Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Another Fall at the Fallen Log

The fallen log is the upper portion of a dead red maple tree that broke off some years ago. The broken end of the log is up in the air a bit while the other end, to the rear of the camera, rests on the ground. It’s been a productive spot the have a camera trap, the first video from the fallen log was posted here and others have been posted more recently.

Here are the best videos from last fall –

That large antlered buck is what is called non-typical since his two antlers are not symmetrical. He appeared before the camera trap three times, always going in the same direction and at the same distance from the camera; at first glance the clips appear the same, but there are subtle and not so subtle differences.

 Although eastern coyotes have been caught by this camera trap in the past, they made multiple appearances this fall. At one time six of the animals were there at one time, probably a breeding pair and four almost-full-grown pups.

So the camera trap will stay at the log for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Peregrines by the Pair

Peregrines by the pair, not a partridge in a pear tree this week before Christmas oh, and they're in a black locust tree.

There are at least three peregrine falcon nests within 25 miles of the house, all beneath bridges although one pair had initially established a cliff nest at a historical nesting location.

This pair spends a lot of time in a tree about 300 yards from the bridge pillar where they nest and it’s the pair which you will see here. An abundance of rock pigeons at bridges and in town provides them with a readily available food supply so they spend the winter here.

I was walking along the river in the morning and there they were, in what seems to be their favorite tree about 300 yards from the bridge pillar where they nest. This pair is habituated to humans so I was only about 125 feet away and spent 15 minutes watching and photographing them – here they are:

The male is the smaller bird with a pale breast –

The female, typical for raptors, is larger; she also has heavier barring on her breast –

The view of the female was partially obscured by branches and twigs. Fortunately the male was in the open and provided an abundance of photographic opportunities as he looked around –

At last he compressed his body feathers and partially lifted his wings as he prepared to –


Opinions differ somewhat but peregrine falcons have often been considered the fastest birds in the world, attaining a speed of up to 242 miles per hour (mph) in a dive. Their speed in level flight can be from 40-70 mph. 

The male’s long pointed wings swiftly propelled him up over the river and the female soon joined him as they went out of sight.

I’ve been fascinated by peregrines ever since seeing some in the captive breeding facilities at Cornell University in the 1970s, when they were critically endangered. Their populations had plummeted after the widespread use of DDT caused nesting failures.

Curtailing the use of DDT and reintroduction efforts by many organizations and individuals have restored the peregrine falcon as a nesting species in the northeast – how fortunate we are.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Touch of Civilization

Out in the forest, far from farms and towns, there are old homesteads. Cellar holes, barn foundations, old stone walls, trees that have grown around pieces of metal – all indicators that someone once lived and worked there.

Some of those old homesteads were abandoned 75-80 years ago, some 1oo years before that. Wet, shallow, infertile and acidic soils may have been the impetus for these places to be abandoned. So were changing agricultural practices, the better soils that soldiers found during the Civil War, the agricultural depression following the First Word War and the industrialization that occurred during and after World War II.

Other places weren’t really homesteads but were logging camps, hermit’s homes, ghost towns from sawmill or mining operations, and places people lived for a wide variety of other reasons.

The houses and barns are long gone, as are the towns and logging camps: torn down, collapsed or burned. Remaining are the stonework, metal artifacts and sometimes garden plants. The garden plants are a touch of civilization still remaining long after those who lived there are gone.

