Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bears Investigating a Camera

A few weeks ago I’d put a homemade camera trap at a spot that has proven very productive over the last few years. The camera takes videos during the daytime and still photos at night or when the light is dim. When I returned to change the memory card and batteries the camera didn’t look like it had just after it was put in place –

The front of the steel box in which the camera was encased had been pulled off; the steel box is used to protect the camera from bears and human vandals. When I left home to put up the camera I’d forgotten the small padlock that usually keeps the front of the box closed and used a forked twig instead. Black bears are very curious and very strong and it looked like a bear had its way with the box. Fortunately the camera was undamaged and it had done its job of taking videos.

The first visitors were a female black bear and her cubs –

After the cub had smeared the lens glass all of the following videos and photos from the camera left something to be desired. The camera took a number of photographs of gray squirrels, then four days after the cubs visited a young male bear came into the clearing and ... –

The large male had come fairly early the next morning when there wasn’t enough light for the camera to take a video so it only took two still photos, the one in the video and this one of the bear at the camera –

The camera has an extending lens which makes some noise as it extends, that sound probably piqued the bears’ curiosity, and the camera carries many different odors of materials used in its construction. The cable lock binding the camera to the tree saved the camera from further damage.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fields of Gold

Take a ride in the countryside anywhere but in those areas where every plant has been eliminated to make way for pavement or crops and you will see some fields of gold –

That’s the gold of goldenrod, a group of many species: Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide lists 30 species; Peterson’s A Field Guide to Wildflowers adds one for a total of 31 species; Britton and Brown’s An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada increases the number to 62 and Gray’s Manual of Botany tops the list with 69 species.

Whatever the actual number of species it’s a confusing group, but one that brightens late summer and early fall days. However, one member of the genus isn’t gold at all; it’s silver-rod with white flowers –

And not all goldenrods prefer to grow in the sunlight; some, like this blue-stemmed goldenrod, are woodland plants –

But the vast majority of goldenrods are plants of open fields –

In those fields the flowers attract a host of insects; butterflies –

Dun Skipper

Great Spangled Fritillary

And beetles –

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

Locust Borer
 Wasps and bees –


Tri-colored Bumblebee
Northern Paper Wasp

And flies and moths -
Syrphid Fly
Warners Metarranthis
 The goldenrods unjustly stand accused of causing hay fever in allergy sufferers. But their heavy pollen doesn’t carry far in the breeze and they rely on insects for pollination. The real culprits responsible for hay fever are the ragweeds which bloom at the same time, in the same habitats and have light wind-borne pollen.

So the next time you pass a field of gold, admire the view –

And take a look at the insects on the flowers, for soon, as colder weather arrives, they will be gone .

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Woodring Farm

One of the easiest places to see some of Pennsylvania’s elk is on Winslow Hill in the appropriately named Elk County, and one of the easiest places to see them on Winslow Hill is the Woodring Farm. The farm is owned and managed for elk by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

From Google Earth

The old farm is bisected by a township road where there are several parking areas, one of which provides easy access to a short hiking trail. The only problems with visiting the Woodring Farm during the elks’ early fall rutting season are the traffic on the road and the hordes of rubbernecking tourists. 

Nevertheless, the old farm is still a good place to see elk. Just before sunset on one pleasant evening I pulled into the parking area intending to walk the trail to a high field out of sight of the road. Across the road in full view of the tourists was a bull with a small band of cows. The bull suddenly trotted up to the edge of the woods and began thrashing small trees, rubbing his antlers and suborbital glands on the trees. 

Apparently he had detected another bull that was out of sight; here’s a short video –

Leaving the tourists behind, I headed up the hill on the trail. There in the higher field was another bull and his band of cows –

Unfortunately, by then the sun was down behind the hills and the camera was pushing its ability to capture an image.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Spider and the Bee

It was a beautiful late summer/early fall day with bright sun, and white clouds sailing on a steady breeze. Along the edge of the pond several species of goldenrod were in bloom; those flowers attracted a large number of insects including several species of bumblebees.

The prettiest of the bumblebees is the tri-colored bumblebee with its yellow and black and a broad band of orange on its abdomen. Many tri-colored bumblebees were flying from flower to flower as they sought pollen.

These bees inhabit nests in cavities in the ground where they establish small colonies. The queen leaves hibernation in early spring, finds a suitable hole in the ground to begin laying eggs and feeds on flowers. The eggs develop into workers that continue foraging for the colony and tending more young. In the fall the colony begins to produce drones (males) and new queens which mate before cold weather sets in. The newly fertilized queens hibernate in the soil during cold weather while the old queen, the drones and workers die.

But about ten feet from where I took photographs of the bees another tri-colored bumblebee was locked in a life or death struggle with a marbled orb weaver spider. Here’s a short video of a much longer struggle, including its outcome –

The spider didn’t feed on either bumblebee while I watched, instead leaving them stored in its web.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Porky Log

Back in mid-February I found a long-fallen oak tree spanning a lengthy pool in a large stream. “Ah-ha” says I to myself, “that would be a good spot to put a camera trap.” Because the three inches of snow on the ground would make it easy for someone to follow my tracks, I decided to use my old commercial trail camera because it was expendable. 

A check of the camera two weeks later yielded a poor picture of a bobcat that used the log to cross the stream at night –

It also had photos of a raccoon and porcupines. Because the winter was warm, by then the snow had melted and there wouldn’t be any tracks to follow so I decided to replace the commercial camera with a homebrewed camera trap that takes much better pictures anticipating some good bobcat photos.

All through March, April and May the only things that showed up in the photographs were porcupines and, on a couple of occasions, raccoons –

Activity picked up in June as first a crow was photographed –

Followed by a great blue heron –

The parade of porcupines continued –

And raccoons kept using the log –

As did a great blue heron, probably the same bird as earlier –

In late July between four and five inches of rain fell overnight and the stream rose above the bottom of the log –

Finally in mid-August a bobcat reappeared on the camera’s memory card –

It was with hopes for photos of a bear crossing the log, or a fisher, or several photos of a bobcat making the crossing that I’d put the camera trap at the log. But, with due respects to the porcupines and raccoons, this spot has been disappointing. Perhaps other fallen trees spanning the stream proved to be better bridges or the bear, bobcat and fisher just didn’t have any reason to cross. And having another promising spot, I removed the camera trap.