Wednesday, December 28, 2022

At the Cave #2

This could, and perhaps should, have been titled A Year at the Cave or Cats at the Cave since bobcats are the stars of the videos from the first eleven months of 2022. Videos from the cave have appeared before, most recently a bit over a year ago

It appears that, along with a porcupine, an opossum and possibly a raccoon, a female bobcat may have taken up residence in the cave on at least a part-time basis. Not only did a bobcat repeatedly use the cave during the winter but, as you will see, it scent marked the camera including the lens. Later in the year two bobcat kittens appeared and spent time in front of the camera.

The bobcat kittens honed their hunting skills by playing with a dead white-footed mouse. There’s no way of telling whether a kitten caught and killed the mouse or if the adult had provided the mouse. Hopefully the kittens have become adept enough at catching their own food to live long lives here on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Feathers and Wedges

We all know what feathers are – they cover the skin of birds; as for wedges, those are used to split firewood. OK, but what on earth do they have to do with each other – if anything?

We’re not going to talk about birds’ feathers or splitting a winter fuel supply. Here we’re going to talk about the things also known as plugs and wedges, wedges and shims and pins and feathers. Confused now?

Feathers and wedges are ancient tools (still available from a number of dealers) used to split stone.

Ancient they may be, but they’re still one of the easiest and simplest way to shape stone. They were used to shape the stone used in Europe’s cathedrals, to cut the flagstone for American city sidewalks and in the production of millions of gravestones in cemeteries.

To cut stone using feathers and wedges the first step is to drill a series of holes about six inches apart in a straight line. In olden times a star drill and hammer were used to drill the holes, now a powered drill is used. Following that, two feathers and a wedge are inserted in each hole.

Once all the feathers and wedges are in place they are gently struck with a hammer, one after another and the process repeated until the stone splits (the beginning of the split can be seen in the photo above).

Stones cut by feathers and wedges often show the telltale holes drilled in the process as seen in some of the stones in this bridge abutment –

In the Big Woods there’s a large boulder which someone tried to split with feathers and wedges, someone who apparently had heard about the technique but didn’t know enough. The drilled holes were too far apart to produce a straight cut.

And, because the holes are too far apart to effectively split the stone or even split it at all, several sets of feathers and wedges are stuck in the holes and have been there for many decades.

These tools and their use have been handed down through the ages and are still very effective – when they’re used correctly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Felsenmeer - a "sea of rock"

Felsenmeer is a German term meaning “sea of rock” and is used to describe blockfields that formed during glacial epochs when temperatures just south of the glaciers fluctuated frequently. Repeated freezing and thawing of water trapped in small cracks in the bedrock broke the rock into angular boulder-sized rocks. 

At that time there was little vegetation on the ground and what there was resembled the vegetation now growing in the high arctic.

Two of Pennsylvania's best known felsenmeers are the Hickory Run Boulder Field in Hickory Run State Park and the River of Rocks in Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Felsenmeers occur throughout much of Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley Region, some fairly small and some quite large. Little of the Ridge and Valley Region in central Pennsylvania was glaciated in either the most recent glacial era or the preceding one. But most or all of the region had the tundra-like conditions in which these block fields were created.

Now, thousands of years later, these areas of broken rock remain, some on steep hillsides and some on fairly flat areas.

The blockfields, as barren as they appear, do provide habitat for a few species of wildlife. Turkey vultures raise their young in voids between the rocks and Allegheny wood rats build their bulky nests in narrow spaces between the boulders. Unfortunately, Allegheny wood rats are considered threatened in Pennsylvania as their populations have fallen drastically due to the raccoon roundworm, an internal parasite. Here's a photo of the only one I’ve ever seen – in a felsenmeer. 

A number of years ago members of our hiking group explored a rather large felsenmeer on a steep hillside –

Over time vegetation is gradually creeping into the felsenmeers as the spaces between the boulders accumulate decayed vegetation –

But the felsenmeers will still be gracing the Ridge and Valley Region for thousands of years. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Summer and Fall on the Log Bridge

For those of us who operate camera traps fallen logs are the gift that keeps on giving. The best logs are those that span an obstacle: a rock ledge, steep bank or stream. In this post we see videos of the critters that used a log bridge across a small stream during the summer and fall.

