Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Colors of Spring

Spring comes with a profusion of spring flowers, the first butterflies and moths and birds in breeding colors.

What a joy it is to wander through the Big Woods observing the ephemeral spring flowers that bloom before trees’ leaves emerge. In fields and woodland openings we can see butterflies; in those and in other places birds are courting, their bright colors gleaming.

A few of those colors of spring – 

Spring's over now, summer's here with extreme temperatures, but we can all anticipate the return of the colors of spring next year.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

One Morning in May

One morning in late May I decided to head for the hills – the Muncy Hills that is. I’ve written about the Muncy Hills in previous posts, specifically this one from last year about a search for pink lady’s-slipper.

It was time to search for those beautiful orchids once again in the area where, in June 1978, I’d found a huge colony of pink lady’s-slipper –

Up through the remnants of the old red pine plantation and into a stand of black birch and red maple. There was the first lady’s-slipper plant, two leaves, but no flower

The search continued until 11 plants
had been found, but only two had bloomed. One of those plants had a dried-up/wilted flower, the other had a year-old seed capsule side-by-side with this year’s dried-up/wilted flower –

From hundreds, perhaps thousands, of plants in bloom on June 8, 1978 to only 11 plants of which only two had bloomed in early May in 2024. Old records indicate that many plants are blooming a couple of weeks earlier than they did 150 years ago, here we had pink lady’s-slipper blooming a month earlier than they did a mere 46 years ago – thanks climate change!

So down the hill I went until – from almost beneath my foot burst a female ovenbird, the small warbler that looks like a miniature thrush. She went into a broken-wing act –

Ovenbirds build a well-camouflaged domed nest resembling an earthen oven on the ground. This is one I found several years ago –

I cautiously looked for the nest, being careful to only step in open spots where the ground was flat, but couldn’t find it among the fern, crowsfoot and fallen leaves. Taking a seat against one of the birch trees with good view of the area where the nest was located ...

... it was a matter of
waiting to see if the female would return; so I donned a camo face mask and draped a sniper’s veil over my shoulders and arms. Twenty minutes later there she was, having flown into the lower limbs of a small hemlock –

After flitting from branch to branch, she moved to one small birch and then to another –



The ovenbird was very cautious and wary, but eventually descended to the ground where she was hard to see among the ferns and crowsfoot. I had but one glimpse of her before she vanished –

Now that she was back on the nest, it was time to quietly pack up and head back to the car.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

You Never Know

On a spring morning I was looking for wildflowers in the Big Woods  in a large hemlock stand that hadn’t been logged for at least 100 years. There were a lot of round-lobed hepaticas, but it was a cool morning and few of the flowers were open. Thousands of trout-lily leaves blanketed the ground, but buds were extremely scarce.

However, you never know what you may find.

Suddenly I was startled by a duck flushing from the base of a large hemlock less than 50 feet away. My first thought was that it was a female wood duck, but as it flew to the nearby stream I realized that it was a female mallard.

There at the base of the hemlock was her nest, containing over a dozen eggs. On this cool morning I didn’t want to keep her off the eggs for long, so, after snapping a couple of photos, it was time to move on.

The mallard had chosen a strange place to nest, far from the type of wetland where her species usually nests. And when the eggs hatch, what about the ducklings – where will they find the insects they usually eat, where will they hide from predators in these open woods? The stream's a typical mountain stream, no emergent vegetation or log jams 
no place to hide there.

I walked on, still searching for blooms. After not finding many flowers in bloom I turned around and crossed a small drainage to return whence I had come. The hemlock where the nest was located was quite distinctive –

When it came into view about 250 feet away, the camera’s telephoto lens revealed that the female mallard had returned and was on the nest incubating her eggs –

Leaving her to her duties I went on searching for flowers.

You just never know what you may see in forest or field.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Did it Again

Well, I did it again. Along a stream in the Big Woods I was kneeling down photographing the bud of a round-lobed hepatica ...

... when I got a whiff of something dead. There was a gentle downstream breeze which made it pretty obvious that the deceased was somewhere upstream. So it was upstream that I went and the scent increased. A bloodhound I am not, so whatever was dead couldn't have been very far away – and it wasn’t.

