Wednesday, November 25, 2020

It's Turkey Day !

It is time now to sing of my gratitude: For legs and hills and trees and seasons … and for all the roads I walked on, for the hills I climbed and descended, for trees and grass and sky.”                                                                                                                            Andre DuBus

It’s Thanksgiving for those of us who live in the United States, a day to be grateful for all we have and remember that not everyone is so fortunate. With COVID-19 raging throughout the country 2020 has been a terrible year for many people, those of us who still have our health and our homes and our income should be especially thankful.

We won’t be joining family and friends for Thanksgiving, some of us have risk factors of age or health, or live in states that require a quarantine, or have jobs that would require quarantine. But we’ll still enjoy turkey and squash, stuffing and gravy, fresh baked rolls and apple cider. While some may enjoy ham on Thanksgiving as part of the tradition of butchering hogs in the fall, far more families, ours included, enjoy turkey on that day.

Turkeys are birds of the Western Hemisphere. Early European explorers found that Native Americans had domestic turkeys and sent some back to the old country where their meat quickly gained favor.

So here we are, in the native range of the wild turkey, seeing them in forest and field and enjoying their meat (domestic or wild)


Hopefully you’ll have an enjoyable Thanksgiving Day and remember to be thankful for all you have.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Brook Trout

Not far from where I sit writing this blog post there’s a small stream. The stream originates in a high valley underlain by sandstone, flows steeply through a narrow rocky gorge and emerges into another valley where it flows into a much bigger stream. For most of its length its a high gradient freestone stream with a fairly low pH – meaning it’s acidic and quite infertile. Beneath its final quarter mile there’s a layer of shale which is much less acidic and the stream is more fertile.

This is the type of stream that's the historic home of the brook trout, the only native trout of the eastern mountains and Pennsylvania's state fish. Except the brook trout isn’t actually a trout it’s a char, a group that’s different from but related to, trout.

Brook trout require clear cool (below 65°F) water and, in streams such as this, seldom grow to be more than 12 inches in length. This is a heritage strain of brook trout; no exotic trout have ever been released in this stream – no brown trout, no rainbow trout and no brook trout from other streams.

Brook trout breed in the fall and it was on a beautiful, although far too warm, day in early November when I looked into a pool in the stream and saw a pair of trout spawning. 

On the stream’s bed was a small area of fine gravel, a suitable spot for the female to deposit her eggs and the male to release his sperm. The female then covers the eggs with gravel.

After spending the winter in the gravel, the eggs hatch in spring; the young fry remain in the gravel until the egg yolks are absorbed, then the small fish emerge from the gravel and begin feeding. Brook trout feed on insects, small crustaceans and small fish. The fish in the video (male darker and more colorful, female smaller with a hollow belly after releasing most of her eggs) were about as large as brook trout ever get to be in this stream, the female about eight inches long, the male an inch longer.

Thus, the strain of brook trout, which may have resided in this particular stream since shortly after the last glacier melted, carries on.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Raccoon and Me

It was crisp and cool with a gentle breeze – a beautiful fall day, a great day to be walking in the Big Woods. And that's where I was, slowly making my way along when, about 20 feet ahead of me there was a patch of moving fur. The fur turned out to be a raccoon that was twisting and turning as it groomed itself –

Apparently the raccoon hadn't seen or heard me (dressed in full camouflage) walking toward it, but it soon realized something was wrong and began walking away –

Then it turned and headed straight my way –

Raccoons in broad daylight are a reason for caution since they're normally nocturnal and raccoons acting out of character are sometimes ill. Because raccoons are frequent carriers of the rabies virus (which is fatal to humans), I backed away as the raccoon approached. Seeing my movement, the raccoon veered to the side and headed for a tree. It passed up several large oaks and began to climb a small red maple –


Up and up it went until finally settling where a small limb branched off the tree's main stem –

There it appeared to go to sleep –

Was the raccoon sick with rabies or, more likely, canine distemper, some other disease or just plain tired?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Under the Apple Trees

Because of COVID-19 we haven’t seen our son and his family since before the beginning of 2020, they live far to the north where the incidence of the virus is much lower than in Pennsylvania. Who knows how long it will be until we see then again. Every few months our son changes the memory cards in the camera traps at their place and sends them to me. Videos from earlier in the year were posted here

One of the cameras is in a spot that had once been an open field, whether it had been a pasture or an orchard is a matter of conjecture since no records of its former use exist and the people who lived nearby are long gone. There's no way to determine the past use of this area other than to read the land. In any event, the old field has been occupied by wild apple trees, as are many other old fields in the general area, those apple trees have been joined by a few red and sugar maple, hawthorn and white birch.

In late summer, fall and winter many species of wildlife come to feed on fallen apples and travel beneath the trees on their way somewhere else. The summer just ended was exceptionally dry, which caused an almost total failure of the apple crop – so wildlife use was much diminished from other times. Nonetheless, here are the best videos from summer 2020 –

The camera trap at the fallen log further up the hill failed after taking one video – not an unusual occurrence with camera traps. Maybe, just maybe, there will be videos from the fallen log next time.