Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Mornings at the Marsh - part 2

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have sno

                              Old Nursery Rhyme

The first line of that rhyme could easily be changed to March winds doth blow for on another March morning at another marsh the wind was absolutely howling, and the sky was dark gray.

This time I went to a large natural wetland that’s part emergent vegetation, part cattail marsh and part shrub wetland. The portion of the wetland where I chose to spend the morning is shaped like a “Y” and it was on the point between the two arms of the Y where I sat. To the left was the emergent wetland, to the right was shrub wetland and at the distant base of the Y was the cattail marsh.

On the point is a large arbor created when vines grew over a patch of shrubby willow, the vines make a superb natural blind. I'd previously decided to sit there where, in my camouflage garb, I'd be virtually invisible to any birds in or over the wetland.

On the way in, the first waterfowl I saw were a handful of pintails in the area of wetland that has emergent vegetation during the growing season. Being quite wary, the pintails weren’t about to tolerate me walking past and off they went –

Once I was well hidden and had been there for about half an hour a number of wood ducks flew over and then landed among the shrubs in the water on the other side of the point of land. Male wood ducks are the most colorful of our native ducks while the females, like the females of all species of wild ducks, are very well camouflaged –

Meanwhile back in the more open area a few northern shovelers had also landed –

Through the binoculars I was watching a mass of waterfowl (mallards, pintails, black ducks and green-winged teal) far off near the cattails –

Suddenly the entire mass of birds took off heading my way –

Something scared them, but what was it? Ah-ha! there it was, an immature bald eagle. By the time I saw the eagle it was long past the area where the mass of ducks had been and almost lost against the snow-clad ridge to the south of the marsh –

While waiting for the ducks to return I looked out toward the large part of the marsh in the far distance and saw a male harrier, the bird sometimes called the “gray ghost” –

Apparently the ducks didn’t perceive the harrier as a threat because it was still swooping and fighting the wind over the wetland as the ducks began to return, the first to land nearby was a pair of blue-winged teal 

They were followed by a number of wood ducks  












Soon it was time for me to leave and, in keeping with the returning ducks, I thought: “I’ll be back”.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Mornings at the Marsh – part 1

March heralds the migration of waterfowl from their wintering grounds; they often stop in our local wetlands to feed and rest. Some stay to nest, but most resume their journey to distant breeding grounds.

The prospect of photographing waterfowl, including some species that are only in northcentral Pennsylvania for a few days or weeks each year prompted me to spend a few mornings at several local wetlands. Off I went, dressed in camouflage from head to foot (including a facemask) with snacks and a thermos of hot coffee in the pack and a lightweight folding chair strapped to the pack – oh yes, and my camera with its long telephoto lens.

One morning the destination was a large man-made wetland with a lot of open water and a shrub wetland along its shallow border. I chose to sit beneath a pin oak with a multitude of low drooping branches that was behind an opening in that shrub wetland. It wasn’t long before a few green-winged teal swam along, presenting an opportunity for a few photos –













The teal headed off, out of sight behind a dense growth of shrubs and I sat munching on some orange slices and a few pretzels along with a cup of coffee from the thermos. After about 45 minutes a group of American wigeon descended to the far side of the open water –

After a while they gradually swam closer, especially two males that still hadn’t fully acquired the green stripe on the side of the head that's typical of their breeding plumage –

While I was watching the wigeon a small flock of pintails swam into view; pintails are one of the most nervous waterfowl and I’ve seldom gotten good photos of them – but the males are also one of the most dapper of ducks –























The final ducks of the morning were ring-necked ducks which breed on small ponds in boreal forests of Canada and the most northern states. The reason why they were named for the almost invisible brown band on the males’ necks when they could be called ring-billed ducks for the  obvious white ring on the beaks of both sexes has always been beyond my understanding. The ring-necked ducks swam right up to the gap in the shrubs and proceeded to spend quite some time diving and feeding –

Next week we’ll visit a portion of a much larger natural wetland: one that's part cattail marsh, part emergent vegetation and part shrub wetland.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023


Drive any road in the eastern United States and you’ll see some of the toll our way of life takes on wildlife. No matter whether it’s large or small, vehicles kill them all. Pennsylvania, with more miles of road open to the public per square mile than any other state, ranks especially high in the number of reported animal/vehicle collisions.