Perhaps the most common garden plant found around the old homesteads is myrtle, a groundcover also called periwinkle, which has pale blue flowers in the spring –

Frequently seen near old homesites is a shrub with pale blue spring flowers, the common lilac. Those flowers are very fragrant –

The second most common plant I’ve found growing near old homesteads is another one with fragrant flowers, lily-of-the-valley –

Various varieties of daffodils sometimes survive in the old homesteads’ gardens –

Only once have I found the green helebore, also called lenten rose, growing in the woods. This variety has been grown in gardens since medieval times and blooms in late winter or very early spring –

In the early 1980s, at the site of a long-gone forest fire observer’s cabin in the 107,000-acre Five Ponds Wilderness Area in New York’s Adirondack Mountains our son and I found a white flowered domestic columbine –

Occasionally seen at old homesteads are the white flowers of snowdrops, which is the earliest of the spring-flowering ornamental bulbs –

Speaking of spring flowers, once in a while a spindly forsythia shrub and it’s yellow flowers is found at a spot where someone once lived

In summer the ubiquitous orange daylilly is commonly seen in bloom alongside an old cellar hole –

Hosta also blooms during the summer and can occasionally be found at the old homesites

Even though life was usually pretty hard at the old farms, towns and logging camps, some of those living there, usually the women, sought a touch of beauty and planted flowers and flowering shrubs. And some of those plants still survive all these years later.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Pumpkin Eaters

Years ago the pumpkins we used as fall decorations were thrown in the compost bin where they were soon opened and the interior, including all the seeds, eaten. As many people know, white-tailed deer really enjoy eating pumpkins and it was apparent that deer were the cause of this pumpkin destruction.

White-tailed deer do not have upper incisors and presumably have a fairly difficult time getting through the outer rind on a pumpkin. More recently I’ve saved the deer the trouble of opening the pumpkins by smashing them on a large rock in the yard. 

Although the deer occasionally come to eat pumpkin during the day, they usually don’t arrive until after dark and leave before dawn. We were curious about how much time they spent munching away as well as how some pieces of pumpkin wound up far from the rock where they were opened. So a camera trap was mounted on a tree in the yard to watch the goings-on.


In four days the camera took several hundred video clips (of which you've seen but a few) before the pumpkins were completely gone.

From the videos it became apparent that the deer first ate the seeds; they then used their lower incisors to scrape off the soft pulp, much as we use a spoon to scrape the pulp from a pumpkin when making a jack-o-lantern, and ate that. They then did the same with most of the "meat" of the pumpkin, and finally they ate the tough outer rind by shaking the large pieces to tear off smaller pieces. Some pieces of the shaken pumpkins were flung 10-15 feet. 

Obviously we humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy pumpkin in the fall – but ours is baked in a crust and topped with whipped cream.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Ah Nuts!

It was late morning in the Big Woods a couple of days before Thanksgiving and I was walking along an old road looking for subjects to photograph. Then, off to the side, about 125 feet away, a bear was laying in a small depression beneath a shagbark hickory tree feasting on fallen nuts that had rolled into the depression.

Shagbark hickory produces the largest nuts of any of the hickories growing in the area, delicious I may add, and are a favorite of back bears –

Naturally I stopped, unlimbered the camera and began photographing the bear. The camera is getting long in the tooth, at it’s expected lifespan and chose that moment to begin having trouble with a combination of both focusing and setting the correct aperture (the opening in the lens) so the photos are far from the best. Now it will go where good cameras go to retire after years of faithful service.

Although the bear was facing away, I was standing still and the camera was silent, the bear soon became alert and began to get up and investigate a scent – mine (a bear’s sense of smell has been estimated to be about 2,500 times better than a human’s).

It walked over to a nearby tree and looked as if it was going to climb the tree, but didn’t –

Instead, after taking a couple of steps, the bear sat down looking in my direction for about a minute –

Although bears’ eyesight is not particularly good and I hadn’t moved, it was obvious the bear knew I was there. After several minutes the bear turned, climbed onto and over a fallen log and walked away –

You may ask if I was frightened by being that close to a wild bear – the answer is a resounding NO! Over the last 60 years I’ve probably encountered somewhere between 200 and 250 black bears in the wild including many females with cubs, only two have given me any cause for concern.

As the bear went out of sight I continued my walk on the old road, taking other photographs along the way –

The day was in the midst of Pennsylvania’s several bear seasons so this young bear may not survive, indeed it may be dead by the time you read this. On the day I saw the bear approximately 1,400 bears and one human had been killed during bear season by hunters in Pennsylvania. 

