Wednesday, January 27, 2021


When someone mentions a turkey tail the spread tail of a wild turkey is what usually comes to mind –

But this isn’t about the bird that was featured in this post but a few weeks ago.

It may be winter and the woods may seem to be a study in brown, gray and white with a touch of green here and there. But, as long as the snow's not too deep, or if the ground is bare of snow, there’s a good chance that any walk in the woods will reveal small spots of color.

Those spots of color are this post’s turkey-tails. They're the fruiting bodies of one of the most common fungi in the woods. Today’s turkey-tails can be found, often in abundance, on dead logs and stumps of many hardwood trees; there they are important decomposers of dead trees and fallen branches. They may have bands of brown, tan, white and/or several shades of dark red; other specimens sometimes have bands of blue or green.

Just to confuse matters there are other species of fungus called false turkey-tails that exhibit similar banding on their upper surface.

The turkey-tails are some of the most colorful things in the winter woods and add interest to a woodland walk at any time. Here are examples of turkey-tails –

And false turkey-tails

And here are two photographs of the same cluster of turkey-tails exhibiting the change in color with age – 

Next time you take a walk in the forest take a look at some of those rotting fallen logs, chances are you’ll find some turkey-tails. And thank those turkey-tails for clearing your way of fallen trees and recycling their nutrients.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Beaver Tale

A tale – about those critters with a wide flat tail.

Thick gray clouds were hanging low in the sky on a winter morning and a light mist of snow was falling – the day before had been the coldest day of the winter.

There’s a nearby pond that has been a home for beavers off and on for 40 years. The beavers move in, build a lodge and establish a colony. After a while they either eat all available food and move on or, if the price of beaver pelts is high, they’re trapped and eliminated.

A year or so ago a pair of beavers moved into the pond once again; they cut willow, aspen, red maple and silky dogwood to eat the bark and uprooted pond lilies and cattails to feed on the thick starchy roots. The beavers built a small lodge against the bank over what had probably been a bank burrow that they created when they first moved into the pond. Beavers in large rivers usually live in bank burrows, but this is a small pond of about seven acres so the beavers quickly began to construct a traditional lodge of mud and the branches and stems of trees and shrubs.

Late last summer and throughout the fall the beavers created a feed bed of branches from trees they had felled, dragged into the pond and sank next to their lodge. The feed bed supplies most of their winter food – if they’ve stored enough. If there’s not enough food in the feed bed they have to venture above the ice and struggle through the snow and find more food. As is usually the case, some branches in the feed bed stuck above the water –

The pond ice still wasn’t very thick and the beavers’ activity kept a small area of water free of ice –

A beaver swam around in the open water then climbed up on a tree that had fallen into the water years ago. 

There, it  spent some time eating bark from a section of branch it had extracted from the feed bed –

After a while it was joined by a young beaver (called a kit) that swam around the patch of open water, joined the adult on the fallen tree, went back in the water, dove and swam around some more.

Beavers usually spend the daylight hours in their lodge, so both beavers eventually disappeared into the water.

The area around this pond, and around a smaller adjacent pond that the beavers also use, has few of the trees they favor for food so they may soon leave the pond again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Crossing the Trib

Pennsylvania reportedly has more miles of streams than any other of the lower 48 states. Certainly that depends somewhat on how “stream” is defined; and certainly there are other states that would dispute that claim.

Whether that claim is accurate of not, there are a lot of streams in Penns Woods and many of them are unnamed tributaries of larger streams. Here in northcentral Pennsylvania many of the aquatic biologists have shortened the term “unnamed tributary” to “trib”. It’s one of those tribs that’s part of this blog post.

This trib flows year-round, even during the dry late-summer and fall of 2020. The small stream flows through an area of woodland that was never cleared for agriculture but has certainly been logged multiple times since the general area was settled shortly after the Revolutionary War. The forest surrounding the trib is dominated by eastern hemlock, red maple and red oak with a lot of other species mixed in. 

There’s a wildlife trail that winds through the forest then crosses the trib, its where the trail crosses the trib that I placed a camera trap.

Here’s a collection of videos from that crossing of the trib –

What will the winter have been like at the trib? We’ll see.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Naturalist's Year - 4th Quarter

It's impossible to know what the world will be like in the year just beginning – how many more will die of COVID-19 before vaccines are widely distributed, what will society be like, will society really begin taking steps to protect the ecosystems on which we depend? But one thing we know, the natural world, in one form or another will go on.

Just as the pandemic of COVID-19 is changing the human system, so too have pandemics changed the natural world. The chestnut blight fungus eliminated American chestnut as a major component of the eastern forest; emerald ash borer is eliminating ash as an important tree in the same forests; the fungus causing white-nose syndrome has caused bat populations to plummet – what's next?

The natural world isn't static, it's a dynamic system. It changes constantly for many reasons. Now, as the world's climate changes, species will disappear from our local woods and waters, and new ones will arrive. That's been happening for more than 50 years and the pace of change is increasing.

But there's always beauty and fascination for the naturalist in forest and field –











COVID-19 kept this naturalist from going some of the places and doing some of the things he would have done without the pandemic, but it's not kept me indoors glued to the TV - hopefully you've also been able to get out in the natural world, and treated it with respect. 

This series of posts (A Naturalist's Year) may be at its end, but this naturalist will continue to spend time in forest and field - and In Forest and Field will continue as the seasons change, birds migrate, insects emerge, and wildflowers bloom.

Stay safe and stay healthy - WEAR A MASK. 

Note: click on these links to see 1st Quarter, 2nd Quarter and 3rd Quarter.