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,


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.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Slim Pickings

When, in January, Bill told us about a dead deer he’d found in their woods I just couldn’t resist putting a camera trap on a tree near the body. The deer was a doe that had made a mistake crossing the road nearby and been struck by a vehicle. The injury hadn’t been immediately fatal and she had gotten into the woods and part way up a short steep hill before she died.

Although the deer’s carcass had been opened before the camera trap went up, not much had been eaten and most of the internal organs and all of the muscle tissue remained. Activity at the deer’s carcass was featured in two posts: here and here.

By the time the last video in the second post was taken there wasn’t much left of the carcass. But just because there wasn’t much left on which to feast, the visitors didn’t stop coming – some to eat and some just by chance –

The many, many videos of gray squirrels have been omitted from this video. My apologies to anyone who would like to view 50-100 videos of squirrels maybe some other time.

The eastern coyote pair probably has a den nearby and pups to feed so the bones and whatever edibles are on them may now be at the den – wherever that may be. It’s worth finding, but the pups might well be moved as soon as the adults realized someone had been nearby.

Now only a mass of hair and the lower part of a foreleg remain to indicate that a white-tailed deer died on this hillside.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Railroad That Never Ran

Pretend it’s 1906 and you live in rural Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania. Chances are that you’re a member of a family that lives on a farm and has to transport the products of the farm to the nearest town by wagon – even in town you’re a long way from the larger markets that offer better prices.

You’ve heard rumors about a railroad being built along Towanda Creek in the valley where you live and now comes news that the railroad will actually be built, connecting you to Pittsburgh, PA, Binghamton, NY and other large cities. That railroad will be the Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad whose primary purpose will be the transportation of coal from mines in Tioga, Indiana and Clearfield counties – but it will certainly also convey your crops to the cities and bring you higher prices.

In February 1906 there was an advertisement seeking 100,000 ties of oak and chestnut. Rights-of-way were being acquired and work was to begin on March 1. Engines were ordered and bridges were to be built. Work actually began near Powell, PA in April 1906 with over 50 men on the job. In early-May, 60 more workers (reportedly Polish immigrants) were hired to do pick-and-shovel grading.

During the summer of 1906 there were said to be ten steam drills at work at a rock cut east of Franklindale, PA –

 From Tri-Counties Genealogy & History

A newspaper article in the Williamsport Gazette & Bulletin in September, 1906 stated that 1,000 men were grading and building bridges including bridges crossing Schrader and Towanda creeks. 

Grading was done near Canton, PA and a camp for Italian laborers was built; there were predictions that trains would be running early in the winter. Six more locomotives were ordered and the payroll reportedly included 700 names.

And then on December 14, 1906 came an announcement that all work was to be halted and all foreign workers would be laid-off. A month later new officers took over the railroad and a bit of work continued, but two of the railroad’s rented engines were sent to a railroad in New England after the rent hadn't been paid. More stock in the railroad was issued as were more bonds.

Additional work was done in the spring of 1907 and the big rock cut was completed –

 From Tri-Counties Genealogy & History

Bonds were being sold as 1907 came to a close, supposedly to continue work in the spring of 1908. By August of 1908 all work had ended and in September the railroad was declared bankrupt and placed into receivership. The railroad's remaining locomotives were sold to a railroad in Maine. That was the end of the Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad, the railroad that never ran.

Over a hundred years later Pennsylvania Route 414, a road I’ve driven frequently, passes through the rock cut on the old railroad grade –

Portions of  the old railroad grade are visible on Google Earth

And in the forests and fields along Towanda Creek the grade can still be seen and followed, something else I’ve often done –

Was the Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad a failure of good intentions or a scam designed to swindle investors? Perhaps no one knows or will ever know, but I’m inclined to believe the latter.