Wednesday, January 25, 2023

More Cats on the Rim

If you’re a regular reader of In Forest and Field you may have seen this post from January 2019.

Bobcats frequent the rim of the Allegheny Plateau in this portion of northcentral Pennsylvania. The rim gives them access to habitat in two different forest types, oak-hickory with an understory of mountain laurel on the plateau and hemlock-birch-maple with a scattering of oak on the steep rocky slope into the valley below.

Bobcats travel widely in search of prey but also act as ambush predators, lying in wait until prey comes near enough to be caught with a quick rush. Their prey is composed chiefly of small mammals (mice, voles, squirrels and chipmunks) and birds (songbirds, grouse and even wild turkeys); bobcats will also occasionally eat carrion if it’s not too old.

Breeding in late-winter/early-spring the female selects a den in which to give birth to her kittens two months later. The kittens stay with their mother for a number of months. During the past couple of months it seems that a female bobcat and her two almost-grown kittens have frequented this section of the rim. The camera trap I’ve had there for several years captured a number of videos of them as they traveled past and played –

We’ll say good-bye to the bobcats for now, hopefully we’ll see them again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Walking Along the Run in Another Season

Pennsylvania has an abundance of streams and an abundance of names for the kind of flowing water that are collectively called streams: run, lick, creek, brook, crick, kill, branch and – surprise – stream. One of my favorite streams has a trail along the bottom of its steep-sided narrow valley, but shall remain nameless since it’s a rather fragile ecosystem and already has far too many visitors, although in absolute numbers there are not many.

The trail began life as a road to haul wagonloads of hemlock bark to a tannery about four and a half miles away as the crow flies, but much longer by the primitive roads of the day. For a number of years I worked with a fellow whose family had, generations ago, owned and logged the valley in which the stream flows.

In the intervening years the forest has recovered and there’s a population of native brook trout in the stream, none of which are much more than six inches long. The forest is beginning to take on the characteristics of an old growth forest: large standing dead trees, fallen trees, and several layers of vegetation from small plants to shrubs, small trees to large older trees.

Here, in order, are some of the things I saw on a late-summer day during a three-hour walk up the trail and back down –

A few small yellow mushrooms, yellow waxycaps I believe, glowed against the dark brown of a decaying log –

Just beyond another clump of mushrooms had sprung from a decaying root, these were (I believe) ringless honey mushrooms –

As in most of Pennsylvania, the white ash trees in the valley have died from the emerald ash borer. In an opening created when several trees died grew a number of plants of bee-balm in full bloom –

Further up the stream there are several large patches of Canada yew, a low-growing shrub that has been eliminated from most the limited areas of suitable habitat by browsing white-tailed deer. There was little sign of these having been extensively browsed and there were even a few translucent red fruits hanging from the branches –

More dead trees and fallen limbs bearing fungus, one interesting but defying identification and many tinder fungus on most of the dead birch trees –

In some of the shadiest moist spots grew colonies of common wood-sorrel, long past blooming –

On the edge of the opening grew a few small white flowers, white avens –

Here and there are large rocks that, in ages past, fell or slid from the steep slopes above. Many of those rocks, boulders if you will, are capped by a colony of rock polypody ferns which seldom grow anywhere but on shaded rock –

All along the way the trail parallels the run which in summer doesn’t carry much water but displays its maze of moss-covered stones and tiny cascades –

Indian-pipes with their ghostly white stems and flowers were in bloom. Indian-pipes aren't fungi; they're parasitic flowering plants, lacking chlorophyll, that derive their food from the roots of trees –

In several places along the trail stinging nettles grew in the moist soil. Stinging nettle is a non-native plant from Europe that is now widespread in moist woodland. It’s a plant to be avoided since it lives up to its name; brush against the plant and you’ll be treated to a sample of its sharp “hairs” that penetrate the skin and sting for a while –

Back down the trail I went, passing a large white pine that’s the largest tree I've found in the valley –

Back to the car and to run some errands before heading for home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Six Months at a Mossy Log

Fallen logs are great spots for a camera trap. This log fell quite a few years ago and is now covered with moss, it’s gradually decaying and will eventually be gone. For now it provides wildlife with a travel lane, a place to hunt for food, a spot to scent mark, a scratching post and an obstacle for easy movement.

