Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Bob died last week – and lovers of uneven ground, hiking trails, wild places, wild things and cross-country skiing lost one of their best friends in northcentral Pennsylvania.

Bob grew up in a relatively prosperous family in southeastern Pennsylvania. His father had acquired more than four hundred acres on the edge of Pennsylvania’s Black Forest atop a ridge on the edge of the Pine Creek valley and it was there Bob made his home and began working for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.
In 1961 he married a direct descendant of the earliest settler of the Slate Run area along Pine Creek. Bob and Dotty, his new wife, built a two-room log cabin on his father’s land; the cabin was located over two miles from a paved road with a view into the Pine Creek valley to the north. The cabin, which was heated by a small wood stove, had no electricity or running water. That was the way they started and it was that way until the end.

After he retired, Bob added another room to the cabin, but still no electricity or running water. Except for a few years in the 1980s when Bob’s job required that they live in a house near his work headquarters, Bob and Dotty spent their 51 years together living in the cabin. Dotty died in 2012 and Bob continued living in the little cabin on the rim of the canyon.

During a hiking trip to New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the 1960s Bob saw the extensive trail network there and thought the deeply dissected plateau surrounding the Pine Creek valley would be a great place for a similar system. He received permission to begin work on a marked hiking trail and thus was born the now famous Black Forest Trail. Bob didn’t just create that trail, but was also the “father” of the nearby Golden Eagle Trail, other hiking trails, and an extensive system of cross-county ski trails. Even after retiring Bob continued to do the bulk of the maintenance work on all of those trails.

A wonderful storyteller, Bob enthralled listeners with the history of the area, accounts of encounters with wildlife and places seldom visited by others. Bob and Dotty were not hermits or out of touch with the modern world. They read extensively: poetry, nature, history, travel; and listened, via portable radio, to the news of the world. Anyone visiting the cabin was likely to encounter another visitor on the way in or out. But often Bob and Dotty were not at home since they were frequently off visiting some of their wide circle of friends.   

Bob was famous for the long scenic hikes he led and for his treks down to the post office/store in Slate Run to pick up the mail and some groceries; he would then go back up the 1,100-foot climb to the cabin with his pack full.

Bob loved the land, large old trees, extensive views, large rock outcrops and the change of seasons. Now he will be part of them forever.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From The Camera Traps - Early 2015

The woods, at least in front of my camera traps, seemed quieter during the first three months of 2015 than they have been in years. Why? Low temperatures, fairly deep snow, something else not so apparent to a mere human? Perhaps wildlife populations have been rather low or they were in different areas due to food supplies of some disturbance? 

In any case, the camera traps did get some interesting photographs of wildlife. A young buck with an antler apparently broken during the rut –

Another young buck still carrying his antlers on March 2nd -

Two gray fox above the yard –

The black bear that was up and about on January 11 –

And the large male bear that visited the yard and prompted us to bring the bird feeders in each night. The scars on his face are undoubtedly the result of mating-season battles –

And the Red fox –

Coyote –

And fisher that one camera trap caught within the space of three days –

Perhaps, in retrospect, things weren’t so quiet after all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bluebird Of Happiness

In the 44 years we’ve lived here only once have we seen an eastern bluebird in the yard. Perhaps that’s because our habitat isn’t what anyone familiar with bluebirds’ preferences (or the birds themselves) would consider bluebird habitat. So it came as quite a surprise when our granddaughter looked out the kitchen window and exclaimed that there was a bluebird at the nestbox. 

Shortly after we moved into our recently built house I found a small dead chestnut snag and cut it to take home; used a chain saw to make a suitable hollow in the snag; drilled a 1 ½ inch diameter entrance hole; and fastened a sheet metal plate on the backside to close the cavity and allow for cleaning out old nesting material. The hollowed-out snag was used for nesting by tufted titmice, Carolina wrens and uncounted pairs of house wrens. Eventually the snag deteriorated and the artificial cavity became unusable. But the snag was still solid enough so a nestbox could be mounted to it.
That box has also been used by nesting titmice and many house wrens –
The male bluebird was soon joined by the female and they took turns repeatedly examining the box –
The female spent a few minutes removing the few twigs that remained after last year’s house wren nest had been cleaned from the box –
It remains to be seen if the bluebirds will remain to raise a brood in the box, but for now they’ve brought happiness to those of us who have watched them at the nestbox.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Seven Days II

