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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022


Near the end of a 2½-mile loop through forest and field there’s a very large beaver pond. The lodge in the pond hasn’t shown any signs of being maintained this year and there’s no feed-bed (the beavers' winter food supply of fresh branches) in the water near the lodge. But the dam is still being maintained so the beavers may have constructed a new lodge elsewhere on the pond.

On this typically cloudy fall morning there were leaves falling from the trees and the colors of those leaves were the highlight of the morning’s walk. They were that is until I glanced at that beaver lodge, for on the lodge was what appeared to be an otter slide  

Hmm thought I, wouldn’t it be great if there were otters using the pond; 35 years ago there were no otters in northcentral Pennsylvania. A hundred feet further into my walk, out of the corner of my eye I saw a swirl in the water so I stopped and watched. Soon a head broke the surface, a beaver? No, this was no beaver – it was the head of an otter

River 0tters are very intelligent and inquisitive; the first wild otter I ever saw was about 50 years ago when H and I were canoeing near a beaver lodge on which there was an otter. It entered the water, swam toward the canoe and circled, all the while repeatedly rising high in the water to look at us. This animal did the same, swimming back and forth about 100 feet away and watching me all the time  

It too frequently rose up for a better view –

After I sat down on the dam the otter came closer as it kept a wary eye on me. It would occasionally playfully blow bubbles as it floated in the water –

After about 25 minutes it apparently realized I wasn’t a threat and relaxed enough to swim over to a good-sized stump and proceeded to climb on top –

The otter proceeded to make itself comfortable on what is called a “couch” or bed on the stump that it had constructed using water lily leaves and stems –

Apparently there was part of a fish on the stump which the otter ate as I watched –

Eventually the otter slipped back into the water and swam further out in the pond –

Otters use dens to sleep and rear their kits; the dens may be in a pile of logs and debris, in a burrow in a stream bank or in an abandoned beaver lodge perhaps this one. The next day I went back with a better telephoto lens and spent hours sitting in the same spot but the only thing of interest that appeared was a male belted kingfisher on a distant snag –

It’s a big pond and otters often travel widely, so ...