A camera trap was at this log for all of 2022, but camera traps lead a hard life as they’re exposed to a myriad of hazards – black bears and raccoons bite and maul them, batteries go dead in cold weather, the cases leak, the electronics in the cameras and their controls go bad, … The camera at this spot didn’t get any usable videos in the first six months of the year thanks to dead batteries and user error – the videos from the second six months were dominated by black bears until the coming of winter sent them to their dens.

Early in the winter high winds snapped a large aspen tree which fell next to the mossy log; unfortunately, the camera trap didn’t get a video of the tree as it fell, but fortunately it missed the camera. Here are the best of the videos from the camera trap

Forests are dynamic places – every living thing in them is born, lives and dies. As the mossy log continues to decay the fallen aspen will replace it as a travel lane, an obstacle and a place to find food.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Why a Free Ride?

I’m a wildlife watcher and photographer, a hiker and enjoy paddling a canoe. It’s been over 50 years since I bought a hunting license and almost as long since I had a fishing license. H and I contribute to a number of conservation organizations, both local and national. And yet, in many ways I’m getting a free ride – how? why?

Both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission are primarily funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

Both agencies have the responsibility of managing all of the state’s wildlife – mammals and birds by the Game Commission, cold-blooded creatures by the F&BC. The Game Commission has funded the restoration of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, the F&BC has funded research on timber rattlesnakes and hellbenders.

Excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and fishing tackle provide the agencies with additional funding for wildlife management. Those taxes are taxes that we who are wildlife watchers and photographers don’t pay.

Folks like me who watch birds or photograph salamanders or … have, in large measure, gotten a free ride from the agencies and those who financially support them we use their lands and waters and enjoy seeing eagles and dragonflies without contributing financially.

And why have we gotten a free ride? Partially tradition, partially the agencies’ reluctance to answer to another very different constituency, partially because we all like getting something for nothing. The percent of the population who hunt and fish has been slowly diminishing for years. An increasingly urbanized population values wildlife differently, placing increased emphasis on non-consumptive activities. Both agencies are having some degree of financial difficulty and have been seeking additional funding.

And so it’s time for those of us who have been enjoying a free ride courtesy of others to pay for the management of the wildlife we profess to love. Be it a user fee, an excise tax (on nature guides, bird feed, binoculars, cameras and telephoto lenses); a combination of the two or some other mechanism, we have an obligation to provide funding to wildlife management agencies just as they have an obligation to manage for songbirds and salamanders.

This is an addendum (rant if you will) prompted by the second comment to this post:

The management of wildlife in Pennsylvania is not, with minimal exceptions, funded by general tax revenue. In many other states wildlife management is funded by all taxpayers, here the management agencies are for all practical purposes funded solely by those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission owns and manages over 1,000,000 acres throughout the state. The Fish and Boat Commission owns and manages lakes and does much on-the-ground enforcement of clean water regulations. The land and lakes are open to all – to watch birds, photograph butterflies, hike or walk the dog. Without the hunters and fishers those 1,000,000 acres and those lakes would be privately owned and not available to everyone as they are now.

Should the agencies receive funding from all the citizens of the state? Certainly, but do we really want that funding dependent on the whims of the legislature? If we want land managed for golden-winged warblers or efforts made to protect the clean water that salamanders require it’s only reasonable for birders and photographers to contribute to the funds that those endeavors require. The longer we fail to do that, the more likely it is that the agencies will stop devoting a portion of their dwindling resources to non-game species.

I'm tired of being a freeloader and want someone who shares my interests to have a seat at the table when management decisions are made -- how about you?