Wednesday, August 4, 2021

On Turning 80

         I've been lately thinking about my life's time

All the things I've done, how it's been
And I can't help believing in my own mind
I know I'm gonna hate to see it end
                                                    John Denver
                                                     "Poems, Prayers and Promises" 

Yesterday, August 3rd, I celebrated my 80th birthday and began another year on this green earth – another year to wander forest and field – to see flowers and trees, streams and insects, rain and snow, wind and sun.

Who’d a thunk all those years ago – when I headed for college, or a couple of years later when H and I met, or when our kids were born – that the years would pass so quickly and now we have more yesterdays than tomorrows. 



As I’ve aged I’ve discovered a geologic phenomena in the northeast, an area usually considered to be geologically stable. Over the last ten years the hills have gotten steeper than they were. Not only are they steeper, but they seem much higher. In fact, they are so much higher that the air must be thinner, making me breathe harder and more rapidly as I gain elevation. 

But the air still smells as sweet, scented with the aroma of damp soil and dry leaves. The streams still gurgle over rocks and waterfalls, both large and small. 


The trees still reach to the sky and turn color in the fall. The wildflowers still bloom. The birds still sing and the deer still feed in the clearings. The quiet and the whisper of the breeze have not changed over the years. And my appreciation for all these things has not diminished – indeed it has increased.


And so, at the beginning of my 81st year, another round of taking a photo of the natural world on each day of the year begins. Those photos will be posted in November, February, May and August – stand by.

And to end this post I'll quote those who have said: Live each day as if it were to be your last,  for someday you will be right.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Three Months at the Beaver Pond

The beaver pond is over the ridge behind the house and over another ridge behind that. It sits in a wide valley, a valley with farmland and woodland, and is fed by a small stream that flows through a larger pond that also is the home to a colony of beavers.

One of my camera traps has been at the beaver pond for several years, furnishing photographs and videos for a number of posts on In Forest and Field. Only once this year, in mid-April, have I seen a beaver at the pond and their lodge is deteriorating from a lack of maintenance.


Every once in a while it seems as if all the possibilities from a camera trap location have been exhausted – and then …

Although it seems that the beavers have now deserted this pond I’m leaving the camera trap there throughout the summer – we'll see what turns up.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

National Moth Week - 2021

This week (July 17-25) is National Moth Week, a celebration of those fascinating and often colorful insects that are primarily nocturnal. Moths and their larvae are an important component of forest and field ecosystems, they’re a major – often the primary – food source for songbird nestlings and adults. Some moths are important pollinators; others, especially the litter moths, recycle fallen leaves while still others can have major impacts on tree survival and growth.

A sampling of the moths to be found in northcentral Pennsylvania –


































Speaking of moths, t
he Entomological Society of America just announced that it was dropping/changing the name "Gypsy Moth" because it was perceived as inappropriate and offensive to the Roma people. Will it also change the names of any moths that might be perceived as offensive including: "The Hebrew",  "Finnish Dart", "Spanish Moth", "Setaceous Hebrew Character", "The German Cousin", "The Old Maid", "The Slowpoke", "Old Man Dart" and the entire group called "Quakers"?  Just asking!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Great Commotion

Early summer, the forecast was for temperatures in the low 90°s, not my kind of weather. But at dawn it was in the 60°s, rising to just over 70° by the time we’d finished breakfast. So H drove me to the top of the ridge where I could walk an old, old road down into the Big Woods – downhill all the way to where we’d left my car.

The ridgetop is occupied by an oak forest, perfect food for caterpillars of the accidentally introduced gypsy moth. Pieces of oak leaves were scattered on the ground; gypsy moth caterpillars are sloppy eaters –


A short way further down the old road several rattlesnake-weed plants were in bloom –


On down the hill I went until suddenly a great commotion arose from the bracken fern and black huckleberry growing alongside the old road. The loud sound and thrashing set me back for a moment until I realized that it was a female wild turkey protecting her young. She burst from the plants sounding her alarm call loudly, spreading her wings and running across the grassy road as her poults scattered and hid. 

She continued to run around me in ever-widening circles, calling loudly all the time. I missed getting the beginning of her display, but here’s a bit of the performance she put on –

When she first exploded from the vegetation I saw several of the poults, one poult ran to a large fallen branch a side of which was off the ground. As the hen got further away I decided to look for the poult beneath the branch. It took a while, but there it was –



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey poults often hide beneath fallen leaves and there’s always the danger of stepping on a hidden poult. Poults that survive their first two weeks of life can fly short distances, greatly increasing their odds of survival.

With that it was time to move on and allow the turkeys to reunite. Although later there were photos of flowers and a stream, the turkeys were the highlight of the morning. The rest of my walk through the Big Woods was uneventful, and then it was time to head home and stay cool.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The End

It’s not the end of In Forest and Field. Instead it’s the end of keeping a camera trap where it had been for five months because the reason to have one there is now gone. Except for some hair, all the remains of the dead white-tail doe have now been eaten or disbursed into the forest ecosystem in which she spent her life.

After the doe’s death she fed a myriad of creatures – eastern coyotes being the largest, the smallest being microscopic life forms, some of which are probably still unknown to science.

Three other posts on this blog highlighted the mammals and birds that gained sustenance from the doe’s body. First came One Dead Deer – Many Diners followed by The Deer Dinner Continues  and then Slim Pickings.

