Thursday, April 19, 2018

Beechnuts and Bear Claws

American beech is one of the prettiest trees in the forests of northeastern North America. The tree’s bark is a uniform gray – smooth on healthy trees –

Its leaves are a dark green –

And the buds sharp pointed –

Beech usually reproduces by way of root sprouts which are one of the white-tailed deer's least favored foods –

However, it does produce seed at irregular intervals of two to eight years, sometimes longer. Beech seeds are borne in hulls that usually contain two nuts. When the fruit is ripe the hull splits open and the nuts drop to the ground –

Relished by squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys and black bears, the nuts are three-sided and rather small –

During years when the trees produce an abundance of nuts black bears climb the trees to feast on the nutritious nuts. In the process their sharp claws dig into the smooth bark –

The scars left by bears’ claws last for many years; the marks can vary from the bright, clean cuts less than a year old –

Through marks that are several years old  –

To scars that are many years old –

Some trees, those that produce an abundance of nuts in good years, show scars from bears having climbed for beechnuts on more than one year
Where they occur together beechnuts and bear claws are intricately entwined and part of their story can be read for many decades.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Teenie Weenies

Many years ago when we went to visit my aunt and uncle on Sundays, Uncle Andy would read a story to his young nephew from the newspaper’s Sunday comics. The story was that week’s episode of the Teenie Weenies. The Teenie Weenies were people that were only two inches tall and lived under a rose bush amid a world of normal-sized objects.


The Teenie Weenies as portrayed in the comics were pure fiction, but the name has stuck in my mind for these many years. It occasionally comes to mind when I check the camera trap that’s set to capture photos of the small creatures of forest and field.

In the late fall of 2016 I’d set the camera trap to determine if southern flying squirrels still inhabited the woods around the house – some of the results are in this post.

That camera trap is still there and still recording photographs to its memory card. Apparently the flying squirrels were gone from this patch of woodland for about a year, from early March of 2017 until March 22nd of this year. Change in habitat, less food available, competition for nesting sites, disease, or …? But they're back now.

Other teenie weenies also have had their photographs taken by the camera trap, can you identify them all?

Answers to the quiz:

Brown Creeper
Brown Thrasher
Carolina Wren
Dark-eyed Junco & Carolina Wren
Carolina Wrens
Cottontail Rabbit
Dark-eyed Junco
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Chipmunk
Fox Sparrow
Gray Squirrel
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Short-tailed Shrew
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-footed Mouse

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Elegy for Jacoby Hollow

Jacoby Hollow is a bit of a gem for naturalists. Except for fields at the mouth of the valley, the entire watershed is on the Loyalsock State Forest. The only view of the valley is from a road through those fields.

There’s a decent trail into the hollow that generally parallels the stream; in the beginning a small wetland is crossed on a boardwalk, but from then on it’s a woodland trail –

The valley generally trends north-northeast as a hiker walks upstream, so the hillside to the right faces northwest and is generally cool and moist while the hillside to the left faces southeast and tends to be warmer and drier. The valley's vegetation reflects those different aspects and the environments they create.
The trail passes some large white pine and through stands of hemlock –

My first visit to the hollow was in 1974 with a hiking buddy whose mother and sister had been killed in the gas chambers during World War II; in later years our oldest granddaughter and a group of hiking friends also visited the valley and its falls in winter; I’ve taken hikes into Jacoby Hollow in other seasons as well –

The real highlight of Jacoby Hollow is Jacoby Falls, at 29 feet the highest waterfall in the county

One distraction from the beauty of Jacoby Hollow has always been the pipeline that follows the stream, crosses it multiple times and is even beneath the streambed in places –

The pipeline is old, appearing in an aerial photo taken in 1938 –
Then on the night of October 21, 2016 between six and ten inches of rain fell in less than six hours. The stream roared down the valley, as did all the nearby streams, and into a larger stream which the pipeline also followed and crossed several times. The “high water event” tore out a road bridge, uncovered the buried pipe in many locations, and ruptured the pipeline that, according to PennLive, spilled 52-55,000 gallons of gasoline into the water.

I’d not been to Jacoby Hollow since that event but recently decided to go back. The route of the old pipeline is now the equivalent of a road –

Apparently repairs to the pipeline are still underway since sections of new pipe are laid out awaiting installation –

Shortly before reaching the waterfall the pipeline leaves the stream and from there the stream is still beautiful –

As are the falls; because the watershed above the falls is only about 500 acres, the waterfall can be a mere trickle 

But then there are the heavily disturbed stream and the pipeline right-of-way

The question of why the damaged pipeline wasn’t moved out of the valley arises; surely a major storm event will occur again – especially as the climate changes. The scars may not heal within my lifetime and I may not go back.