Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Videos from the Hill

Up on the hill above the house I’ve had some camera traps for a number of years and have included photos and videos in past posts. This year I’ve been remiss in not posting videos from the hill. To make amends for that oversight here are some of the videos that three of the cameras have collected since April –

The house cat belongs to one of our neighbors; they frequently let it out to wander – and to do what wandering cats do, which is to kill small mammals and birds. It’s been estimated that free-roaming house cats kill between six and 25 BILLION birds and small mammals each year. An article in Nature by three authors (two from the Smithsonian and one from the Fish & Wildlife Service) states: “… free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic [human caused] mortality for US birds and mammals.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Digger Wasps

Bob and Dotty’s home was a log cabin about two and a quarter miles from the state highway and a bit over two miles from a road that was driveable by a passenger car. It had no electricity or running water, but they lived there for almost 50 years. The only exception was the several years when Bob’s job required him to live out along the highway at his work headquarters. More of their story was told in this post.

Dotty died in 2012, Bob in 2015 and their cabin has since been moved and reconstructed at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. But their multitude of books aren’t there, nor are the pictures that adorned the walls. Bob was a friend of mine and I knew both of them well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d resent being a museum exhibit.

And so I’ve never seen the cabin at the museum – but do occasionally walk the old woods road to the cabin site where little remains except the cabin’s simple stone foundation, the posts from the porch, the vista northward into the Pine Creek Valley and the stone where I believe their ashes are buried.

The old road is a delightful walk –

And passes two of the many vistas Bob cut in this densely wooded region (one to the south and one to the north)

On the way back from the cabin site I passed something that had gone unnoticed on the way in, that something was a grouping of about 100 holes in the only section of the old road that was both sandy and sunny –

A closer look revealed that they were the burrows of digger wasps. The female wasps create burrows where they place insects that have been stung to paralyze them and on which the wasps lay their eggs. The wasp larvae then feed on the immobile insects.

The wasps don’t fly directly to their individual burrows, but instead circle for a short while before entering –

After about 30 seconds the female emerges to search for another insect with which to feed her offspring –

Digger wasps are dependent on sandy soils in which to create their burrows and are one of a multitude of species that make life interesting.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Along the Rail-trail

The weather forecast was for a temperature of a bit over 90° and miserably high humidity – UGH! H and I decided to take our bikes and ride the southern end of the Pine Creek Rail-trail early in the morning. The trail came into being after the last train passed through the valley in 1988; here it is, the last train –

The temperature was really pleasant as we headed north along the shady grade. Approaching the first (Torbert) bridge across Pine Creek we saw an osprey flying upstream from the south. As it neared the bridge the bird turned and landed on the tip of a limbless dead tree –

After a minute or so it took flight heading back downstream. We headed in the opposite direction, upstream, though the fields where some thin-leaved sunflowers were still in bloom –

After passing through the fields, the trail enters a damp woodland where pale jewelweed bloomed in profusion –

In addition to the jewelweed, white snakeroot also bloomed in abundance in the woodland –

A large pipeline right-of-way crosses both the rail-trail and Pine Creek in the wooded section. The clearing was covered with blooming wingstem –

A little further along is the site of the former Camp Kline, a Boy Scout camp that hosted campers for over 50 years. The camp’s dining hall had been a theater, dance pavilion or roller skating rink (there are various reports as to its original use) that had been dismantled and brought to the camp on the railroad –

The camp also had what was reported to be the longest foot suspension bridge east of the Mississippi River, the bridge was downed by high winds the in the 1970s –

More wingstem bloomed in this section –

As did the early goldenrod that attracted hordes of bumblebees –

Shortly we came to the Ramsey bridge which has been re-decked for the trail –

There we watched a bumblebee grooming –

And saw a red admiral butterfly basking in the sun –

The temperature was climbing so we decided to turn about and ride back to the car before the day reached its forecast high. On the way we stopped to admire the trailside waterfall on Little Bonnell Run –

Near the waterfall we saw a couple of interesting fungi: chestnut bolete and strict coral fungus –

And white wood aster in bloom – fall’s on its way –

Amid the trailside vegetation were twining vines of wild cucumber showing both flowers and some immature seed pods –

There were patches of scouring rush, a horsetail with a high silica content that pioneers used to scour pots –

After again passing through the fields it was back across the Torbert bridge with views up and down Pine Creek –

And back to the car before it got too darn hot.


