Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Day of Yellows

It’s close to mid-summer the time of almost constant sunshine interrupted by a few rainy days. On one of those many sunny days I walked through overgrown fields that were occasionally broken by wooded areas of various acreages and a small stream.

On that sunny day there was an abundance of yellows: yellow flowers and yellow creatures. Along an old road black-eyed susans bloomed in abundance –

And there were butterflies, mostly common sulfurs –

There were many other yellow flowers too: common mullein –

Yellow sweet clover –

And wild parsnip –

As well as that escaped agricultural plant, birdfoot trefoil –

A yellow bird of open country is the American goldfinch, here a male –

The stream had been dammed by beavers; the pond had large patches of emergent yellow flowers –

that proved to be those of greater bladderwort –

That pond was also the origin of two dragonflies with yellow abdominal spots that resembled each other but were actually females of two different species: holloween pennant –

And calico pennant –

The painted turtle that was near the pond might have been black on top, but its plastron was yellow –

The day’s final yellow was the center of the abundant flowers of daisy fleabane –

Unfortunately, the sunset that day wasn't yellow, just gray.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Chick in a Tree

During the first week of June 2015 I was following the boundary line between two properties; the boundary was easy to follow since there was a line of large old trees that had once constituted a fencerow between the tracts. Now the fields on either side of the line have reverted to forest –
From Penn Pilot

From Google Earth

A large bird flying low from one of those trees caught my attention; it quickly became apparent that this was a turkey vulture. Although turkey vultures do feed in dense woodland, it’s very difficult for them to fly between closely spaced trees.

Out of curiosity I walked toward the area where the vulture had taken flight – and there was a large tree containing several big holes. One of the openings was at waist level and provided a good view inside of what proved to be a totally hollow tree.

Turkey vultures are known to nest in hollow trees as well as rock crevasses and sure enough there was a turkey vulture nestling inside the hollow tree –

In 2016 I didn’t get back to the area, but in mid-June of this year I was nearby again and decided to take a look in the tree. A hiss greeted my peek into the hole in the tree trunk – a hiss from a nestling in the tree. This was another young turkey vulture, obviously older than the one I’d seen in 2015 –

There was a camera trap in the car, I decided to set it to capture photos of the adult coming to feed the young one and so mounted it on a nearby tree. When I retrieved the camera trap a couple of weeks later there were photos of the adult on the tree -
And entering the cavity-
And of the adult feeding the nestling (its white down can be seen in the hole) -
At this point the nestling had a face only a mother could love -
It was rapidly becoming fully feathered and would probably leave the nest before I had a chance to return, so I removed the camera trap -
A vulture nest I found in 1980 was also along a boundary line; that nest was in a small cave in a rock outcrop. The young birds were far back in the cave, small tufts of white fluff –

There's a real disincentive to entering a cave containing nestling vultures since their only defense is to regurgitate their most recent meal - ugh!

No, turkey vultures don't only nest along boundary lines; it’s just that walking boundary lines takes a person to places they might never visit otherwise.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fern Fan

A fern fan I am. Ferns, those survivors from a time before humans, or even mammalian human ancestors walked the earth, are ignored by many people. Most of today’s ferns are small woodland plants that never flower. 

The ancestors of today’s ferns predate the evolution of flowering plants and get along quite nicely without flowers or seeds. Instead they reproduce by vegetative means or through spores; the spores are microscopic and winds easily carry them long distances – and thus begins a complicated reproductive process. Spores that land in a suitable location develop into a gametophyte where the male and female parts develop and fertilization takes place. The new plant then develops roots, a small stem and the first leaves.

Ferns and fern allies were the dominant plants during the Carboniferous period when they created the coal deposits modern civilization is utilizing and thus helping to cause a disastrous change in the earth’s climate. Here's a photograph of the fossilized stem of a large Carboniferous fern -

With the evolution of flowering plants ferns diminished until they are now small plants; most species subsist on the low light beneath the forests of flowering plants.

A plant that is often mistaken for a fern is the mis-named sweet-fern which is actually a shrub related to rhododendron and mountain laurel - 

A sampling of northeastern ferns reveals a great variety of shapes and sizes growing in diverse habitats, some don’t even fit the mental image of a fern –

Bracken grows on dry infertile sites, often in the sun, and is frequently more than two feet tall –  

Christmas fern is an evergreen fern of cool, moist forests. The pinnae (“leaflets”) have a lobe that some think resembles the toe of a Christmas stocking –

Cinnamon fern’s fertile fronds resemble cinnamon sticks, hence the name. This fern is usually found near springs or near the edge of wetlands – 

Ebony spleenwort, a small, although it may occasionally grow to be about a foot tall, fern with a very dark brown, not black, stem –

Hay-scented fern is the only fern of which I’m no fan. It forms widespread colonies as it rapidly spreads by way of horizontal underground rhizomes. These colonies are so large and dense that they (combined with deer browsing) have eliminated tree seedlings and wildflowers from extensive areas –

Interrupted fern was named because its fertile pinnae are found midway along the fronds –

Leathery grape fern is a plant of acidic soils low in nutrients; it often grows in disturbed habitats –

New York fern is one of the most common ferns in the northeast, not just in New York; its fronds typically taper at both ends –

Northern maidenhair fern is one of our most beautiful ferns; it grows on moist fertile soils –

Ostrich fern supplies the fiddleheads for spring meals. The fiddleheads are frequently picked and sold commercially –

Rattlesnake fern at first glance doesn’t look like a fern; its name derives from the spore bearing portion resembling a snake’s rattles –

Rock polypody forms dense caps on rocks, draping the rock with its evergreen fronds. It’s occasionally found growing on the limbs of very old trees.

Royal fern is another of our beautiful ferns and is found worldwide. Growing in wet areas it is also one of the largest ferns found in the northeast –

Sensitive fern turns brown and wilts at the first frost. It is thought that this species has existed in its present form for at least 60 million years –

Walking fern doesn’t get up and go, it “walks” when the tip of its very unfernlike fronds touch the ground, root and form new plants –

Yup, I’m a fan of these beautiful, complicated and ancient plants.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nesting Wood Turtle

We were riding our bicycles on the Pine Creek rail-trail when we saw a nesting wood turtle. Each year we find many turtle nests in the limestone screenings that were used to make a rideable surface, but those nests have been plundered by the raccoons, skunks, opossums and foxes that patrol the trail in the night looking for a meal. 

But this was a female wood turtle in the process of backfilling her nest after deposing eggs.

The backfilling was done at turtle speed in turtle time. As can be seen, the turtle operated just as a conscientious person would do when placing fill – putting some backfill in the hole (we call that a “lift”) and compacting that before adding more fill –

Although the turtle had already partially filled the hole before we found her, we watched for 43 minutes before she finished and, apparently satisfied, slowly walked back toward the stream.

H. and I rode on and in less than a half mile found another female wood turtle excavating a hole in which to lay her eggs –

This lady turtle had apparently begun a number of nearby nest holes that had subsequently been abandoned when she got through a shallow layer of screenings and encountered the large ballast stones. Given how long it had taken to backfill the other nest, and lunch beckoned, we decided to ride on.

A bit over a week later we rode the trail again and saw that a predator had found the turtle's nest and enjoyed a meal. 

Hopefully other nests along the trail will escape the predators and produce a few hatchlings.