Although people are sometimes killed in accidents involving wildlife, either by the collision itself or in trying to avoid a collision, it’s usually the animal or bird that doesn’t survive. Here are just a few of the casualties


There’s a clean-up crew that frequently disposes of the carcasses: crows, ravens and turkey vultures quickly find most of the roadkill –

Recently H and I were were heading home when we saw a road-killed deer and a couple of large black birds flying away as we passed. Ravens! Ravens are one of my favorite birds and I couldn’t pass up a chance for some photographs; although the good camera was at home there was a camera in the car, so we turned around to go back and wait to see if the ravens returned.

It was then that H saw a third raven in an adjacent field and realized that it had an injured wing. We parked nearby, shortly the raven walked to the road-killed deer and began feeding –

Fields surround this spot for hundreds of yards so the raven must have been injured as it fed on the deer and dawdled a bit too long as a vehicle approached – a serious risk inherent in feeding on roadkill. Although it was now feeding rapidly and there was plenty of food, the chances of it surviving are between slim and none.

I wanted to catch the bird and get it to a licensed rehabilitator. But we were on the way home from the hospital where I’d had minor surgery followed by strict instructions not to bend over or engage in vigorous exercise for five days. Catching the raven would have involved both, even if it would have been possible without a large net and/or more help. Sadly, this raven will likely become indirect roadkill itself.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Winter at the Cave

Anyone in northcentral Pennsylvania who called the season that recently ended “winter” should feel a bit ashamed. By the calendar it was winter, but on the ground it was more like early spring. We had a bit of snow which melted in only a few days, and some cold days that were followed by really warm weather. But since we need a name for those three months, I guess we should say that was winter.

December at the cave featured bobcat videos, but felines were absent during the following months. An opossum dominated the videos during January and February. Opossums aren’t usually considered attractive, but they're interesting critters – the only marsupial in North America, mouths that contain 50 teeth, able to survive winter with only a sparse coat of hair, immune to rattlesnake venom, have an average life-span of only two years and possess a prehensile tail.

There are reports of opossums using their tail to carry things but documentation of that activity is sparse. Well here’s some documentation as an opossum makes repeated trips to gather dry leaves to refurbish it’s bed in the cave – and you’ll even see it use its hind legs to add leaves to its bundle –

Did you notice that there was no eye-shine from the right eye of the first gray fox? It appears the fox may be blind in that eye. Speaking of gray fox, mated pairs of gray fox frequently hunt together. Many of my camera traps have gotten videos of gray fox pairs as they’ve hunted and traveled together.

We’ll see what spring will bring to the cave.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Around the House - Winter

Within a 200 foot radius of our back door there's a variety of habitats: lawn, several small flower gardens, an apple tree, shrubs both native and ornamental and woodland which developed after what had been a pasture was abandoned about 100 years ago – as well as a tiny pond that was featured in this post. The area adjoins thousands of acres of native forest so we're visited by species characteristic of those acres.

The area in that 200 foot radius is the subject of this photo-a-day-for-a-year project. These photographs cover meteorological winter: December, January and February. They were primarily taken with an Olympus mirrorless micro-four-thirds camera using various lenses; a few photos were taken with a Canon compact superzoom camera and others are from one of several camera traps (the camera trap photos are noted). All of the photographs have been compressed for posting.

Herewith are the photographs from those 90 days –





































































































































































































































































Winters have changed markedly in the 51 years we’ve lived on the side of this hill, from real winters with snow and temperatures below 0° to something quite different. This winter we had fairly low temperatures and some snow in mid-December and a high of 51° in early January, and then repeated that pattern in February with a low of 7° followed by a high of 62° two weeks later. And then winter ended with another short-lived snowfall. As you can see from the photographs, there actually was little snow this winter, and each snowfall melted rapidly the climate's changing and not for the better.

Winter's over now, but we may still have some cold weather and snowy days. Geese are heading north, the first flowers of spring are blooming and flocks of robins have been moving through – winter's done and tomorrow spring begins.

If you like the results of this project, why not try one yourself? You don’t have to own a good camera, an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera or a cell-phone can provide your photos. You don’t need a large yard; you can find subjects anywhere with plants, a few shrubs and a tree or two. Live in an apartment – use a town park or a vacant lot.

Go out, look around and really, really look. Don’t be afraid to bend down, use a magnifying glass or get dirty. There’s a fascinating world out there for anyone who cares to look at it. 

From a camera trap - 1/9, 1/24, 2/7