Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Hole in Summer

If you're a regular visitor to In Forest and Field, you may recall previous posts in which a shallow hole appeared in the clearing where one of my camera traps has been mounted on a tree for several years. When the camera was first put in place there was no depression in this open spot in a long-abandoned field now reverted to forest. In 2017 a depression developed, which has since become a hole.

The hole began after an eastern coyote urinated in the center of the clearing and other mammals were apparently attracted to the odor and began to do the same. What was originally a depression merely an inch or so deep has now become a hole about 6-8 inches deep and more than a foot in diameter. The camera has occasionally captured photos or videos of active digging, every little bit has added up to a substantial pit.

Visit these posts to see earlier activity at the hole – here and here.

How deep will it go? Only the future will tell.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Summertime Sampler

September is the first month of meteorological fall and, with leaves beginning to change color and birds beginning to migrate, it's obviously now also biological fall as well. A Naturalist's Year is the current photo-a-day-for-a-year project; it's been broken into quarters by month. The year's quarters don't follow either the meteorological or astronomical seasons, so it's not yet time to post the photos from the year's third quarter.

In order to get an interesting photo each day it's usually necessary to take a lot of photographs each day. Having taken a photo of something interesting, there are times something even better comes along – therefore some good and/or interesting photographs just don't make the grade to be a day's photo.

Here are some of those photos: from June, July and August – meteorological and biological summer –


The first post in October will bring a photo from each day of the year's third quarter – stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Summer at the Bear Wallow

The summer of 2020 was hot and dry in northcentral Pennsylvania, temperatures regularly in the 90s (F) and rain infrequent. And so, the seasonal (vernal) pools in the Big Woods rapidly shrank, many of the smaller ones drying completely. But while the pool I call the bear wallow didn't dry fully, it quickly became smaller and shallower. Nonetheless, it still had a lot of visitors – although the black bears that usually make frequent appearances were notably scarce. One male bear luxuriated in the water on two consecutive days, the videos are almost, but not quite, identical.

The last time the camera trap was checked in August it was turned sideways on the tree to which it was mounted – typical of bear work. The bear must have wanted to bathe in private since the video taken as it was being turned showed only an out-of-focus large black paw wrapping around the camera.

The end of August marks the end of summer as fall begins to arrive in September with cooler temperatures and more abundant rainfall – at least I hope it will be that way. Summer videos from the bear wallow include two species that have never before been caught by the camera at the bear wallow – red-tailed hawk and bobcat – as well as a pair of eastern coyotes: a black male and blond female.

Here they are, the best of the summer's videos from the bear wallow –

The plan is to leave the camera in place until mid-October, we'll see what shows up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Summertime Elk

Late summer has been hot and dry in northcentral Pennsylvania, not good conditions in which to head for the elk range. The arrival of a brief spell of cooler weather was enough to persuade us to make the journey. Accompanied by our daughter, I decided to take a circuitous route to visit several spots in the remote southern portion of the elk range.

The area is a high portion of the Allegheny Plateau between the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and Sinnemahoning Creek including some of the most remote portions of the state. Our drive passed through the 50,000 acre Quehanna Wild Area, once the site of a test facility for a proposed nuclear powered aircraft in the 1950s.

Quehanna was also the location of a handful of widely scattered farms in the late 1800s. It must have been a hard life on those farms, with no nearby neighbors, a short growing season and poor soils. Eventually some of the old farms were converted to food plots to enhance wildlife habitat. The history of Quehanna is outlined in Quehanna: The Blemished Jewel Restored by my old friend Ralph Harrison.

On one of the gravel roads we came upon a timber rattlesnake basking in the sun –

After urging the snake off the road, we stopped at one of those old farms to look over the fields where flat-topped white aster was in bloom –


The water level in the man-made wetland was rather low –

and some arrowhead was in bloom –

Then in was on to the heart of the elk range on Winslow Hill. We went to my favorite spots for viewing elk, BUT … with the hot dry weather the herbaceous plants on which elk feed in the summer were brown and dry.

A group of wild turkeys fed in one of the dry fields where grasshoppers were abundant

The only elk we saw were in moist meadows along larger streams or in areas that had been mowed recently. But, we did see elk – a band of four bulls – some with shards of velvet still hanging from their antlers

By then it was getting late, the light was fading and it was time to leave –

It was a great day in elk country - beside what you've seen in these photos we saw a yellow-phase timber rattlesnake, four other bull elk, some elk cows and calves and a lot of white-tailed deer.

Note: Timber rattlesnakes are calm and non-aggressive and aren't out to get you. In over 50 years of working and recreating in rattlesnake habitat I've seen countless rattlesnakes and have stepped over two (that I know of), that I hadn't seen, without incident. This one was a mature snake close to four feet long, we may well have been the first humans it had ever encountered.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Hot Day's Walk

Temperature 87°F and rising, humidity 127% (not possible, I know, but it sure felt like it), no breeze, very hazy sun and some clouds. An ugly day for a walk on seldom-used roads through brushy areas and old fields. But it was also a good day for finding insect activity – in spite of the sweat that ran down my back and dripped on my glasses. And so I made a three mile loop and was back to the car before the heat became truly unbearable for this winter-loving naturalist.

The area is fairly flat with wet ditches and a couple of wetlands. It had been hot and rainless for several weeks, so mosquitoes were few and far between and the normally wet areas were dryer than usual. But it wasn’t dry enough to really impact any of the vegetation, and so there were flowers in bloom:

Monkey flower had opened its light blue flowers in a damp roadside ditch –

And the lavender flowers of wild bergamot bloomed in both widely scattered individual plants and large colonies. Wild bergamot appears to be the favored food plant of an interesting day-flying moth, the hummingbird clearwing –

Some areas are high and dry and it was there that the earliest of the goldenrods were beginning to bloom –

From the open areas of old fields and heavily logged woodland, the old road wound through wet woodland and a wooded swamp. For almost a half mile the road was covered with tall vegetation where at least one pickerel frog jumped away from my boots every four to six feet. There must have been hundreds of frogs, but only one landed in an open area that offered a chance for a photo –

The wet woodland had an extensive understory of spicebush which attracted spicebush swallowtails

Further along the old road emerged into an open wetland where a line of flowering buttonbush occupied the border of the road –

The flowers attracted some monarch butterflies as well as a few smaller butterflies known as silver-spotted skippers –


Scattered among the buttonbush were some plants of Joe-pye-weed whose buds were ready to open –

And some spotted jewelweed –

Out in an area of open water a green heron worked its way down a long-fallen tree –

And then the road led back into an area of old fields and fencerows full of catbirds –

and Virginia creeper showing signs of fall –

It was good to get back to the air-conditioned car for the ride home.