Addendum – Camp Kline was originally farmland that had been purchased by James Kline and given to the local Boy Scout council. Most of the camp buildings were constructed in the 1920s and the camp flourished for many years, hosting thousands of scouts. The 409 foot-long suspension bridge was built in 1955 and blew down on April 14, 1974 during a violent windstorm. Without the bridge there was limited access to the camp via a steep narrow road impassable to passenger vehicles. Due to the restricted access, use of the camp dwindled until residential camping ended in the 1980s. The picturesque dining hall collapsed under a heavy snow load following years of inattention. The acreage was gradually acquired for the surrounding state forest and the final buildings demolished in 2016.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A Great Day

It was in many ways an ordinary day, but a great day as well. As I drove over a ridge to one of my favorite places to walk in forest and field a fledgling common raven flew up from the roadside to land at a convenient distance for a portrait, a photograph that became the picture of the day for August 15 –

Parked the car and headed through an old field on my way to a beaver pond. In the field a small butterfly flitted about; it turned out to be one of the large number of confusing butterflies called skippers. Later, the photograph enabled me to identify (I think) it as one called “the black dash” –

In the beaver pond a beautiful great egret stalked the shallows searching for a frog, a fish, or any other small creature worth eating. Great egrets don’t breed here, but a number wander north in late summer –

I watched the egret for a while as it caught a small fish and shortly afterwards a great blue heron swooped in to chase the egret from “its” pond –

Beyond the beaver pond is a patch of woodland that hasn’t been disturbed for at least threescore and ten years, and in that woodland I found a northern eudeilinia moth spending the daylight hours beneath a small leaf. It wasn’t well hidden since its wings protruded from each side of the leaf –

Nearby was a small cluster of orange pinwheel mushrooms standing about an inch tall –

Then it was past a large wetland where, in the past, an American bittern had resided for a while –

I headed back to the car through another old field where eastern tailed blue butterflies abounded –

So yeah, it was in many ways an ordinary day in forest and field and yet still a great day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

It's Rotten

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like summer with its heat and humidity – an abundance of biting insects don’t make it any better. Earlier this summer the daily high temperatures in northcentral Pennsylvania were in the 90°s with humidity to match – UGH!!!! Those days also featured ticks, biting midges, mosquitoes and deer flies.

Thunderstorms that came along with the the heat and humidity often brought those unpleasant days to a close. The night before this was written the storm lasted 3½ hours and dropped over two inches of rain.

While I may dislike summer’s weather and think the combined heat and humidity are absolutely rotten, many fungi thrive under those conditions. Although some species are easy to identify, many are very variable. I've not found my field guides to fungi particularly helpful in identifying fungi, so please don't ask me to identify any of these interesting and colorful fungi that have produced their fruiting bodies in the last few weeks

Fungi are really interesting, most of their substance is unseen: underground, inside living or dead plants or animals, even as a component of lichens. 

There are fungi that live on the outside of other organisms, among those are athletes' foot and ringworm and this entomopathogenic (insect infecting) fungus on a stag beetle

Many trees and all of our orchids rely on
mycorrhizal fungi on their roots to acquire nutrients and/or water. Fungi are also responsible for much of the decay and elimination of dead plant material. And, if you like cheese or bread or beer or mushrooms on your pizza you owe a debt to fungi.

Many living creatures also eat fungi; from other fungi, to slugs and insects, to rodents and deer –

So when you’re out in forest and field don’t just look at birds and deer and wildflowers – fungi are worth a look too. Don't eat any you can't absolutely positively identify since a number of species are deadly poisonous.