Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Hot Morning's Walk

Mid-July is usually the hottest time of year in northcentral Pennsylvania and the day was about to live up to that. The forecast high for the day was 92° F – not at all my kind of weather.

It was still cool and overcast in the morning as I headed for a parcel of state game lands to walk some of the roads. State game lands are managed for wildlife by the Pennsylvania Game Commission but are open to all whether they’re hunters or not. This parcel has some open fields, a couple of shallow-water impoundments and both young and mature woodland – it’s a great place to wander about with a camera.

One of the first subjects for my camera was a small group of black-eyed-Susan flowers –

On one of those flowers were two small weevils –

Watching the larger weevil for a few moments revealed that it was feeding on pollen –

A short way along this old road, which is one of H’s favorite walks, –

– a few blackberries were ripening, food for a myriad of creatures –

And a monarch butterfly landed on a leaf in the opening –

In that open area grew a number of wild bergamot, the monarch may have been headed for those flowers and the nectar they contain –

Later, two birds flew up from the roadside shrubs, and what were they but a pair of cedar waxwings, the male landed on a dead branch above the road –

While the female, carrying nesting material, landed low in a small tree; cedar waxwings nest later than most birds –

As a shallow-water impoundment came into view I heard several wood ducks taking off. By peering through the shrubs bordering the water I got a glimpse of a female wood duck on a fallen log –

She saw me too and off she went so I continued my walk along the water’s edge. In a more open area there was a mass of greater bladderwort; bladderworts are carnivorous plants, feeding on tiny aquatic creatures that are caught in the plants’ small underwater bladder-like structures. The flowers of all but one northeastern species are bright yellow –

At the second shallow-water impoundment nine great blue herons flushed as soon as they saw a human. But one stayed behind, perched on a dead tree –

By now I’d been walking for over two hours and the day’s heat was building – time to head for home. But not far from the car there was one final interesting sighting: a pile of black bear droppings full of cherry pits and blackberry seeds –

Enough of the heat, home I went.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

National Moth Week - 2022

July 23-31, 2022 is National Moth Week, a time to see and appreciate nocturnal nature.

Moths are widespread and very diverse with possibly 500,000 species worldwide (no one actually knows because new species are constantly being discovered and described); there are somewhere around 10,000 species in North America. Some moths are brightly colored while others are extremely well camouflaged; some species are so tiny they’re difficult to see while others are the size of my hand.

It doesn’t matter if you live in the city or the suburbs or the country, if you leave the outside lights burning for a while on these summer evenings you’ll attract moths. Some types of lightbulbs produce a light that’s more attractive to moths; bulbs marked 3600K or higher will attract a variety of moths as will older incandescent bulbs.

Here are a few moths that I've photographed this year –

Only a few moths cause economic impacts but many species (especially in their caterpillar stage) are eaten by songbirds or other insects. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the moths in your neighborhood, we certainly find fascinating and beautiful moths here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Autumn Olive

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata ) is a shrub native to northeastern Asia and Japan that grows up to 20 feet tall. It has been widely planted in the northeastern U.S. for erosion control, wildlife habitat and, because it fixes nitrogen on its roots, for rehabilitation of disturbed sites like strip mines. Although it’s often confused with and even called Russian olive, Russian olive is a different species – a small tree.

Smaller stems and twigs of autumn olive bear short sharp-pointed stems that can produce a nasty puncture wound and are occasionally able to puncture vehicle tires –

The leaves of autumn olive are one to two inches long with smooth edges and small silver-colored scales on the lower surface –

In spring the plants have an abundance of small pale yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that have a wonderful aroma –

Those flowers are the precursors to small red fruits that also bear small silvery scales –

The fruit contains a large seed (pit) and has a tart taste, I like the flavor but many people do not. However the fruit is readily eaten by the many species of birds that typically feed on fruit –

Wild turkeys go to great lengths to feed on autumn olive fruit –

Mice and chipmunks devour the seeds, black bears tear the shrubs apart to get at the fruit and deer browse the twigs –

Autumn olive is widely considered an invasive exotic species: its leaves emerge earlier in the spring and last longer in the fall than those of many native species, the nitrogen it fixes allows it to grow on infertile sites and it can therefore out-compete most native plants.

