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.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Recreational Mowing

Here we are, summer’s almost over and in northcentral Pennsylvania, the cool-season grasses that constitute our lawns have begun putting on their autumnal spurt of growth. Not as vigorous as its growth in the spring, the grasses’ fall growth will nonetheless probably require weekly mowing.

Personally, mowing the lawn isn’t one of my favorite activities – call me crazy if you will, but I’d actually rather shovel snow. To this end our lawn is small, kept that way through the use of groundcovers and native vegetation.

But it’s obvious that not everyone feels that way, some people have LARGE areas of lawn –

Those lawns are fertilized, sprayed and mowed on a regular basis; kept from becoming wildlife habitat or a locale for wildflowers. Large lawns, like our small lawn, require frequent mowing – sometimes that’s done by a hired lawn service, but frequently it’s done by the homeowners on their “toy” tractors painted orange, green, yellow or red. I’ve often thought of those folks playing "farmer" on their large suburban or exurban lots out in the “country”.

A good friend uses the term “recreational mowing” for what those folks are doing. I don’t know whether he originated the term or not, but it sure seems appropriate. It would be interesting to see if sociological or psychological research has been done to determine why those folks enjoy spending hours, and thereby a good portion of the time they’ll have on this earth, on their weekly mowing.

As they mow, they waste fossil fuel, destroy wildlife habitat and eliminate native plants –

These folks need to get a life and find something useful to do with their time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Hole

One evening last September the camera trap at what has been my favorite location took several photographs of an eastern coyote. In one of those photos the coyote was urinating in the center of the small opening in the forest where the camera trap is located –

During the following months deer and bear were occasionally photographed smelling the area –

And so it went until early May when a woodchuck was photographed at the spot. After five years this is the first time the camera trap at this location has ever photographed a woodchuck –

A few days later a porcupine was also photographed there –

It was in these two photographs that a small hole was beginning to appear. The spot was really attracting mammals, including gray squirrels and the cottontail rabbits that spent a lot of time in and around the hole -
The camera also photographed a  bobcat squatting over the hole –

The woodchuck returned frequently, as did the porcupine, and the hole became wider and deeper –

White-tailed deer continued to stop and smell the hole –

In July the hole attracted a black bear that spent over five minutes there; the camera took 19 photographs before the bear walked past the camera –

Although only the coyote and bobcat were photographed urinating at the spot, it may well be that other animals did the same. Porcupines are well known for being attracted to salty substances, including urine, as are many other animals from deer to woodchucks, so the hole may continue luring visitors and growing in size.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


It’s ‘shroom time in the Big Woods, brought about by the arrival of the first of the fall rains. Mushrooms have sprung up everywhere, white and red and yellow and brown and purple and ….

The folks who like mushrooms for their psychoactive properties often shorten the word to ‘shrooms and some prefer the colorful fly amanita that is abundant and colorful, appearing in red, orange and yellow –

The toxic chemicals in fly amanita are quite variable, with the effects ranging from none through hallucinations to, rarely, fatal. Speaking of fatal, another of the amanitas the destroying angel is virtually always fatal to those who ingest it. So toxic is this mushroom that more than one mushroom guide warns against even tasting it. Once the symptoms of poisoning by the destroying angel, also called death angel, appear it’s too late. Beware the destroying angel –

The amanitas are what are called mycorrhizal fungi which live on the roots of trees and are the primary means for the trees to acquire nutrients and water.

Identification of fungi can be very difficult and confusing, some are easy to identify and perfectly fit the field guides' descriptions, but many others do not or require microscopic examination of their spores or chemical reactions with reagents to identify.

Here’s a sampling of the recent crop of mushrooms in the Big Woods - minus names –

The sizes, shapes and colors of the thousands of species of fungi are beautiful and intriguing, but I won’t eat the ones to be found in the Big Woods.