Wednesday, June 28, 2023

In Meadow and Field

The spring migration of warblers, orioles, tanagers and sparrows was almost non-existent this year: Did the birds pass over quickly, not stopping here to rest and feed? Was it a reflection of the apparent 30% reduction in North America’s the bird population? Or was it because this aging field naturalist can no longer hear their songs?

To make up for the deficit I decided to spend some time with those other colorful day-flying creatures, the butterflies to be found in meadows and hayfields. To that end, over two days in early June I visited a couple of meadows that had been cropfields in the distant past but are now maintained as wildlife habitat by mowing in late summer on alternate years.

There aren’t any rare butterflies or flowers to be seen in these meadows, but they’re well worth a slow walk with camera in hand nonetheless.

Here are the two days of butterfly sightings in those meadows:

The skippers are a very large group of butterflies, most species are found in the western states. Other than the easily identified European skipper, there are many look-alike species therefore there’s no guarantee on those identifications.




















Butterflies weren't the only beautiful fliers to be found in the meadows, there were also two female dragonflies:



It will be interesting to see what other butterflies are found in the meadows as summer progresses.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Evening at a Beaver Pond

Find a beaver pond and you’ve found a treasure-trove of wildlife from insects to eagles. Go to the pond early in the morning or in the evening and you’re likely to see at least some of the critters that use pond or call it home. If you’re a regular visitor to In Forest and Field you’ve seen earlier posts about some of the species at these wetlands.

This pond has had an active beaver colony for a number of years and has been featured in posts a number of times, including earlier this year. That post included photographs taken on cloudy gray mornings, but in this post we return on a beautiful late spring evening.

It was about 90 minutes before sunset and a beaver was already swimming around in the nearest section of the pond.

It swam in circles for a short while then headed to the far end of the pond. When it was directly across from the lodge, the beaver silently dove and didn’t surface again, presumably it entered the lodge through one of several underwater entrances –

And there it stayed for a while. It wasn’t long before a female wood duck landed, swam over to a fallen tree and climbed aboard –

After less than a minute she took off –

To land atop the tree’s tipped-up root mass –

Meanwhile a female belted kingfisher had landed on a dead white pine; she had dinner in her beak in the form of a pumpkinseed sunfish. Apparently the sunfish was still alive for the kingfisher proceeded to beat it on the limb for well over five minutes. Occasionally she’d give the fish a flip, seemingly to reposition it –

And at long last swallowed her meal –


As the light faded the beaver reappeared further down the pond and was joined by another –

One of the beavers swam toward the end of the pond where I sat and swam in circles not far from shore. Curious about what this strange thing sitting on the shore or wary? Only the beaver knows.

With the light fading rapidly it was time to pack up and head home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Hunting Orchids

On June 8, 1978 I was working in an area of northcentral Pennsylvania known as the Muncy Hills. The acidic soils on the hills are derived from the shale bedrock and are easily eroded. Nonetheless, most of the hilltops were cleared and farmed – for a generation or two. Many of those old farms were abandoned and reverted to forest, others were planted to trees in the 1930s, still others are now used to grow Christmas trees while some, after applications of significant quantities of lime and fertilizer still grow corn and soybeans.

On that day in 1978 I came upon pink lady’s-slippers – hundreds and hundreds of them – in bloom, covering the ground in one of the red pine plantations

It was absolutely spectacular, with an abundance of nature’s bouquets of a native orchid that’s usually found as scattered single plants –

In the intervening 45 years the property has changed hands, a logging road was constructed nearby and, since the red pine had been planted on an unsuitable site, most of the trees in the plantation have died and been replaced by black birch and red maple.

Forests are dynamic ecosystems: species' abundance change, trees die, seedlings grow and human-induced changes occur with increasing frequency as the climate warms and rainfall patterns alter.

Recently I returned to the hilltop that had once been a field, then a pine plantation and is now a birch-maple forest to find the pink lady’s-slipper. The hundreds of lady’s-slippers were nowhere to be seen, instead there were only three flowers to be found among 74 widely scattered plants –

So the spectacular display of 45 years ago is gone and the ecosystem where it was has changed. But somewhere out there in the natural world there may well be a comparable abundance of pink lady’s-slippers – I’ll keep hunting for them.