Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Putting on Pounds

It’s fall, soon to be time for some of our resident mammals - black bears, eastern chipmunks, woodland and meadow jumping mice, several species of bats and woodchucks - to head underground for the winter.

Chipmunks don’t actually hibernate, they do sleep a lot but wake up frequently to eat food they’d stored in their underground burrows throughout late-summer and fall; if they run short they’ll emerge to look for more. Jumping mice truly hibernate, their metabolism slows and their body temperature drops, they spend the longest time hibernating of any of our mammals, often six to eight months. Black bears are somewhere between, they sleep quite deeply, don’t eat or eliminate wastes but can be easily aroused.

Woodchucks hibernate, going into a deep sleep with slowed metabolism and, like other hibernators, have to bulk up with fat in the fall in order to have enough reserves to make it through the winter.

On a beautiful fall morning I went to the State Game Lands to see what I could see. While walking along a grassy road a dark shape in one track caught my eye, the camera’s telephoto lens revealed it to be a woodchuck busily eating acorns. Acorns are full of calories, great for putting on pounds in preparation for winter. Deer, bears, squirrels,  porcupines, chipmunks – and woodchucks – feed heavily on acorns whenever they’re available.

This woodchuck would pick up an acorn in its front paws, peel off the hull with its teeth and then bite off pieces of the kernel.













It kept doing that as I slowly inched closer –













After a while it apparently ran out of acorns within easy reach and moved a bit looking for more –













In typical woodchuck fashion it would occasionally sit erect as it looked around for danger and then go back to searching for acorns –













I kept taking photos and inching closer, hoping for a good portrait –













Until I accidentally tapped the camera’s lens shade with my alpenstock, making a quiet “thunk” that sent the woodchuck scurrying back to its nearby burrow.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

More Fungi Among Us

So here is to the Mushroom family, a far flung friendly clan.

For food, for fun, for poison, they are a help to man.

                                     Gary Snyder

Although fungi can be found throughout the year, fall is the prime time of year to find mushrooms in the forest. They come in various shades and many colors; some are large while others are extremely small; trees, shrubs and orchids are dependent on fungi to assist their roots in obtaining water and nutrients while some of those same fungi are the most poisonous to humans.

Here are a few of the fungi I’ve found and photographed while walking in the forest this fall –


It’s well worthwhile kneeling to look at the beauty and variety of the fungi among us.

Note – My ability to identify fungi is limited, these are my best efforts at identification but should not be relied on.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Go West Old Boy

4:55 am: Got on the road headed west to Pennsylvania’s elk range, picking up a cup of coffee and a cinnamon raisin bagel on the way. Two hours later, going through a small village that had once been an important railroad junction, I had to wait while a bull elk crossed the road. He headed for the edge of town where he posed for some photos –

A mile further on another bull grazed along the edge of the road. He raised his head as the car slowed to a stop –

The morning’s light was poor for photos, but some of us can’t resist the temptation to press the shutter – thank goodness for photo editing software. Further on down the road I stopped at a field that’s maintained as a food plot specifically for elk. It’s a field I’ve stopped at many times but where I’ve never seen an elk. But this time – Wow – there was an elk in the field, a young bull but only that young bull –

Onward to one of my favorite areas to see elk. Parked the car, headed up the hill and walked about a mile back into an area that’s remote from tourists and cell phone photographers. Over the hill and down into the valley beyond as a bull elk bugled in the distance. Around the next hill a field came into view and there they were, a small band of elk. To the naked eye two antlered bulls were visible along with a number of other elk. It was one of these bulls that was sounding off with a challenge to any other bulls in the area, including the other bull in the field.

                 Make sure your audio is turned on

Both bulls had their antlers festooned with grass that they’d raked up –

The larger, more dominant bull pursued the other bull until the later went up and over the hill and the dominant bull returned to his harem. He chased a couple of strays back into the band – to my surprise his harem wasn’t a group of cows, it consisted of five year old spike bulls –

The bull resumed bugling, responding to bugles from another elk that was out of sight –

So I headed toward the other bugling elk. After a while the unseen bull came into view on the top of a hill covered in goldenrod –

He was busy eating and didn't bugle again while I watched. That was the last elk of the day, but I’ll go back.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Osprey Days

On a warm and humid morning that promised to get just plain hot as the day wore on, increasing the probability of a thunderstorm, I’d taken a short walk in a wooded area. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to drive on to a nearby lake that’s home to a pair of bald eagles and often hosts wandering wading birds, waterfowl and gulls. A convenient road borders one side of the lake making observation easy.

September marks the peak of the fall osprey migration through northcentral Pennsylvania as they make their way to winter quarters in Central or South America or perhaps among the islands of the Caribbean. Although none breed here, we frequently see them along the large streams, rivers and lakes and sometimes even at a beaver pond.

I’d driven about three-quarters of the way around the lake when an osprey on the top of a dead tree came into view –

Fortunately there’s a wide pull-off close to the tree that allows the use of a vehicle as a photographic blind.

Photo followed photo until an immature bald eagle swooped at the osprey, flushed it, and both birds disappeared behind large groups of trees. It wasn’t long before the osprey returned to the tree –

There it perched preening, and preening, and preening some more –

When it finally finished preening it took off and headed down the lake –

The next morning H and I returned to the lake with a better camera and a longer lens. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate: the sky was a uniform gray and there was a bit of haze/fog
closer to the ground.

We’d driven along the lake, then turned around and headed back the same way when, out in the lake, an osprey dove on a fish. The osprey was followed by an immature bald eagle that broke off the chase before the osprey landed on the same limb of the same tree that held an osprey the day before – was it the same bird? In its talons the osprey had a fish –

Instead of feeding the osprey looked around nervously –

In a few moments the eagle returned, dove at the osprey and the chase was on – the twists and turns, zigs and zags were too rapid for my aging reflexes to follow. After a couple of go-rounds the osprey disappeared behind a grove of trees and the eagle headed across the lake –

The the eagle's plumage revealed that the immature eagle had almost certainly been hatched this year and had only been on its own for a few weeks – no wonder it was in search of an easy meal.