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July 27, 2015
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River Talk

On the day before I started writing this column, I had a conversation with a National Park Service ranger on the subject of ospreys after one was sighted near one of the many bald eagle nests along the Delaware River. There was agreement that osprey sightings are a lot less numerous than bald eagles along the river. Ospreys are piscivores, or fish eaters, so a person would think that ospreys would be at least as numerous as eagles. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

In my last column, I advocated for getting up and going outside to see what’s happening in the natural world. Happily, I took my own advice and was pleased to find the answer is—a lot. In just a few not-very-extensive rambles within five miles of my home, I encountered all of the interesting things depicted in this column (and more). On the last day of April, the first hummingbird arrived. (Put those feeders out!)

If your forays take you into areas where hunting is allowed, be mindful to wear fluorescent orange as turkey season is underway in both Pennsylvania and New York through May.

As I stabilize my kayak by grabbing an underwater branch to keep from spooking some basking painted turtles on the shore, one thing is readily apparent: the water is cold, numbingly cold. Someone falling overboard would be in real danger of being overcome by the effects of hypothermia if they didn’t exit the water quickly. But the turtles didn’t seem to be affected by the cold water, though they spend a lot of time basking in the sun this time of year in order to regulate their body temperature.

Tuning in to the shifting of the seasons is restorative on many levels. In the Upper Delaware River region, it’s time to shake off the shackles of the snow-laden season and wake up our winter-weary senses to spring’s arrival.

It should go without saying that this can’t be accomplished from the comfort of one’s couch. Reaping the benefits of interacting with the natural world requires that we actually go outside to experience the beauty and mystery of all that is happening now.

Opportunities to re-connect are all around, including two Earth Day festivals coming up this weekend.

Among the species of bat in our region is the Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis). Also known as the Northern Myotis, this and other species of bats have been affected by white nose syndrome (WNS). WNS is a fungus that affects bats while they are in their hibernacula over the winter; in affected hibernacula, bat mortality rates of 90% or more have been observed.

At this time of year, the dingy snowbanks are slowly absorbed into the thawing earth, revealing the dregs of accumulated garbage along rural roadways in the Upper Delaware River region. The Pennsylvania road where I live is littered with unlovely, castoff crap like plastic water bottles, aluminum beer cans and strangely—empty cat-food cans.

The vernal equinox has arrived in the region, along with some subtle hints that winter is on its way out; temperatures in the 50s have occurred, but are still getting into the teens at night. March can bring all kinds of weather, mild one day and a blizzard the next.

Information is being sought on several matters concerning white-tailed deer in the Upper Delaware River region. In the first, researchers with the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are asking the public how they think deer respond to changes in weather and moonlight. To explore the “truth in deer truisms,” they will then compare survey responses with data from movements of radio-collared deer.

Near the end of February, I had a call from Don Hamilton, resource specialist for the National Park Service (NPS) out of Milanvile, PA. It seems that during a sunny day when the temperatures approached the 30s, he was observing a stonefly hatch from Calkins Creek, which runs along the edge of the NPS property in Milanville. Not only were there stoneflies, but there were also some eastern bluebirds observed making a meal of these emerging stoneflies.

With winter’s waning comes the promise of spring. While the calendar heralds its arrival on March 20, however, the Upper Delaware River region will still seem very winter-like for weeks to come. Meanwhile, here are a few suggestions to help reduce our impatience with this seemingly endless winter season with its ample supply of snow and ice and frigid temperatures.