Forested Watersheds

This is an excerpt from my photo journal after an annual camping and fly fishing trip in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania in late May and early June.

A seven mile descent into a narrow stream valley typifies the terrain and landscape of the Allegheny Plateau. This particular watershed of about 50 square miles is a tiny window into a much larger, mostly forested region of over two million acres of public land. Advocates of eco-tourism call it “Pennsylvania Wilds”. Decades of camping, fly fishing, sightseeing and research in PA Wilds have given me a foundation and perspective for virtually all matters of conservation and environmental health. That will no doubt be evident in this post.

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The sweltering heat wave blanketing much of the U.S. and the latest issue of Nature Conservancy magazine (“Blue Revolution: Rethinking Water on a Thirsty Planet”; Summer 2017) led me to focus on one aspect of my annual trip that is becoming more and more precious with the passage of time: the clean, cold surface waters of forested watersheds.

Upon our arrival, we were not surprised to see that weeks of cool, rainy weather had resulted in water levels a foot above normal. But, the turbulent waters were nearly free of sediment due to the absence of development and continuous forest cover.

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Small, freestone mountain streams recovered quickly and were well on their way to “normal” after just two days without rain – another wonderful feature of a pristine watershed.

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Mayfly activity … as well as dry fly fishing … followed a more predictable pattern when temperatures rose and water levels receded.

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A Green Drake mayfly spinner (Coffin Fly)

Spring seeps trickling over exposed rock enhanced the visual experience and supported lush growth of ferns and wild flowers.

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Virginia Waterleaf thriving in the moist, shady microsite of a spring seep

“Hydrologists estimate that if all the water on Earth filled a 5-gallon bucket, just one drop of it would represent the clean, fresh water accessible to humans.” – Nature Conservancy magazine, Summer 2017.

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Puddle Clubbing with Swallowtails!

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An exciting tangent to my annual camping and fishing trip in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania is the opportunity to witness butterfly “mud-puddling”.

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Prime habitat for a puddle club of swallowtails: a gravel parking area along a mountain road in a heavily forested area, with plenty of mud puddles and sun.

Many species of butterflies puddle, but aggregations of eastern tiger swallowtails in the endless deciduous forests of this region are spectacular. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the Northeast.

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A “puddle club” of eastern tiger swallowtails

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Most puddling butterflies are fresh males and the event lasts but a few days in late May and early June.

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Do butterflies puddle due to a scarcity of nutrients, as an alternative foraging strategy arising from competition, or a combination of factors? There is still much to learn about puddling, but the most convincing hypothesis supports resource scarcity.

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Sodium ions and amino acids ingested by puddling male butterflies are transferred to females during copulation, enhancing egg production and survival.

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Puddling behavior is well known in gardening circles and there are many published strategies for creating butterfly puddle-clubbing habitat in formal landscapes. Once you’ve been immersed in a wild, surreal scene like this, it makes sense. Totally!

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Photos by NB Hunter (late May and early June, 2017). © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Wildflower Favorites

Early spring wildflowers, the spring ephemerals, are vivid reminders of the fragile beauty and existence of life on earth. They tease and please with spectacular, short-lived blooms. They always leave us wanting more, and we’re quite willing to wait another year for another show. It never gets old.

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Serviceberry (Amelanchier), a small flowering tree

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Marsh Marigold in the wet soil along a small stream

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White Trillium, a woodland wildflower favoring rich, moist soils (1 of 2)

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Red Trillium in filtered light on a rich woodland site

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Breeding Bufos!!!

The highlight of recent walks has been a frenzied spring chorus emanating from dozens of American toads in shallow waters. Breeding season! The toads are extremely active in the late morning sun and warmth, perching, calling, chasing and breeding. Sometimes the water is “boiling” with breeding activity as several males battle over a female. The mating calls,  loud trilling sounds lasting several seconds, are one of the more distinct and pleasing sounds of spring.

This is their story, as I’ve observed it, among emerging cattails in the shallow water of the Chenango Canal in Central new York.

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Actual breeding, referred to as amplexus, involves the male grasping the larger, more colorful female and fertilizing her double strand of gelatinous eggs as they are extruded.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Photoperiod and Signs of Spring

Spring: the first 20 days!

Gray skies, cold rain, snow and flooding have slowed down the arrival of spring but photoperiod will rule the day. Increasing day length is a powerful force that insures the necessary progression of life stages, regardless of the weather.

Many aquatic species, including this Great Blue Heron, arrived to find traditional wetland habitats still covered in ice (23March2017).

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Snow geese were reported throughout Central New York during the last week of March. They were refueling on waste grain in corn fields and spread manure before continuing their journey to summer range in the Arctic (27-28March2017).

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Wild turkeys were foraging on waste grain too, but increasing daylight was also triggering the mating urge in males; many were observed in full display posture, strutting for uninterested hens (1April2017).

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Breeding populations of ring-necked pheasants no longer occur in this region, but some are occasionally released into the wild for recreational purposes. This cock pheasant is crowing and flapping his wings in an attempt to attract a hen (6April2017).

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Red-winged blackbirds arrived several weeks ago and are defending their breeding territories aggressively, despite the elements (7April2017).

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A sure sign of Spring is the transformation of male goldfinches as they molt into their bright breeding plumage (7April2017).

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Groundhogs emerged from hibernation in March to find a snow-covered landscape. In the days ahead they faced yet another hardship – the flooding of burrows in marginal habitats. This one seems to have weathered the storms well…but is grazing in the middle of a hay field, a long way from the nearest burrow. Can it outrun an eagle, fox or coyote? Survival is still questionable (8April2017).

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Photos by NB Hunter, March 23 – April 8, 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.

Spring Scenes and Winter Landscapes

A rainy, overcast day with dirty snow and mud seems like a good time to reflect on the month of March and illustrate early spring in Central New York. I’ll emphasize wet places and some of the birds that frequent them.

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Hooded Merganser

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Canada Goose and a pair of ring-necked ducks

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Canada geese grazing in a farm field

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Killdeer grooming at a spring seep

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A pair of mallards under the reflection of deep snow

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Great Blue Heron over ice and Canada geese on open water

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A solitary Snow Goose in a flock of Canada geese

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Migrating snow geese above farm fields, refueling on waste grain

Photos by NB Hunter, March 2017. ©All Rights Reserved.