This log bridge was once a fairly large eastern hemlock that, when it fell, created a route for mammals to cross the stream without getting wet feet; birds also use the log bridge as a perch with clear flight lines in an area of dense shrubs. Earlier videos from the log bridge were posted here 

Several species new to videos from this spot appeared, the most impressive being a juvenile great horned owl –

Here they are, the best videos from the summer and fall at the log bridge –

Unfortunately, the videos from November consisted of over 500 clips, taken in less than 48 hours, of three blades of grass blowing in the breeze and nothing else; the grass can be seen in the last few clips in the video. Those 500 clips filled the camera’s memory card and the camera was then removed in anticipation of hunting seasons.

Try, try again in late winter.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Around the House

Over the last few years In Forest and Field has featured four photo-a-day-for-a-year projects. They’ve been interesting and fun and readers of the blog seem to enjoy them. I’ve thought about doing another such project but needed more of a challenge. So I’ve decided to undertake a fifth project, this one featuring the natural world within 200 feet of our back door.

The environment within that 2.88 acres consists of lawn, flower gardens featuring annual and perennial flowers, shrubs both native and non-native, an apple tree, shade trees and relatively undisturbed woodland that developed after a pasture was abandoned about 100 years ago. That woodland adjoins thousands of acres of forest most of which, although it’s been repeatedly logged, has been forest for thousands of years.

This project will be broken into four segments based on the meteorological seasons, so the first will be for the winter (December, January and February) and will be posted in early March. If there’s an interesting photo to be had for each day of the winter, the rest of the year should be easy.

As an introduction, let me introduce you to life at our little pond: About 20 feet from the back of our house, at the base of a fairly steep bank, there’s a short wall separating lawn from bank. Many years ago I constructed a small pond behind that wall; small it is, about two feet by four feet with a maximum depth of 18 inches. In the water grows a dwarf fragrant water lily, a few fish swim to devour mosquito larvae, red-spotted newts rise for a breath of air, green frogs devour insects and bask on the wall. The pond is directly outside the kitchen window from which we can watch some of the goings-on.

Sometimes I’ve taken camera in hand to photograph critters at the pond –

A camera trap has occasionally been placed to capture videos of visitors to the pond. Those visitors have varied in size and may come night or day. Here are videos from the camera trap –

Some of the visitors are residents, some are just moving through and we or the camera trap have certainly missed seeing others. Water is a magnet for wildlife, it was well worth taking shovel in hand all those years ago.

I'll begin taking a photo a day of the plants, animals and other features of this world to be seen within 200 feet of the back door on December 1watch for the results in this space in early March.  

By the way NO, we're not afraid of the black bears that occasionally visit nor do we feed them which is both foolish and illegal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

He's Baaack

For a number of years a pair of peregrine falcons has nested on one of the piers under a bridge spanning the river. In summer, after the nesting season, the birds disappear for a while and are seldom seen. As winter approaches they frequent a tree along the river about a quarter-mile from the bridge; and they spend many winter days in that tree. The tree is open branched, allowing for unobstructed take-offs and landings, and is near the bridge with its abundant supply of feral pigeons.

Based on years’ worth of photographs of that pair of peregrines it appears that it may have been the same male since 2011; if so that would mean he's at least 12 years old, quite old for a wild peregrine falcon.

As I walked along the river and approached the tree there he was back in their favorite tree. I took a number of photographs as he yawned and preened and looked around –

Suddenly he alerted –

Crouched and took off –

Something had disturbed him, that something turned out to be an immature bald eagle winging upstream below the height of the riverside trees. The limbs and twigs were thick enough that I couldn't see if the peregrine went to harass the eagle or flew elsewhere. With the dense branching there was no point in trying for a photo of the eagle.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Little Colors

Each fall nature gives a seasonal treat to those of us who live in northeastern North America and around the Great Lakes. That treat comes in the form of the changing colors of the leaves as the days shorten and trees prepare for winter.

The maples, aspens, black gums, tulip-poplars and oaks of our area add their colors to the greens of the conifers to paint the hillsides for a few weeks each fall. Those leaves are down now, almost all faded to a pale yellow or dull brown and their colors gone. But there are other colors to be seen amid the fallen leaves, those are what we’ll call the little colors – the lichens, fruits and fungi that add their colors to the display.

Here’s a sample, beginning with some tiny lichens whose names are self-explanatory: pink earth lichen, lipstick powderhorn and red-fruited pixie cup

And a neither plant nor animal, but in a class of its own – wolf’s milk slime mold that starts out pink, gradually darkens and winds up dark brown –

Then there are the multitude of fungi which shall remain nameless because there are many fungi I can’t identify with any confidence –

A couple of late-season fruits, partridgeberry and teaberry –

While the trees’ colors are a feast for the eyes, it’s also worthwhile to look down occasionally, bend your knee and enjoy the little colors.