Wednesday, September 27, 2023

BREAKING NEWS: Predator Eats Predator

Long before European settlement began, Native Americans had raised corn, beans and squash in the fertile soils along Pennsylvania’s major rivers and streams. European diseases and losses during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution decimated the native societies and allowed European settlers to move into northcentral Pennsylvania. Awaiting them were those fertile soils and the meadows that had developed in the clearings the Native Americans had created, meadows that were readily transformed into prosperous farms.

Some of the settlers’ farms have since become towns and cities, shopping malls and industrial sites, but many are still raising corn and soybeans, now on an industrial scale. Several years ago a few hundred acres of that fertile soil passed into public ownership and is being restored to its former status as a large open meadow.

It was there I went on a cool gray morning as summer transitioned to fall. As I stopped to park a hawk burst from a nearby clump of trees and circled to land atop a nest box erected for kestrels. But this was no kestrel –

It was a juvenile broad-winged hawk that was atop the nest box and spent some time looking around, primarily down toward the ground –

Suddenly it plunged into the tall vegetation where it was out of sight. Obviously it ha
d seen a potential meal, but had it been successful in catching a small rodent, snake, toad or bird?

After several moments it flew back up to land on the nest box once again; and clutched in the hawk’s talons was its meal. Through the camera’s telephoto lens it was apparent that the hawk had caught a large preying mantis, another predator, which it proceeded to dismember and eat –

relatively poor quality of the photos and video reflects the fact that they were taken with the equivalent of a 1200mm lens, handheld at a distance of almost 80 yards. 

The hawk lost part of the preying mantis that fell to the ground. After eating the remaining portions of the mantis, the hawk stared toward its lost portion for a while, looked around –

And then flew off and out of sight.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Fluffing Up

Ruby-throated hummingbirds were rather scarce here early this year, perhaps because the very dry late spring and early summer limited both insect populations and flowers’ nectar production. It appeared there was only one male frequenting the feeders and, although there may have been more, there were none of the typical aerial battles in which hummingbirds typically engage.

Female hummingbirds aren’t seen as often as males early in the season since they’re either nest building, incubating eggs or searching for small insects to feed they young. By mid-July rain had resumed and hummingbird activity markedly increased through August. In addition to at least two adult males there were several females and/or juvenile birds visiting the feeders.

Which brings us to the morning I looked out the window and saw a female/juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a twig at the top of the bank in the yard –

The bird was vigorously preening and fluffing its feathers and seemed to be quite content on its perch so I switched the camera from taking photographs to video.

It wasn’t until I was editing the video that it became apparent that this was a juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbird. If you watch closely at 3:13 of the video you’ll see a tiny red spot – the beginning of the adult male’s red gorget –

Soon this young bird will join all the other hummingbirds in their journey to warmer winter quarters - some have already departed. Perhaps he, like some others, will fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico and then return to this hillside next spring.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Three Days in the Life of a Mushroom

Mushrooms are interesting things. They’re but a small part of a much, much larger organism, a fungus and are the reproductive stage of that fungus. Most mushrooms are above ground, although a few are below the surface; many are a drab tan while others are beautiful shades of red, yellow and blue; some are delicious and highly sought after as a gourmet’s delight; several, when eaten, cause hallucinations (think of the “magic mushroom”); others are deadly poisonous and result in a great deal of suffering and a slow death for those who eat them.

Here we’re looking at just one mushroom in one place – an American Slender Caesar mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) that I found early one morning in the wooded area about 50 feet from our back door.

I’d been there late in the afternoon on the day before and there was no mushroom, this Caesar mushroom apparently sprang from the earth during during the night when it would have looked more like this –

American Slender Caesar mushroom is one of the most beautiful mushrooms with its bright red/orange cap and a yellow stem.

Three hours later the cap was somewhat more open –

Unfortunately, I missed photographing it the next morning and by that evening the cap was fully spread –

On the following evening the mushroom was beginning to deteriorate and had been fed on by the local population of slugs –

The next morning there was not a trace of the mushroom to be found.

The fungus’ mycelium forms a wide-spread underground network, much larger than the mushroom which is merely its fruiting-body. Like most of the Amanita fungi, American Slender Caesar is a mycorrhizal fungus which forms an association with the roots of trees, often oaks.

Many, perhaps most, flowering plants and trees are highly dependent on mycorrhizal fungi whose mycelium attach to the plants’ roots and supply them with the water and nutrients the plants need in exchange for the carbohydrates the fungus requires. Trees without mycorrhizal fungi grow slowly and don't do well. Our native orchids can't live without their associated fungus and are dependent on the fungus from the moment their seed germinates no fungus no orchid, which is the reason that most transplanted native orchids soon die.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Around the House – Summer

Summer began with 90ยบ temperatures for a couple of days in early June and a long period without rain – a portent of things to come as my least favorite season brings heat, humidity and haze to northcentral Pennsylvania. This year we also were the recipients of  smoke from wildfires in Canada that were greatly enhanced by the changing climate.

Although I may prefer spring and fall with all their beauty and their day-to-day changes as well as winter with its cold and snow, summer still has wonderful things to see out there in the natural world.

Flowers bloom throughout the summer, they’re different than the ones we see and enjoy in the spring, but still beautiful; birds are at their maximum abundance as young ones leave the nest; colorful and intriguing insects abound, only a few are a nuisance to humans and many more species pollinate the plants we need or enjoy.

Here are photographs of the natural world taken each day of meteorological summer within 200 feet of our back door. Most were taken with an Olympus micro four thirds camera using a variety of lenses, the other is from a camera trap located within that 200 foot radius (the date of that photo is listed at the end of this post). 








Summer’s over now, it ended on August 31, and cooler days will follow (
although there will be some hot days) with colorful falling leaves, migrating hawks, waterfowl heading south and the first frosts. Fifty years ago we had snow on the ground by the end of fall, but as our climate warms that seldom happens any more – "the times they are a-changin".

From the camera trap:  7/2