some camps, and were returning from a small pond about a mile from the home camp, when I heard a red squirrel chattering. Looking up into a large spruce tree, I saw the squirrel, and just above it was a beautiful pine marten. I have been in the woods all my life and that was the first time I have ever had the pleasure of seeing one. The martin had evidently just eaten the mate of the squirrel that we saw, for he curled up across two dead branches and went to sleep right there in front of us. My youngest son and his chum were with me and we watched it for a good 30 minutes. It showed no signs of being afraid of us and seemed quite tame. I have seen just about all the animals there are in this part of the country, and it sure was a pleasure to see the one animal that I never expected to see! The orange throat with the bright black spots was really something. Our family enjoys many hours observing Mother Nature, as I know you do.”

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The chickadee has a black round head, tiny fluffy body and white cheeks. The species does not migrate and will feed on sunflower seeds from feeders. (Courtesy/Cheryl LeBlanc)

Some time back, a reader from Deerfield told of watching a muskrat family. She wrote:

“Three years ago we had a family of muskrats near our camp, as there is quite a steep bank there. We used to watch Mr. and Mrs. Muskrat gathering the young leafy weeds to take to the young. After the little ones were big enough to come out of their home to get their own food, I used to stand on top of the bank among the bushes and watch them. They were so cute, like little round butterballs. They never ventured out in the open water, always staying close to the shore behind the bushes, eating the leaves off of the young sprouts, etc. Sometimes they would come out of the water and sit on the edge of the bank and clean themselves up like kittens would. I wish I had a movie camera. It was so interesting. After they got bigger they left for other parts and I sure missed them.”

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While at radio station WGIR in Manchester recently, one of our readers called and said she had a one-legged chickadee at her feeder. She stated that it had learned to substitute its tail for the missing leg in helping to keep its balance while it cracked up sunflower seeds. During our visit I recalled having a one-legged robin many years ago which returned for two years. I pointed out to her that once a bird had overcome a serious handicap such as this, its chances of survival would be fairly good.

This lady also told of having banded birds at her feeder and wondered if this was unusual. I didn’t think so in her case because I know of a bird bander who lives fairly near her area. A banded bird on my farm, however, would be quite unusual since I know of no one nearby who is a bird bander.

On the subject of chickadees, a reader in Sandown called and said they had a white-headed chickadee. She, of course, thought this was most unusual, and it was. However, there are more partial albinos than perhaps we realize. The chances of seeing a full albino are rare.

There are degrees of albinism. A total albino is entirely lacking in the usual pigmentation and would thus be pure white with pink eyes. Partial albinos have complete or partial lack of coloring in certain body areas only, such as in the tail or wings. There is also an intermediate degree, including a dilution effect, in which a dark bird will be cream colored. The American blackbird family is especially susceptible to albinism. It has been stated that as many as 35 or 40 percent of a flock of red-winged blackbirds may show various degrees of albinism in their plumage. Sparrows, robins, bluebirds, crows and hawks are also prone to albinism, and to a lesser extent, sandpipers and warblers.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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