Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Flowers of Fall

I don't know about you, but to me fall is meteorological fall (September 1 to November 30) rather than astronomical fall (autumnal equinox to winter solstice). The meteorological seasons are much closer to the seasons that the natural world experiences.

In any case, it’s that time of year when the blooming season is just about over, we’ll have to wait many months before we can once again enjoy the flowers of forest and field. Wildflower aficionados (including me) have a tendency to go gaga over the wildflowers of spring: hepaticas, trillilums, bloodroot, and many others. But as for the wildflowers of late summer and fall, well … To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield: They don’t get no respect.

Here’s an attempt to correct that disparity with a celebration of the flowers of fall beginning with my personal favorite, the many-hued New England aster –

And then there's it's look-alike the purple-stemmed aster with its very attractive stems –

Blooming a bit earlier, but of an even more intense blue are the spikes of the great lobelia –

There are a number of fall-blooming native orchids, the two most common are spotted coralroot –

And nodding ladies’-tresses –

Although often hidden by taller vegetation, in moist places closed gentian can be quite common –

Taller than any other wildflower growing in northcentral Pennsylvania is Jerusalem artichoke with its large yellow flowers –

Almost as tall is wingstem which grows in the rich soil of stream bottoms –

Although it’s called tall white lettuce, it’s not as tall as the two former flowers nor are it’s flowers nearly as conspicuous –

The flowers of white snakeroot are conspicuously abundant in rich moist woodland –

Also white and wet is turtlehead that grows on the shore of rivers, streams, lakes and ponds –

While we're looking at white flowers, many asters have white flowers. There’s small white aster –

and white wood aster –

Goldenrods are the epitome of late summer/fall wildflowers; the Peterson field guide illustrates 29 species, Newcomb 34 species and Britton & Brown 62 species. Here are but three: lance-leaved goldenrod –

gray goldenrod –

and the shade-dwelling blue-stemmed goldenrod –

Also in the shade is a small inconspicuous plant, beechdrops, that parasitizes the roots of American beech –

The only white goldenrod, silverrod, grows in the semi-shade of open woodland and roadsides –

Enjoy the flowers of fall, they’ll soon be gone.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Videos from the Hill

Up on the hill above the house I’ve had some camera traps for a number of years and have included photos and videos in past posts. This year I’ve been remiss in not posting videos from the hill. To make amends for that oversight here are some of the videos that three of the cameras have collected since April –

The house cat belongs to one of our neighbors; they frequently let it out to wander – and to do what wandering cats do, which is to kill small mammals and birds. It’s been estimated that free-roaming house cats kill between six and 25 BILLION birds and small mammals each year. An article in Nature by three authors (two from the Smithsonian and one from the Fish & Wildlife Service) states: “… free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic [human caused] mortality for US birds and mammals.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Digger Wasps

Bob and Dotty’s home was a log cabin about two and a quarter miles from the state highway and a bit over two miles from a road that was driveable by a passenger car. It had no electricity or running water, but they lived there for almost 50 years. The only exception was the several years when Bob’s job required him to live out along the highway at his work headquarters. More of their story was told in this post.

Dotty died in 2012, Bob in 2015 and their cabin has since been moved and reconstructed at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. But their multitude of books aren’t there, nor are the pictures that adorned the walls. Bob was a friend of mine and I knew both of them well enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d resent being a museum exhibit.

And so I’ve never seen the cabin at the museum – but do occasionally walk the old woods road to the cabin site where little remains except the cabin’s simple stone foundation, the posts from the porch, the vista northward into the Pine Creek Valley and the stone where I believe their ashes are buried.

The old road is a delightful walk –

And passes two of the many vistas Bob cut in this densely wooded region (one to the south and one to the north)

On the way back from the cabin site I passed something that had gone unnoticed on the way in, that something was a grouping of about 100 holes in the only section of the old road that was both sandy and sunny –

A closer look revealed that they were the burrows of digger wasps. The female wasps create burrows where they place insects that have been stung to paralyze them and on which the wasps lay their eggs. The wasp larvae then feed on the immobile insects.

The wasps don’t fly directly to their individual burrows, but instead circle for a short while before entering –

After about 30 seconds the female emerges to search for another insect with which to feed her offspring –

Digger wasps are dependent on sandy soils in which to create their burrows and are one of a multitude of species that make life interesting.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Along the Rail-trail

The weather forecast was for a temperature of a bit over 90° and miserably high humidity – UGH! H and I decided to take our bikes and ride the southern end of the Pine Creek Rail-trail early in the morning. The trail came into being after the last train passed through the valley in 1988; here it is, the last train –

The temperature was really pleasant as we headed north along the shady grade. Approaching the first (Torbert) bridge across Pine Creek we saw an osprey flying upstream from the south. As it neared the bridge the bird turned and landed on the tip of a limbless dead tree –

After a minute or so it took flight heading back downstream. We headed in the opposite direction, upstream, though the fields where some thin-leaved sunflowers were still in bloom –

After passing through the fields, the trail enters a damp woodland where pale jewelweed bloomed in profusion –

In addition to the jewelweed, white snakeroot also bloomed in abundance in the woodland –

A large pipeline right-of-way crosses both the rail-trail and Pine Creek in the wooded section. The clearing was covered with blooming wingstem –

A little further along is the site of the former Camp Kline, a Boy Scout camp that hosted campers for over 50 years. The camp’s dining hall had been a theater, dance pavilion or roller skating rink (there are various reports as to its original use) that had been dismantled and brought to the camp on the railroad –

The camp also had what was reported to be the longest foot suspension bridge east of the Mississippi River, the bridge was downed by high winds the in the 1970s –

More wingstem bloomed in this section –

As did the early goldenrod that attracted hordes of bumblebees –

Shortly we came to the Ramsey bridge which has been re-decked for the trail –

There we watched a bumblebee grooming –

And saw a red admiral butterfly basking in the sun –

The temperature was climbing so we decided to turn about and ride back to the car before the day reached its forecast high. On the way we stopped to admire the trailside waterfall on Little Bonnell Run –

Near the waterfall we saw a couple of interesting fungi: chestnut bolete and strict coral fungus –

And white wood aster in bloom – fall’s on its way –

Amid the trailside vegetation were twining vines of wild cucumber showing both flowers and some immature seed pods –

There were patches of scouring rush, a horsetail with a high silica content that pioneers used to scour pots –

After again passing through the fields it was back across the Torbert bridge with views up and down Pine Creek –

And back to the car before it got too darn hot.


Addendum – Camp Kline was originally farmland that had been purchased by James Kline and given to the local Boy Scout council. Most of the camp buildings were constructed in the 1920s and the camp flourished for many years, hosting thousands of scouts. The 409 foot-long suspension bridge was built in 1955 and blew down on April 14, 1974 during a violent windstorm. Without the bridge there was limited access to the camp via a steep narrow road impassable to passenger vehicles. Due to the restricted access, use of the camp dwindled until residential camping ended in the 1980s. The picturesque dining hall collapsed under a heavy snow load following years of inattention. The acreage was gradually acquired for the surrounding state forest and the final buildings demolished in 2016.