Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Walking with Wildflowers

In the bottomland along a nearby stream is an area of large older trees, a rich woodland full of sugar maple, red oak and wildflowers. Its deep fertile soils support an abundance of those early spring wildflowers that emerge, flower, set seed and store enough sugars and starches to last them until next spring before the trees’ leaves fully emerge – they're called spring ephemerals.

This is one of those areas well worth walking through; it will be a slow walk, one with much stopping and bending down – and in my case kneeling with camera in hand.

Never have I seen such a profusion of trout-lily as were in bloom in mid-April of this year. In the Big Woods an hour’s walk will take you past tens of thousands of trout-lily leaves with nary a flower to be seen, but here an hour’s walk passes hundreds and hundreds of blooming trout-lily. Enjoy –

Interspersed with the trout lily are scattered Dutchman’s breeches, named for their supposed resemblance to a pair of pantaloons with a yellow waistband –

And then there are the purple trilliums, also known as wakerobin –

Did you notice the ant on the flower in the last photo? Purple trillium are heavily dependent on ants for their reproduction, although this ant is rushing things a bit. Trillium seeds have a sweet coating that’s very attractive to ants which tote the seeds back to their nest. Having eaten the sweet coating, the ants carry the seeds out to the area where they dump soil and waste from their tunnels – and thus the seeds are planted.

If you come to an area like this a day too late you’ll miss the blooming of the bloodroot, which got its name from the bright red fluid exuded from a broken root; you might miss the blooming of bloodroot if you're late, for its flowers last only a day or two –

The earliest of violets also bloom at the same time, the sweet white violet –

The round-leaved yellow violet –

And the great-spurred violet –












  A few days further into spring and a new cohort of wildflowers will be in bloom.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

An Evening with Woodies

After an early supper I headed for a shrub wetland where I’d seen signs of recent beaver activity and flushed a pair of wood ducks. This seemed like a spot where there might be a good chance of photographing a beaver in the process of felling a tree, a series of photographs that’s missing from my collection. On a previous mid-day trip to this wetland I’d found a good spot to sit and wait.

So on a beautiful spring evening I set up my folding hunter’s chair, put on my ghillie shirt and facemask, mounted the camera on a monopod and sat back to wait.

It wasn’t long before there was movement out in the water as a pair of coot swam across in front of me –

Shortly thereafter a pair of wood ducks followed almost the same route from one clump of shrubs to another –

The resplendent male and the female in her camo of brown,tan and white –

And then came a muskrat –

Following that parade things quieted down for a while and I kept busy watching an adult bald eagle circling lazily, far off and far above, and the activities of the male red-winged blackbirds as they defended their territories –

And the backs of several very large snapping turtles as they patrolled the wetland in their search for food and occasionally coming up for a breath of air –

As the light dwindled a pair of wood ducks emerged from the thick patch of shrubs to my left and swam 30 feet to my front, feeding on something I couldn’t see –

Then they swam off and out of sight –

  What a fitting end to a beautiful night even if the beavers never appeared.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Birds at the Beaver Pond

Five great blue herons took off, shortly afterwards three pairs of hooded mergansers did the same, and then some wood ducks that had been out of sight flew off. That all happened as I approached the beaver pond where I planned to spend some time photographing waterfowl.

The morning was dark gray with a bit of mist in the air – good weather for ducks as some folks say. The pond’s water level had dropped since the last time I was there and there was now a 15 to 20 foot wide band of mud, sedges and a few dead trees between dry land and water. It was beneath two small white pines on dry land that I set my lightweight folding chair and strung a net “sniper’s veil” to break up my outline.

Fifteen minutes later a male hooded merganser swooped in to land on the pond followed by his mate, but she landed behind some tall sedges and a highbush blueberry. Male hoodies are one of the most beautiful ducks –

It wasn’t long afterward that a great blue heron came in to land near, as it turned out it was too near, a Canada goose incubating her eggs. As the heron touched down the male goose set up a great racket and flew over to send the heron fleeing.

More herons arrived and landed far enough from the goose nest to be left in peace. Two were about half way down the pond, a third landed much closer to me –

While all this was going on the male hooded merganser swam closer to the beaver’s lodge (you can see the goose on her nest in the background) –

and a beaver swam across the pond headed to it’s lodge –

Meanwhile the male hooded merganser turned around to swim back out toward deeper water –

Another pair of hooded mergansers landed on the pond, the male of which posed nicely beneath a fallen tree –

The rain was increasing, it was getting darker and one of the great blue herons had landed near the Canada goose nest, surprisingly without prompting loud protests from the male goose –

And then the rain markedly increased, there was more fog, the mergansers went off towards the far end of the beaver pond

Now my clothes were soaking through and the camera and lens were quite wet – it was time to leave.


A week later I returned to the beaver pond on a cloudy gray morning, but one without rain. I sat in the same spot, this time the wood ducks didn’t flush and they continued doing wood duck things –


At the far end of the pond there were blue-winged teal and hooded mergansers, too far for photographs – nothing to do but wait. And then … and then two great egrets landed about half way down the pond, but closer than the great blue heron in the distance –










Although great egrets don't nest in northcentral Pennsylvania, they do wander to our area both before and after their nesting season. Apparently the great egrets were feeding on small fish or invertebrates that were too small to see clearly. The great blue heron caught several larger fish that it gave a flip as it sent them toward its crop –

The egrets were very active, moving around and actively feeding. 


Suddenly all the ducks, the great blue heron and both great egrets took to the air –

Unfortunately none of the birds had returned when it was time for me to leave.