As winter fades to a memory and spring arrives in fits and starts there’s always something interesting to be seen in the natural world:

Day 1 – Last week’s snow has been melting rapidly, but there’s still quite a bit on some north-facing slopes and shaded spots. Two recently arrived male robins were disputing ownership of a territory containing a large snowy area. There were certainly no worms or other ground-dwelling  things to eat; until their battle, both birds had been fluttering along the trunks of nearby trees – apparently gleaning something edible, but I couldn’t determine what that was.

Day 2 – HP spoke of a small spotted fawn that he’s occasionally seen at his place and which he believes must have been born in January. If he’s correct, and I think he is, the question of how the fawn survived below zero temperatures and 18-24 inches of snow begs for an answer – as does how the doe found sufficient nutritious food to produce enough milk to feed the fawn. The fawn’s survival isn’t assured in spite of the warmer weather since most of the easily available browse has already been devoured by hungry deer. 

Day 3 – It’s not unusual to see migrating common loons on the river, but it was exciting to find two of them swimming together. Many years ago, on a day in early May, a friend and I counted 104 common loons on a large lake in the area. It was hard to get a good count of the birds since some were repeatedly diving and resurfacing; 104 was our most accurate count – Wow!

Day 4 – Walked to an old hill farm in the Big Woods and wondered about the hard life the folks who lived there must have lived. The house would certainly have had a beautiful view across a large valley and distant hills. But the poor soils and steep fields couldn’t have provided much of a living before the farm was abandoned during World War I. Some of the fields were subsequently planted with Norway spruce, a European species that does well here, others were allowed to grow up to pioneer tree species like bigtooth aspen and red maple.

Day 5 – Spring’s here, but some winter birds still haven’t departed for their breeding grounds in the north. This winter large numbers of pine siskins came south to spend the winter in northcentral Pennsylvania. I saw them on the elk range, and feeding on black birch seed in the Big Woods, and a substantial flock paid daily visits to our feeders. Now, almost all of the siskins have departed, but we still see an occasional siskin near the house.

Day 6 – The male red-winged blackbirds arrived in the last few weeks and, now that the wetlands have thawed, are busy staking out their territories in the cattails. Their red epaulets seem to glow even on a morning of April showers.

Day 7 – Mitigation wetlands are constructed to replace wetlands that have been altered or destroyed elsewhere. On an afternoon of heavy rain, in a nearby mitigation wetland, stood a great egret - a closer look revealed there was not just one egret, but also another hidden among some cattails.

It's not unusual to see great egrets in northcentral Pennsylvania in the summer, but this was by far the earliest I've ever seen them here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ah Spring

Spring comes on in fits and starts, snow one day, balmy temperatures the next, then some snow again.

It had been pretty warm here for several days, warm enough that virtually all the snow had melted both at the house and in the Big Woods. Then, one recent morning as we were eating breakfast, large flakes began drifting lazily down. That kept up for about a half hour; the flakes didn’t melt when they hit the ground but there weren’t enough of them to whiten the ground either. 

Breakfast done, I headed for the Big Woods where, only three miles from the house, the ground was now covered with well over a half inch of the white stuff. Not far from where I’d parked was a fresh coyote track – the animal had obviously passed by in daylight, not long before the snow stopped falling. In about three and a half miles there were three separate sets of coyote tracks, some newer than others, all headed in the same general direction.

I also crossed two fisher trails, apparently made after the snow had stopped –
By the next morning all the snow had melted, and it felt like spring again. In a wetland the first of spring’s wildflowers was in bloom. They’re a flower that most people don’t notice since the blossoms aren’t showy. The skunk cabbage had melted their way through the thin layer of ice on the wetland –

Some were just poking up, while in areas that got more sun others were fully open –

Then, yesterday morning the snow began falling again; slowly at first –

But more heavily later on, so that by mid-afternoon three inches of heavy wet snow were on the trees and the ground – creating a spring wonderland.

The forecast is for temperatures in the upper 40s today and the upper 50s tomorrow so the snow will soon be gone and it will feel like spring again. Such is spring.