Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Out Back II

Checked the camera traps behind the house a couple of days ago. There were photographs of the white-tailed deer that have been hanging around the house feeding on apples fallen from the apple tree and plants in the garden.

The fawns are accompanying the does now; earlier the fawns were hidden in thicker cover. The young ones have been nibbling on plants that the adults normally won’t eat –

And a young buck has been hanging around with them –

Our neighbor the gray fox has been coming by almost every night –

As has the raccoon that inspects the compost pile for edibles –

The most interesting photo was of the black bear that also passed by –

It’s not unusual to get a photograph of a bear out back once or twice in spring or fall, but this was the first time the camera traps have photographed a black bear here in the summer. A few moments later another camera trap took a photo of the bear's back as it was heading towards the neighbors’ place. We’ve not told them of any visits by a bear; they’re afraid of bears and it would only frighten them more if they knew that bears occasionally visited in the night.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Millersburg Ferry

We were headed south along the mighty Susquehanna River to visit an old friend. Down along the river past Shamokin Dam, Hummels Warf and Port Treverton, names that speak of the river’s past as a major transportation corridor.

The Susquehanna is often described as a mile wide (which is almost correct) and an inch deep, a good description of a river that is, for the 40 miles from Shamokin Dam downstream to Duncannon, not spanned with a bridge.

Before motor vehicles, when travel was slower and distance was a major problem, there were a number of ferries crossing the river. Now, there is but one, the last ferry crossing the Susquehanna – the Millersburg Ferry. Not only is it the last ferry on the river, but its two boats are said to be the last wooden stern paddle wheelers in the United States.

We decided to take the ferry across the river and drove to the landing, where we saw a great egret near an island -

And watched the ferry slowly make its way across the river –

Ours was the last of three vehicles (the ferry’s capacity) to board.

The ferry runs on an “as needed” basis; on this beautiful summer day it was making repeated trips back and forth across the river. When passengers are less frequent the means of summoning the ferry from across the river is to swing an old door mounted on a post so the white side faces the other shore –

The ferry is powered by a diesel engine driving a hydraulic motor, which turns a chain drive connected to the paddlewheels –


The ferry follows a winding route across the river, keeping to the deeper water above the “ferry wall”, a low dam constructed of rock and gravel in the 1870s.

The ferry wall clearly shows in a satellite view of the river –

From Bing Maps

The ferry wall makes a mild riffle enjoyed by kayakers –

And its rocks provide a loafing spot for waterfowl –

After a 20 minute crossing we arrived at Millersburg, a pleasant riverfront town –

With an interpretive sign outlining the ferry’s history; there was apparently a ferry here as early as 1760.

We watched as the ferry loaded for another trip across the river and cast off - with a deckhand pushing the ferry away from the landing –

And with that the paddlewheels began turning and the journey began -

The Millersburg ferry is a delightful voyage and a chance to see waterfowl and other birds that frequent the river, including bald eagles.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Old Farmstead

A few days ago I walked in to a place I haven’t visited in several years, but is actually one of my favorite areas. It’s an old farmstead that is fairly remote now, but must have been really isolated when it was cleared many, many years ago.

The farmstead is shown on an 1873 map of the township as being the residence of S. Miller, so the land must have been cleared even earlier.

The old histories don’t mention S. Miller, but a search of old deeds might disclose when the land was cleared. By 1939, when the first aerial photographs were taken, it appears that active farming had ended while rows of apple trees were still quite obvious.

Even then the old farmstead was surrounded by publicly-owned forest land. The northern and southern cleared areas (which may have been part of a second farm) were added to the state forest and were planted with conifers. But, the large central portion of the cleared area remained in private ownership. In the 1980s that land also became part of the state forest.

My walk took me up the old road that shows on the 1873 map –

And past an old cellar hole in a plantation of Norway spruce –

Red squirrels live in conifer stands and are especially common in older spruce plantations with their abundance of large cones. A red squirrel had gathered a batch of spruce cones in the cellar hole –


Many people don’t realize that red squirrels spend a lot of time underground; that’s demonstrated here where a red squirrel lives among the rock walls of the old cellar and has created a pile of discarded scales from the cones it had opened to feast on the seeds inside.

Nearby was the farm's hand-dug well whose walls are still intact after all these years –

On to the remaining open land of the old farm and the enduring trees of what had been an orchard; trees which have a good crop of apples this year

The old fields are being managed for wildlife through a cooperative arrangement between the Bureau of Forestry, Game Commission and the Wild Turkey Federation. Replacement apple trees have been planted, some of which are also bearing a crop of fruit –

The fields have been planted as wildlife food plots and are rotationally mowed –

Unfortunately, wildlife sightings were scarce when I was there. A common yellowthroat protested –

As did a house wren –

How many generations of wrens must have protested the presence of humans in the years since this old farm was cleared? And what must life have been like for the people that lived on this land?