Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ho, Ho, Ho

This week none of my camera traps managed to capture a photo of eight tiny reindeer or of a chubby fellow in a red suit. However, in the last few weeks they did manage to capture a number of deer – white-tailed deer, not those tiny reindeer. Here are some of the white-tail bucks that appeared on camera; while they didn’t bring wrapped presents, the photos were gifts from the natural world delivered by modern technology.

Here are those bucks:

How many of them survived Pennsylvania’s deer season may never be known, but some inhabit terrain that would inhibit all but the most determined hunters and others spend most of their time in areas that are closed to hunting. 

Given the typical home ranges of Pennsylvania deer, the bucks almost certainly left those “safe” spaces at times. But research by Penn State indicates that, although survival rates vary from place to place, in this part of the state almost 90% of antlered bucks survive hunting season --

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Track of the Cat - 2017

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the woods lay three inches of snow. And then – the temperature rose so by the time I walked the old road in the Big Woods there was less than an inch of snow on the ground. Not far along the old road a set of bobcat tracks appeared; the bobcat had walked in the opposite direction from the way I was going and the tracks had veered from the road to disappear in a large patch of extremely thorny shrubbery.

As I walked the road, I backtracked the bobcat as it wandered from one side of the road to the other in quest of a meal. And thus it went for over a mile until the spot where the bobcat had come out of another thick brushy patch and begun to walk along the road –

On up the road I went intersecting one set of squirrel tracks after another going across the road (this year has seen one of the gray squirrels’ periodic population booms). Along the way there was an area where two wild turkeys had left tracks as they'd crossed the road.

By then it was time to turn around and head home. Because I’d been following the bobcat’s tracks and keeping an eye out for tracks indicating that it had caught something to eat (it hadn’t) I’d missed another set of tracks mixed with those of the gray squirrels, the tracks of a fisher in quest of a meal of squirrel. Unlike bobcat, fox and coyote, fishers have five toes which show in their tracks –

The fisher tracks weren’t distinct and they were soon lost amid a maze of squirrel tracks. By the next day rising temperatures had melted the last of the snow.   

Thursday, December 14, 2017


On a tract of public land in the Big Woods a stand of white oak has been growing on some very fertile, moist soil for well over a hundred years. The stand of white oak wasn’t very large, probably not more than ten acres in size but, because they were growing on good soil, the trees had done very well and many of them were two feet or more in diameter.

Every few years the white oak have produced a bumper crop of acorns –

Acorns that fed black bears –

And white-tailed deer –

Gray squirrels and chipmunks –

And wild turkeys –
White oak on a good growing site such as this one can reach 350-500 years of age so most of the trees in this small patch of woodland had many years ahead of them. 

A few of the trees were crooked or had decayed centers, but most of them were big and healthy –

Then, a forester I’ve known for many years mentioned that he was planning a timber sale that would include this stand of white oak. I pointed out the significance of this small stand of trees to wildlife: the seasonal pool it contains where frogs and salamanders lay their eggs, and the vast quantities of acorns it has regularly produced. In fact, the area fed wildlife during  years when nearby areas occupied by other species of oak and various hickories were essentially devoid of nuts.

He went on to mark the trees to be removed, the timber sale was sold to a large sawmill, and the trees were cut. Here are the results –

A number of the trees that were left were damaged during removal of the cut trees –

Although "the book" on best management practices for seasonal pools where amphibians breed recommends not cutting any trees within 100 feet of the pool's edge, that recommendation was not followed. 

Don't assume I'm an anti-forest management person; we live in a wood-framed house with wooden floors, doors, windows and trim; I've been a woodworker for decades, making more than 65 pieces of furniture; we utilize all sorts of paper products; there's a pile of firewood along the driveway. Wood is certainly more environmentally friendly than metal or masonry but not every wooded acre has to be managed. 

I’ve known and liked the forester who marked this timber sale for many years; he attended one of the best professional schools and, although the production of woody fiber for forest industry seems to be the sole interest of all too many foresters, this fellow has always appeared to be sensitive to the other forest resources wildlife, wildflowers, clean water, aesthetics. As soon as I saw the results of the timber sale I thought of Sir Peter Scott’s oft repeated comment, “We should have the wisdom to know when to leave a place alone.”

My disappointment is profound and these ten acres will forever color my opinion of the forester.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

From the Cave

Back in July I posted the first photos from the entrance of a small cave beneath a rock outcrop on a steep sidehill – those photos can be seen here. Now, months later, and including a several week interval without a camera in place, it’s time to post more photos from the cave.

Black bears frequently visited the cave entrance. From the photos it was impossible to determine if more than one bear visited –

One bear even entered the cave, revealed by a photograph that showed a tiny bit of its back behind the fallen branch.

Also frequently visiting the cave entrance were the local gray squirrels that used that fallen branch as a runway and even entered the cave occasionally –

The squirrels had best be alert and wary because bobcats often came by as they hunted along the many rock outcrops on this steep hillside –

There was a break in the time a camera trap was in place because during one of those visits a black bear walked right up to the camera trap –

And bit the steel box containing the camera trap whereupon a tooth punctured the Fresnel lens in front of the sensor –

Fortunately I returned to change the batteries and memory card in the camera before rain had gotten in through the hole and damaged the control board. So I brought the camera trap back to replace the lens and it was several weeks before there was an opportunity to install a replacement.

Bears are the bane of camera trappers – but I still find them irresistible.