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January 10. 2014 8:49PM

Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: An NH retiree reports from Florida on turkey vultures

I was delighted to receive a letter from Don Anderson, now of Marco Island, Fla., who wrote: As I did throughout my 38 plus years with the Union Leader before I retired in 2003, I continue to enjoy your weekly challenge with nature across hill and dale in the Granite State.

"Your recent column on turkey vultures really caught my attention because we see so many of those ugly, old birds gnawing on dead 'gators and other prey all across the landscape here in southern Florida.

"I especially see the vultures chewing away along US 41 between here on Marco Island and Everglades City. That is where they seem to feast in waves when there is something roadside or along the waterway of the Everglades.

"Keep up your literary work. Your column has always been on the top side of the shelf as far as the Union Leader is concerned. Congratulations!"

Thanks, Don. I hope you continue to observe the wild things in your retirement. Best wishes!

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It has been some time since we received a letter telling about a black chipmunk. In mid-December the following letter written by a Landaff couple, read: "We thought you would like to see our black chipmunk we call (what else?) 'Blackie.' (Included was a family Christmas card featuring "Blackie" eating bird seed while stretched out full length on a downed log. The color photo of the all-black animal in its natural background was featured on the card, with a contrasting red border. It was excellent!

The letter continued: "We have had a big chipmunk that was light brown with stripes and a big head for three summers. We call her 'Mama.' For two years she showed up in the spring with two new babies, but this spring she had three babies. One of them was black. 'Mama' spends most of her time gathering seeds and making 'chuckin' noises.

"The chipmunks love to eat the bird seed that my husband puts out for the birds, so he puts little piles of it on the ground. It's fun to watch the chipmunks fill their jaws with seed and travel back and forth to their homes until it is all gone. They are always nervous when they show up in spring, but by fall they are not afraid of us.

"Last summer my husband had one that would jump all over his feet when he fed them and would even let him touch his back. We were upset when he was run over by a car out in the road, but not surprised.

"We can't wait for next spring to see if 'Blackie' and who else will show up.

"We also had two silver foxes come into our yard to eat bread we threw out. Lucky they left the chipmunks alone.

"Thank you for all the enjoyment and information we've received from your column over the years. Please don't retire!" (I'll comment on that subject later.)

Animals that are all black and are not their natural color, are known as melanistic as the opposite of albinistic (all white.) Melanism is more rare than albinism and is the result of genetic development that causes the pigment in the hair, fur, skin or eyes to be abnormally dark.

Although melanism is fairly common in gray squirrels in certain parts of the country, according to my research, it is not nearly as prevalent in chipmunks.

According to the book "Animals of America," edited by H. E. Anthony, (at that time Curator of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History): "Occasionally one of the five sub-species of the eastern gray squirrel will have a black color phase or melanistic form in which the animal is black all over. It is not uncommon to see these black squirrels in the northeastern United States and Canada from Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania northward to 46-degree latitude and west to Minnesota and Iowa." In recent years so—called "black squirrels" have been reported more frequently in southern New Hampshire.

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After we published our column telling about so-called "paper" wasp nests high in trees, a long-time Londonderry reader wrote, (including photos to illustrate), a letter that read: "It reminded me of a large nest I saw after the leaves had fallen from a very large maple. The nest was 50 feet or so above the ground and about 150 feet from our house near the highway. A strong wind dislodged it a few days ago. I retrieved it, that is, most of it. It really got soaked before I located it."

The "after" photo showed no sign of any live wasps.

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At age 92, one of these days I will retire. Many popular columns as selected by our readers, are now in the book: "Stacey Cole's New Hampshire: A Lyrical Landscape." The book is available at selected book stores and also on the Internet at www.nhbooksellers.com.

Plaidswede Publishers plans one or more books in the future.

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Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, 03446.



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