Vast sums have been spent on efforts to eradicate invasive exotic plants, including autumn olive. So far, except in comparatively small areas, all of that money and effort have led to naught; is it time to accept that those species are here to stay – just asking.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Surprise !!!

It was an evening in mid-June, warm but not hot, I’d gone out to take down the bird feeders – we do that each evening to avoid having the neighborhood black bears do it for us.

Going along the front walk I was brought up short by a yellow-phase timber rattlesnake basking in the light of the setting sun against the base of the front stoop. Having worked in rattlesnake territory for well over 50 years, I’ve never been afraid of timber rattlesnakes but respect them and have also developed an automatic reaction to stop whenever one is in my field of view even if I hadn't realized it was there – no thought necessary, it’s an automatic reaction.

We’ve lived here on the side of this ridge for 51 years and, although we regularly see garter snakes on the lawn or in the flower gardens

We’ve never seen a rattlesnake here – nor heard that any neighbors have encountered one.

I saw the snake, the snake saw me; it moved its head slightly backward and I backed up. OK, what to do now? We wouldn’t want a rattlesnake around the house but rattlesnakes are a species of concern in Pennsylvania and in any case I really didn’t want to kill it.

To the garage I went to get one of my snake sticks and a five-gallon pail, then back to get the snake which hadn't moved. Timber rattlesnakes are quite docile; using the snake stick I got it into the pail – which was much too shallow to contain the 3½ - 4 foot long snake, so out it came and quickly crawled into the dense flower planting.

I called H and she brought our steel garbage can. By that time the snake had emerged from the planting onto the lawn in an effort to flee and I used the stick to get it in the steel can – on went the lid. Unfortunately, I didn't take photos although in retrospect I very much wish I’d taken a photograph of the snake against the stoop.

Now what???? Nope, I wasn’t about to kill the snake nor take it back up the ridge to possibly return again. So, in the car went the can with the snake and the two of us and off we went to release the snake in suitable habitat far from dwellings. By the time we got to the release site the sun was slipping below the horizon and it was quite dark in the woods.

At a spot where an old timber sale road left a forest road the can came out of the car, the lid came off and the snake came out. As soon as the snake hit the ground it headed for thick cover –

Once there it coiled in a defensive position –

Through all of this the snake never coiled until it got into the thick cover, and never once made any attempt to strike. As I said, they're quite docile and they ain't out to get ya.

We wished it well and headed for home.

Timber rattlesnakes have two color phases with many gradations in between: yellow like the one we had just released –

And black -

This was a fairly young snake but quite large, still growing as indicated by its tapered rattles (a new segment is added at each shedding, perhaps three or four a year). Timber rattlesnakes usually become mature when they're five to ten years old, males earlier than females.

As compared to an older snake with rattles of uniform width, indicating it's completed its growth, and the tapered segments have been lost –

Timber rattlesnakes use dens below frost level during the winter, typically a number of snakes den together in a site they use winter after winter. The dens usually don't look like the rocky open areas that most people call snake dens, those places are basking areas. The den entrances often resemble a chipmunk hole in the woods, usually within a few hundred yards of a basking area.  

Male timber rattlesnakes may travel a couple of miles from their dens, females not as far; I didn't check to see if the snake by the stoop was male or female. Where was it's den, where are the others from that den, how long was the snake around the house? We'll never know.

We released the snake, hopefully it will survive in its new home and not try to return – in which case it may succumb to predation, or a malicious human, or a vehicle as it crosses a road, or the cold of winter if it can’t find a den below frost line.