The last videos from the dead deer are here –

 

Some of the songbirds came to gather hair for their nests, some came, no doubt, to feast on the insects that had fed on the doe’s remains. Most of those insects would have been flies and beetles, but there may have been others.

On this video is the only camera trap image I’ve ever captured of a woodland jumping mouse, a rodent that few have ever seen and that spends much of the year hibernating underground. Years ago I was fortunate to be able to photograph a woodland jumping mouse –


You can never tell what may show up on a camera trap.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Nice Ice

Much of the U.S. and Canada have been excessively hot recently. When it's over 90°F at the house it's too d--m hot and it's been that and more for several days. Today it's 94°F at the house with additional days over 90°F forecast for early nest week. To help keep cooler, I'll transport you back a few months

Some say the world will end in fire,

some say in ice,

ice,

Is also great

And would suffice.


Robert Frost

Personally, I favor ice and find the photographic possibilities in ice are great and do suffice.

Winter’s long over and winter's ice is long gone and but a memory. There’s ice that is a dangerous nuisance – as was the ice on which I fell a number of years ago and smashed a camera in the process. Six of my ribs were broken and the camera was smashed beyond repair.

But there’s also nice ice that creates beautiful formations on waterfalls, on the edge of running water, on still water and on branches.

Here’s a selection of that nice ice –














Ice is ofttimes nice and sometimes not, but it can be beautiful and cooling, whether cooling a liquid refreshment or merely in our memories.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Night and Day

It’s a little known fact, but the earthworms most gardeners and many fishermen like so much are invasive species. Prior to European colonization there were few, if any, earthworms in northeastern North America because the native species had been eliminated by the glaciation that ended between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago.

As our European ancestors arrived in North America they brought familiar plants with them; the soil in the containers in which those plants came also held European earthworms. More recently Asian earthworms have arrived with imported nursery stock.


The forests native to previously glaciated areas of the northeast evolved without earthworms and are ill-equipped to survive on soils where earthworms thrive. What’s the problem? ... you may ask. Well, earthworms eat the leaf-litter and organic upper layers of the soil and their castings mix with the mineral soil that is normally found in lower soil layers. Seedlings of many northeastern trees have difficulty becoming established on soils where there’s no leaf -litter and many of the herbaceous plants found in our forests can’t grow in those soils either.

Forests that contain invasive earthworms are often characterized by a lack of leaf-litter, herbaceous plants or tree seedlings, poor tree growth  and an abundance of invasive plants like barberry and Asiatic honeysuckles. Songbirds, insects and small mammals suffer and may vanish as the leaf-litter and small plants disappear.

It’s in one of those unhealthy forests where I placed a camera trap. That camera trap recently captured a video of a barred owl catching a meal. At first the prey appeared to be a mouse with it’s tail dangling from the owl’s beak, but that wasn’t the case. A closer look and a few more videos quickly revealed that the owl was catching earthworms.

The owl was the night shift, followed by a broad-winged hawk on the day shift –

There were many more videos of the barred owl eating worms than of the broad-winged hawk doing the same, but then earthworms are more active above ground at night – hence the name, nightcrawlers.

Some worms may not stand a chance, but it will take more than an owl and a hawk to rid this forest of the invasive earthworms. Unfortunately, there’s no known way to reduce or eliminate invasive earthworms.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Morning in the Big Woods

On a beautiful morning in early June (clear as a bell, blue sky with a few fleecy white clouds, a gentle breeze) I headed for the Big Woods to change the batteries and memory cards in a couple of camera traps. Not far along the old road on which I was walking a cottontail rabbit crouched in the grass –


At the same time, in the distance a white-tailed deer browsed on a shrub’s fresh green leaves and began to walk away as I got closer. It turned out to be a young buck –


After walking a couple of hundred yards along the old road something off to the side caught my eye. That something was another white-tail buck, this one with large wide-spreading antlers –


Not far beyond it was time to leave the old road and head into the woods. Recent rains had brought forth a number of fungi fruiting bodies –

Jelly-leaf Fungus


Conifer Polypore




Beefsteak Polypore

Walking on, something jumped next to my boot. At first I saw nothing, but a closer look revealed a small wood frog well camouflaged among the fallen leaves. Can you find it?


There it is –



And up close –


At this time of year the haircap mosses are getting ready to release their spores –


There aren't many openings in the Big Woods, but there are a few. On the far side of one the larger of those old fields stood a white-tail doe with her fawn, the first fawn I’d actually seen this year. The doe was the piebald female that my camera traps have captured many time over the last several years. Because of the distance it's a really poor photo but ... –


Arriving at the camera trap, it was easy to see that the camera trap showed signs of a “bear attack”. Black bears are exceptionally curious and intelligent; in the Big Woods it’s seldom that a bear passes a camera trap without messing with it. However, in other areas that never happens – which has led me to believe that it may be a learned behavior, passed from a female to her offspring –

Learned or not, my camera traps are often askew and when the memory cards’ contents are reviewed there are images of a bear or bears.

As noon approached it was time to head home for lunch and then to mow the grass – I’d rather shovel snow than mow grass, but that’s another story.

While I was mowing a strange “thing” flew past. A closer look revealed the thing was a mating pair of bee-like robber flies, a species that closely resembles a bumblebee but cannot sting –


Quite a morning with the afternoon bonus of the robber flies.