What it was was a small doe that had died a while before, perhaps a couple of weeks or a bit longer. So I did it again: found another dead deer worthy of a camera trap.

It was mid-April, a long time after the end of hunting season, why had she died when she did? The doe had died near a stream, typical of an animal that has an abdominal wound, or perhaps she'd slipped on ice and broken a leg, or starved – as did this small doe in 1974 –

Because this doe’s body had been partially eaten and dragged about 100 feet from where she died – and stank to high heaven – I didn’t look into the cause. What I did was come back with a camera trap the next morning. Fifteen days later I checked the camera – here are the videos

Because there wasn’t much left to to attract large scavengers and the parts and pieces were scattered, it was time to remove the camera.

We’ll never know why she died, but the young doe has fed other critters and what’s left of her will continue to feed insects and bacteria, porcupines and squirrels will gnaw her bones, turkeys and other birds will eat the insects that devour the scraps. In a few months there will be no visible remnants.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

In the Merry Merry Month of May

It was a beautiful May morning: crisp temperature, bright blue sky, a stiff breeze. I took a walk along the river for about a mile. As in many places the railroad parallels the shore; not unusual for railroads, it’s undergone many name changes and mergers, starting life as the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, which became part of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad that was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, became part of Conrail and is now operated by Norfolk Southern.

Walking down the tracks my attention was drawn to the dee-dee-dee-dee of a killdeer’s alarm call. Killdeer prefer to nest on a gravel substrate and the trackside was a perfect place for them. The bird ran ahead of me calling constantly –

As hard as I looked, the well camouflaged eggs eluded my gaze. It’s certainly possible that the site had been selected but no eggs had yet been laid and the bird was alarmed in advance.

On I went, stepping on every other tie for several hundred yards when another killdeer began sounding an alarm. This one didn’t just run down the tracks, it put on a full-blown broken-wing display –

Once again there was no nest to be found. To show what a killdeer nest looks like, here's a photograph of a nest on I found on the edge of a parking lot several years ago –

On down the tracks I went, toward the bridge where peregrine falcons nest. And there in a tree was a falcon, from the size almost certainly the male of the pair –

I waited for a while, hoping he’d take off and present an opportunity for some photos of a peregrine in flight. He didn’t cooperate so I went on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

At the Pond

Fog extended from the ridgetop to the valley floor, it was very dense in the forest and at the beaver pond. The pond is number two on my list of favorite places to sit behind a camera watching for wildlife.

Quiet was the key as I walked to the edge of the pond, opened up a small folding chair, put on my ghillie jacket and mounted the camera and its telephoto lens on a monopod. But there was no way to do that without the three pairs of Canada geese on the pond taking notice and making a racket.

It wasn’t long before the geese quieted down and ignored, or forgot about, the strange creature on the shore. One pair climbed up on the beaver lodge while another squabbled –

Further down the pond was a male hooded merganser, but no other waterfowl were to be seen.

I’d been there less than a half hour when a black-capped chickadee landed on my left knee. Finding nothing of interest there, it hopped over to my right knee where there also nothing of interest. From there it flew to a small bush which it explored with better results –

Meanwhile the hooded merganser was making slow circuits of the pond –

An eastern phoebe repeatedly flew from several favored perches to snatch insects flying over the water –

Wood ducks flew over repeatedly, often in pairs, and three landed far down the pond. Finally a pair landed nearby and gradually worked their way closer to me as they fed –

But wood ducks are extremely wary and they knew something was amiss, so it wasn’t long before they flew off.

The whole time red-winged blackbirds flew back and forth across the pond, one landed nearby to vocalize and display

To my right was a dead tree that had broken off, leaving a snag about 20 feet tall that became a temporary perch for, in turn, a male cardinal and a yellow-shafted flicker –

With a great clamor the six geese took off; when they were gone the pond was still. But the hooded merganser continued his rounds of the pond, occasionally displaying for a female that apparently wasn’t there –

After two an a half hours it was time for me emulate the geese, leave the pond and go elsewhere after a great morning at the pond.