Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Walk on the Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle is the name of not just a bird, but also of a mountain, stream, state park, township and valley: Bald Eagle Mountain, Bald Eagle Creek, Bald Eagle State Park, Bald Eagle Township and Bald Eagle Valley. They were all named for Woapalanne, the leader of a band of Native Americans who lived along the Susquehanna River's West Branch; his name has been translated as “Bald Eagle”.

So this walk in early May wasn’t on the bird, stream, or valley, or in the state park – instead it was a walk upon the mountain. Bald Eagle Mountain is the westernmost ridge of Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley Region, extending southwest from near Muncy in the east to Tyrone, a distance of about 60 miles. Some claim the ridge, having acquired different names along the way, actually extends as far as eastern Tennessee.
From GoogleEarth
The walk began on an old logging road that passed just below several old charcoal hearths (see this earlier post)  where some remaining charcoal was still to be seen –

The old road didn’t go to the top of the Bald Eagle but a faint narrow trail leads upward to the ridgetop –

The crest of the Bald Eagle averages about 1,700 feet in elevation, roughly 1,000 feet above the floor of the valley to the north. That 1,000 feet is rather steep, sometimes exceeding 70%. 

The oak forest on the north-facing slope has a dense understory of mountain laurel –

Just below the crest grows a stand of pitch pine named for the high pitch content of its heartwood that makes the wood extremely decay resistant. It’s so decay resistant that it was once used to make wooden water pipes by boring large diameter holes the length of the logs.

The cones of pitch pine bear small spines on the scales –

Pitch pine usually requires disturbed soil to regenerate successfully and is considered a fire-dependent species.

On top of Bald Eagle Mountain the mountain laurel disappears and the forest opens up –

There the buds of another fire-dependent species, scrub oak – a shrub, not a tree – were opening –

Already open were the flower buds of shadbush (an understory tree) that goes by different names in different places: serviceberry, sarvis, Juneberry, shadblow –

And, on the forest floor, early low blueberry was also in bloom –

Although these ridgetops often seem barren of wildlife there were birds to be seen, mourning doves –

And recently arrived blue-headed vireos –

Most surprising was the female belted kingfisher, here on the top of the Bald Eagle, far from the nearest water –

White-tailed deer use the mountain top, although they spend more time on the lower slopes where food is both more abundant and more nutritious –

Time to head downhill and better habitat for both man and beast.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Kill-dee, kill-dee, kill-dee

Kill-dee, kill-dee, kill-dee sounded across the gravel parking lot as Trudi the dog and I arrived for a walk along the river (see this post about Trudi). Kill-dee is the oft-repeated call of the inland shorebird found in North America from coast to coast that we call the killdeer – any guesses about where that name came from – and that also bears the scientific name of Charadrius vociferous. And vociferous they are, giving their call whenever they’re disturbed and for many other reasons that we may not understand.

In this case two killdeer ran about in the lot calling loudly, at this time of year a pretty good sign there was a nest nearby. A walk around the periphery of the parking lot was all it took to discover the nest with its four speckled eggs –

We took our walk, returning after about an hour to find a killdeer incubating the eggs –

As soon as we came near the bird proceeded to go into its “broken wing act” in an attempt draw us away from the nest –

We quickly moved away from the nest to let the bird resume incubating the eggs on this cool and windy day. As she returned to the nest several crows passed over, which caused her to look up –

Then she settled down on her eggs once again

Killdeer historically nested on streamside gravel bars and have readily adopted gravel parking lots, railroad grades, gravel-covered flat rooftops and similar sites. The eggs are incubated for three and a half to four weeks before they hatch. The hatchlings are precocial and leave the nest almost immediately although the parents watch over them for about a month until the young ones can fly.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pregnant Doe

Although “homebrewed” camera traps built using digital point-and-shoot cameras and ready-made control boards have long been my preference I recently purchased a commercial unit because I’d seen some outstanding videos from cameras produced by one of the manufacturers.

Since we have a number of white-tailed deer frequenting the hill above the house, I put the commercial unit there to get a sampling of videos – both full color videos during the day and infrared videos at night. 

During May the deer are shedding their winter coats, bucks are beginning to grow antlers and the does are exhibiting the roundness of pregnancy. The pregnant doe is just starting to shed, her buck fawn from last year looks pretty scruffy, even malnourished, as he’s in the midst of shedding with tufts of old hair sticking out all over; new antlers, his first, are growing from the pedicles on his head.

Individual White-tailed deer shed in their own time at their own pace. However, pregnant does frequently replace their winter coat with their summer coat later than other deer as they devote resources to their developing fawn(s). The video was taken in mid-May, two to three weeks before most of the does in this area usually give birth.   

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Falls Creek

Falls Creek, like so many other streams with some form of the word “fall” in their name, was named for its waterfalls. This Falls Creek is in the vicinity of what was a coal-mining town with 2,000 residents; when coal mining ended that community was followed by another nearby town of 2,000, this time a logging town with a large sawmill, wood chemical plant and other wood using industries.

By the early 1900s both the coal and timber were exhausted and the people moved away; most of the land (roughly 75,000 acres) was subsequently sold, most to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the remainder to the  Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.

Spring is the best time to visit Falls Creek and view its waterfalls although bright sun shining into the south-facing valley can make photography difficult. Even so, on a bright sunny spring day with plenty of water in the streams it was time for a trip up Falls Creek. There’s no trail along the stream, just trees and boulders and rocks – rocks large and small; some slippery, some not; some well-anchored, some loose – so care is necessary because a fall could result in serious injury and help is far away – cell phone service is non-existent.

A view of Falls Creek from the nearest road gives but the barest hint of its beauty –

I’d not gone far up the stream when, in stepping over a log, I almost stepped on the smallest porcupine I’ve ever seen, about the size of my fist –

The stream quickly assumed a steeper gradient with small cascades –

Not far along the way the first waterfall comes into view –

It’s not a vertical waterfall, but it's still beautiful –

For those who prefer a vertical waterfall the next one, although short, is just the ticket –

Further up the stream is a waterfall with a large plunge pool, although the view of the waterfall is somewhat obscured by fallen trees –

Then there are some cascades –

And two more small vertical waterfalls –

At the top of the second waterfall its wide veil of falling water is especially pretty –

It’s from the top of this last waterfall that the largest waterfall on Falls Creek comes into view –

A guide book describes this waterfall as being 100 feet high, but it seems obvious that it’s more like a 45-50 foot drop –

In any case, it’s a beautiful waterfall, but any possible plunge pool is filled with rocky debris –

Although there are more waterfalls and cascades further up the stream it was time to head back, those waterfalls will beckon me to return on another day. Rather than descend the stream I headed up out of the gorge to an old logging road on the sidehill –

Along the way there were quite a few sharp-lobed hepatica in bloom, some in each color (blue, white and pink) in which these hepatica are found –

Falls Creek is a beautiful place well worth visiting – carefully.