Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Season of Bounty - The Sequel

Virtually all of the acorns have fallen now and, since there was not a super abundance, most have been eaten or buried for future use. As long as acorns were available, wildlife preferred them to apples – acorns contain a lot of fats and proteins compared to apples. By late October apples are once again the most abundant and easily obtained source of energy wherever there are apple trees.

For several weeks, as the acorns were dropping, most of the apple drops were left untouched except by the ants and yellowjackets that readily fed on the fruit. The ground was covered with fallen apples, only a few of which were in various stages of decay.

The camera traps didn't capture photos of any wildlife seeking apples. Then, over the course of only two or three days all the fallen apples disappeared. They disappeared into the white-tailed deer that had returned to feed on apples once again –

Now any fallen apples were vanishing each night as deer –

And gray fox came to eat –

An opossum also fed on fallen apples–

It was joined by another the next night –

Not to be outdone, a black bear also took part in the apple feast – fortunately it didn’t climb the tree and tear off limbs to get at more of the apples as bears frequently do –

Apparently this was not the bear that visited during the summer, that one had a tag in its right ear as can be seen in this post. But it may well have been the large male, with scars on his face, that the camera trap caught in the spring and whose photo can be seen here.

One night there were two gray foxes feeding on apples at the same time –

Now there are only a handful of apples on the tree; they will soon be gone and the season of bounty will be over.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

To Elk Country Again

Returned to Pennsylvania’s elk range several times during the rut, which usually begins in early to mid-September and ends about a month later in mid-October. On the drive out I was able to photograph a bull elk fording Sinnemahoning Creek –

The most reliable and favorite place for most people to see elk has been on Winslow Hill, a spot that had once been an area of small farms, was then extensively strip-mined for coal and where some of the old farms have more recently been subdivided and developed for hunting camps. Much of the of the surrounding land has been state forest land for many decades and many of the old farms and mined land have been acquired by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, reclaimed and managed for elk habitat. 

But, recent tourist-oriented developments by both the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Game Commission have also markedly changed Winslow Hill. DCNR was the lead on creating the Elk Country Visitors Center – a grandiose edifice –

And the Game Commission created a parking lot and viewing area –

The viewing area offers a distant view of “The Saddle”, one of the reclaimed strip mines –

The large grasslands on and around The Saddle have been an area frequented by both some very large bulls and those seeking to photograph them. This year, the only large bull elk that I saw at The Saddle was a bull with a broken tine that loomed out of the fog one morning, and was still nearby just before sunset that evening –

There were other fairly large bulls on Winslow Hill, but most kept far from the hordes of visitors.

Toward the end of the rut, one of those bulls had a small band of cows.

Several of the cows were lying down and were repeatedly approached by the amorous bull. Whenever he approached one, she would extend her neck and lay her head on the ground. The bull would then stroke her back with his chin and neck – all to no avail since by the end of the rut virtually all of the cows would have already been bred.
It was good to see the elk on Winslow Hill, but disappointing not to see any of the really large mature bulls that had frequented the area in years past. Where were the big bulls? Killed during the last hunting season? Someplace else where more nutritious or more abundant food was available? While some elk become so habituated to humans that they're less skittish than many beef cattle, others seem to have the opposite reaction. Perhaps the big bulls were elsewhere because of disturbance from all the tourist activity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Season of Bounty

Well, here it is the middle of autumn and the trees and shrubs of forest and field are in the midst of one of the most fruitful autumns in many years. Oaks, both red and white, are dropping acorns. Although the oaks had a larger crop of acorns last year, in some areas walking in the woods is like walking on ball bearings as the acorns littering the ground roll underfoot.

The chipmunks, blue jays and squirrels are busy squirreling away their winter food supply –

Even the beech trees have produced one of their infrequent crops of seed –

Grapevines are sagging under the weight of their abundant crop that will feed ruffed grouse, fox, songbirds and wild turkeys –

Everywhere we go the apple trees, both cultivated and wild are laden with fruit, fruit that in some cases is heavy enough to break the trees’ limbs.

There are apples of every size and color, some pretty enough to grace the shelf of a grocery store -

Some misshapen, discolored and covered with blemishes -

The appearance of the apples doesn’t matter to the wildlife that feeds heavily on apples. The raccoons munch away –

Gray fox may be carnivores, but they eat apples too –

As soon as the apples started to fall the white-tailed deer began cleaning up the fruit that fell from the trees –

One of my camera traps captured a sequence of a young buck devouring two apples –

Over broad areas, trees of the same species typically produce bumper crops of seed at the same time, often on a three to seven year cycle. The question that is often asked is how trees coordinate their seed production over wide portions of their range. It seems that temperature and available moisture are major factors coupled with the fact that heavy seed production severely depletes a tree’s reserves such that several years are required for those reserves to be rebuilt sufficiently to allow significant seed production again.

This cyclic seed production also serves another purpose – if seed or fruit production was consistent from year to year, seed predators (weevils, moths, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, turkeys, deer, bear) could build populations large enough to consume all the seed every year. With cycles of scarcity and abundance, there may not be enough seed predators to consume all the seed produced in good years. And so, some seed survives to germinate and grow.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Pair Of Waterfalls

The ridge and valley section of Pennsylvania is geologically quite old and was, with minor exceptions, not covered with ice during either of the last two glacial epochs (the Wisconsinan and the Illinoian). The ridges are composed of folded layers of sedimentary rock, often compared to the ridges formed when a carpet is pushed up from one side.
From Bing Maps

The result is that most stream valleys are quite mature, the streams having eroded their way through the underlying strata during the last several million years. In addition, there are very few places where the strata are anywhere near horizontal. 

Therefore, waterfalls are very, very uncommon in the ridge and valley section unlike in areas to the north that have been relatively recently glaciated and the underlying sedimentary rock is in more horizontal layers.

McElhattan Run is one of the streams in the ridge and valley section. The stream originates in a wetland known as Rosecrans Bog and flows for almost two miles across a fairly level high valley, losing but 65 feet of elevation. The stream, there called Jamison Run, is the major tributary to the reservoir that supplies drinking water to the City of Lock Haven and other communities.

After exiting the reservoir the stream’s name changes to McElhattan Run and it begins its descent of over 1,100 feet in seven and three-quarter miles until it enters the Susquehanna River near the town of McElhattan. For the first three-fourths of that distance the stream flows through either state forest or watershed land, through a deep, narrow gap in the long ridge that is Bald Eagle Mountain.

Only twice have I hiked along McElhattan Run, the first time in 1986 and the second two weeks ago. In that deep gap there are large boulder fields, what in German would be called Felsenmeer (sea of rocks), relics of the last glacial epoch when the area was impacted by low temperatures and resembled regions currently above the Arctic Circle.  

However, the more aesthetically pleasing features of McElhattan Run are the large rock ledges and outcrops in the upper reaches –

Which are surpassed in visual beauty by the pair of waterfalls not far below the reservoir, one on the main stream –

And another, on an unnamed tributary, almost directly across from the first –

The waterfalls aren't very high, but they're still well worth the hike up through the deep gap.