Addendum - as of December first  3,318 bears had been killed during Pennsylvania's various hunting seasons which were not yet over.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021


The fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day for those of us who live in the U. S. The day is surrounded by traditions and myths and a reminder to be thankful for what we have.

Some of the things for which I’m thankful:

Having met and married a wonderful lady and having 57 years together (so far). A lady who has traveled the country with me; indulged my hobbies, including once having had a rattlesnake in the laundry room (in a secure cage) and a pile of cameras; and enjoyed the bears in the yard.

Our two kids who are now middle-aged adults (hopefully they won’t be offended to be called middle-aged) and nice people with whom we are good friends –

Our three granddaughters, now young adults; one a PhD candidate, one a teacher and one a college student –

That I could spend 52 years working in forest and field, seeing some wonderful and fascinating things along the way and, hopefully, leaving the world a bit better.

My parents who brought me into this world: my mother who helped me catch my first snake and my father who introduced me to the world of forest and field –

The cardiologists who twice saved my life and the scientists who developed vaccines for diseases that have, over the centuries, killed millions.

That I can still walk several miles every day to enjoy the woods and waters.

And the natural world: it’s plants and animals; its hills and mountains; streams and lakes and rivers; rain and snow; sunshine and wind and sunsets.

Hopefully you too have things for which to be thankful, not just on Thanksgiving Day but each and every day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

2021 at the Bear Wallow

Beginning in 2014 one of my camera traps has frequently been at a seasonal pool capturing photographs or videos of the birds and mammals using, or passing, the pool. In this area seasonal pools are frequently called bear wallows since bears often lounge in the water, especially on hot summer days, and so this one has been called the Bear Wallow. The pool appears to have originated as a pingo scar remaining from the Wisconsinan glaciation (for an explanation of pingo scars see this post). 

The camera has usually been at the pool from late spring through the fall, being removed before the arrival of hunting seasons when more people are in the woods (unfortunately not everyone’s honest). Following a suggestion from a person who follows In Forest and Field (that's you Chris), the camera was put in place just before January 1st and remained until November 1st – deer and bear seasons begin in several weeks and people are already prowling about.

Ever since a camera was first placed at the bear wallow the photos or videos captured by the cameras have been the subjects of posts on In Forest and Field. Here are the best of the videos from 2021 – white-tailed deer have been particularly visible while, unlike in past years, black bears have been notable by their general absence. Perhaps the dearth of bears is the result of longer hunting seasons and a record bear kill in 2019 coupled with an outbreak of mange in the bear population.

The hawk and owl were feeding on the wood frogs that breed in the seasonal pool.

Why were there no videos of opossums or raccoons or bobcat and but one fleeting nighttime glimpse of an eastern coyote on the far side of the pool? Population cycles? Weather? Disease? Coincidence? The natural world is full of beauty and mystery; beauty that can be enjoyed, mystery that can be solved by research – I'll enjoy the beauty and leave the research to others.

The camera will probably go back to the bear wallow in late December. Hopefully, when warm weather arrives next year we’ll once again see bears bathing and playing in the water.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Looking Beyond 80 – the first three months

My 80th birthday was last August 3; H’s sister and her husband came for lunch and our daughter came to visit. The day before we’d returned from a trip to our son and daughter-in-law’s place as their daughter got ready to leave for college. 

During that period of rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19 we were all vaccinated and had been in the spring as soon as the vaccine was available - if only others had done the same. 

In the morning, before our guests came for the quiet celebration, I'd walked three and a half miles in the Big Woods taking photographs of insects, streams, flowers, fungi and deer. That walk produced the first image for the fourth “the best photo of the day for a year” series. The earlier three series can be seen on In Forest and Field.

Here are the photos from the first three months of my 81st year on this green earth.


And so another three months pass, day by day; months like most months, chock full of interesting things to be seen in the natural world - for anyone who cares to look.