Wednesday, August 31, 2022

One Month at the Running Log

July 2022 in northcentral Pennsylvania was hot and very dry with daily high temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s and very little rain. In most places there wasn’t much wildlife activity to be seen, although as many intermittent streams dried up some wildlife was forced to travel in search of water.

The running log straddles an old road that descends a forested hillside from a field reverting to woodland into a small valley with a trickle of a stream.

In early August when the videos from the camera trap at the log were downloaded the numbers and variety of wildlife were both surprising. 

Here are the most interesting of the videos from just one month at the running log –

I tend to keep camera traps in each location for several years since a short-term session won’t detect the many species that may use a specific habitat. By the same token, species that appear in the early videos may not ever appear again or might only pass by on rare occasions.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


Leafhoppers are small insects, so small you may not have noticed them, but extremely common. They have what are called piercing-sucking mouthparts and make their living by sucking sap from plants. Other small insects like aphids and scale insects have the same method of obtaining nourishment, as do cicadas, stinkbugs and many other insects.

Also called treehopppers, planthoppers and just hoppers, leafhoppers have hind legs that are modified to allow them to hop fairly long distances. And thus they can escape predators.

Many leafhoppers are colorful, others are spectacularly grotesque and some, especially tropical species, are both colorful and grotesque.

Like most insects leafhoppers begin as an egg, in this case laid in a plant’s stem or leaf. The eggs hatch and a nymph emerges; many of those nymphs are nondescript light green creatures –

Which become mature adults after going through five molts.

Here are a few I’ve found in northcentral Pennsylvania, beginning with a species that’s both common and colorful, the red-banded leafhopper –

Although a few leafhoppers can carry and spread plant diseases and an extremely large population of some species can impact agricultural crops, leafhoppers in general do little damage to plants.

If you look carefully at the plants in your garden or the plants in any field or forest you’ll almost certainly find a leafhopper or two.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Into the Fen

On maps it's shown as a bog, but it’s not actually a bog. True bogs don’t have an inlet or an outlet through which water flows in or out. Bogs receive only rainfall and surface water and are normally quite acidic – and they lose water through evaporation or the transpiration of the bog’s plants. Bogs are acidic and low in fertility.

Fens, on the other hand, receive groundwater and usually have both an inlet and outlet; since fens’ water is derived from groundwater, they have more available nutrients than bogs; and although they may be acidic, fens are often neutral or basic. While bogs are almost always on level ground, fens are on a slope, although the slope may be extremely slight.

While bogs are home to an interesting variety of vegetation, fens frequently have a very rich array of plants, including orchids.

On a summer day I headed for one of my favorite fens, one that’s not too far away. I parked at an old logging camp and then headed for the fen; first through a thin border of tall white pine, then through thick alders with a groundcover of cinnamon fern where I sank to my knees in water and muck, and finally into the open portion of the fen.

In those photographs you get a glimpse of several of the most interesting plants in this fen. The tall stalks with the reddish top-knot are the flowers of northern pitcher plant –

Below those are the pitcher plant’s leaves: tubular vase-like structures filled with fluid –


 Insects that enter the “pitchers” are trapped by small downward pointing "hairs"and then dissolved, supplying the plant with nutrients lacking in the fen.

The other carnivorous plant in this fen is the tiny round-leaved sundew. Seeing the sundew requires getting on bent knee, looking closely, and there it is – a rosette of small round leaves bearing, on short stalks, droplets of sticky fluid. Insects alighting on the leaves become trapped in the fluid and the leaf curls around to dissolve the insect so the plant can acquire its nutrients –

Now for those spots of pink in the first photo – they’re two species of native orchids. The taller, bearing the larger flowers is calopogon, also known as grass pink –

While calopogon is common in this fen (and is one of my favorite native orchids) its numbers are eclipsed by the abundance of the smaller rose pogonia –

Not in bloom was another plant only found in fens and bogs, the creeping snowberry. Creeping snowberry is related to blueberry and mountain laurel but it doesn’t grow taller than an inch or two –

I’d expected to find each of those plants, what I didn't expect and was very pleased to find were several small butterflies visiting the flowers. They turned out to be a species confined to similar sites, known as the bog copper –

Fens and bogs, as is true with most wetlands, are fragile ecosystems vulnerable to the changes in rainfall and temperature resulting from our changing climate. They’ve also been viewed as mosquito-filled wastelands suitable for filling or draining. One botanically important site I've visited was previously mined for peat and then dammed, inundating most of the area except for a portion that broke loose and created a floating mat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

May and June at the Bear Wallow

What I call the Bear Wallow is a seasonal pool (often called a vernal pool) in the Big Woods that occupies a pingo scar. It’s a place where frogs and salamanders breed; seasonal pools don’t have any fish because they frequently dry up in the summer so the amphibians don’t have to deal with predatory fish.

Seasonal pools attract a lot of wildlife – from small amphibians to the largest local species, the black bear. The bear wallow attracted a fair amount of wildlife of various species, but fewer bears than in past years. We had very little rain in June and so the pool had shrunken significantly.

Here are the best of the videos from my camera trap at the bear wallow for the months of May and June –

July saw virtually no rain and the pool continued to diminish in size but the camera will remain in place. The bear wallow may dry completely before fall rains and winter snows fill it once again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Looking Beyond 80 - the fourth three months

Well here we are, in the last four months of my 81st year on this glorious green earth. The photographs from the earlier three month periods can be seen here, here and here. This is the fourth time I’ve undertaken a project to take an interesting or “good” photograph every day for a year. Each one of these projects has been a pleasure, prompting me to get out and look more closely at the natural world.

Hopefully some of those who view these photos will be inspired to get outdoors and see things they may not have noticed before. And that these photographs will encourage everyone to do whatever they can to protect the natural world. Hopefully you'll enjoy viewing these images of the large, diverse and intricate world around you.















After the first photo-a-day-for-a-year project I wasn’t sure about ever doing it again, and then I did, and then did it again and now the fourth such project has been completed. So, will I ever undertake one of these projects again? – we’ll see.