Wednesday, September 30, 2015

From The Bear Wallow

Last year I put a camera trap at a seasonal (vernal) pool, one of the kind that people in this area call a bear wallow. And bears certainly did wallow in the gradually drying pool to cool off during the hot summer weather. Photos from the bear wallow were posted here and here.

This year as summer returned I put a camera at the bear wallow once again expecting more photographs of bears cooling off. In spite of some hot humid weather no bears were photographed during the first month. Instead the cameras had captured photos of white-tailed deer –


The late spring-early summer season was quite wet so the difference in the bear wallow’s water level between last year and this had been significant. 

This year the streams were also high – is that the reason there hadn’t been any bears at the wallow, were they cooling off in the streams instead? Other camera traps in the area were still getting the usual number of bear photos, so it doesn’t seem the bear population has decreased. 

Finally, after almost a month without rain, the water level dropped and bears returned. Do bears prefer shallow, muddy pools?

Where had they been and why had they returned when the level dropped? Yet another mystery from the natural world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beautiful Spinners

Many, if not most, people have a real aversion (sometimes bordering on fear) of spiders. To begin with, they’re among the “creepy crawlers” and all are poisonous – although only a very few are really toxic to humans.

But, many species of spiders are truly beautiful when viewed up-close. I was reminded of their beauty while walking through an old field grown up to goldenrod and asters along with many other species of forbs and grasses. 

What first caught my eye was a spider rapidly bouncing back and forth on its web. Some writers describe the action as vibration, but this was much more vigorous than could properly be called vibration. The bouncing stopped when I stepped back and began again with each close approach.

There, just beginning to spin its web was a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata). This is a spectacular species; basic black with multiple bands of white and bright yellow on its back. The ventral side is black with yellow markings.

As has often been described, this spider was orienting its web in an east/west direction. It is thought that the web’s orientation allows the spider to absorb the sun’s heat as it rests with its underside facing south.

These spiders overwinter as eggs that hatch in the spring. The males die soon after mating and the females are active in late summer and fall.

The banded garden spider is closely related to the equally beautiful, and more common, golden (or yellow) garden spider (Argiope aurantia) that is also active late in the year and also vibrates its web.

So, take a good look at the next spider you see, it may be a beautiful creature.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Bear Spot

Went to the Big Woods to change the card and batteries in one of my camera traps. As I walked in, a medium-sized black bear crossed the old woods road and stood watching me for a while. Between it being a foggy morning and the dense shade it wasn’t possible to get a good photograph, but I took a couple anyway –

This area of the Big Woods is a real hotspot for bears, very diverse habitat with not much human activity. Back in May I’d seen this little fella in an old log loading spot about 200 yards from the camera trap. Unfortunately, he hasn’t passed that camera all year –

The camera trap had gotten a number of photographs, including several black bears, in the three plus weeks since it was last checked. 

Day 1 a female with a cub –

Day 2 –

Day 9 –

Day 12 -

Day 13 -

In addition to the photographs of bears, the camera trap also had gotten photos of a few white-tailed deer –

In past years this camera trap location has produced good photos of bobcats and coyotes as well as deer and black bear, but the smaller predators haven’t made many appearances this year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

At The Lake

Took the canoe up to a small lake quite a way to the north on a beautiful late summer day. This is a lake that is relatively shallow for much of its expanse and so spadderdock, the one of the yellow-flowered “waterlilies” covers much of the area. This late in the season there were no flowers; the plants normally flower in June and July.

In places, the easiest way to travel was to keep to the open channels through the dense mat of leaves –

The canoe carried me on a circuit of the lake, past a great blue heron hunting frogs, fish or anything else edible –

There were a few flowers in bloom in wet spots along the shore, turtlehead –

And Joe Pye weed –

In other places, boneset was in bloom –

Boneset was commonly used as a medicinal plant by Native Americans and European colonists. Among its many medicinal uses, it was thought that wrapping the leaves around a broken bone would hasten healing.

There were other herons along the lake’s shore, they were green herons also hunting frogs, small fish and large insects. Some green herons won’t allow a close approach, while others seem almost tame –

There were more birds on the lake: several female mallard ducks –

And a mallard/black duck hybrid that looked much  like its black duck ancestors –

Black ducks were the duck of the beaver ponds and wetlands in the northeast before farming and logging made much of the northeast look like the midwest and wildlife agencies began releasing farm-raised mallards. Those mallards rapidly interbred with the black ducks and the hybrids overwhelmed the native ducks. Now it’s unusual to see a black duck in northcentral Pennsylvania. Unanticipated consequences of what were probably good intentions that went awry.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

At The Inlet III

With fall rapidly approaching there will be more people in forest and field so I decided to remove the camera trap at the inlet. All summer the number of photographs has been diminishing, so I wasn’t too reluctant to bring it in.

The camera trap had a few photos, a white-tail doe beginning to change from her reddish summer coat to the gray-brown of winter –
And a red-tailed hawk that only stayed long enough for one distant photo –

This also seemed like a good day to walk along the pond’s edge to see what I could see –
There was closed gentian in full bloom –

An ovenbird in the pond-side shrubs –

And a chipmunk on a fallen tree –

As well as several painted turtles basking on a log –

But the highlight of the circuit of the pond was all the greater bladderworts in bloom –

Bladderworts are carnivorous plants; carnivorous in that they trap and digest small animals (paramecium, mosquito larvae, even very small fish) to provide the nutrients their frequently infertile aquatic habitats are lacking.

This was greater or common bladderwort which is, except for its flower stalk, a submerged plant that lacks true leaves.  Its underwater stems have shoots containing the chlorophyll that manufacturers sugars for the plant.

Underwater stems bear the bladders that give the plant its common name –

The bladders are traps for the small animals from which the plant derives nutrients. The bladders have a trigger that, when brushed against by an animal, cause a trap door to open and negative pressure in the bladder draws in the animal and some water. Enzymes secreted within the bladder digest the animal.

There’s always something of interest to see in the natural world.