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June 03, 2015
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River Talk

Officially, spring has been here for a few weeks, and the sun has been getting higher in the sky. The cold weather, however, has been showing resistance in leaving, as it usually does by this time. I have seen snow and ice on the ground in shaded areas in northern Delaware and Sullivan Counties as late as the 8th of April this year.

The first time I heard wood frogs “quacking” from a forested vernal pool, I thought I was hearing numerous ducklings. As I approached the tangled brush fringing the water, the sound mysteriously stopped. No matter where I looked, not a feather was to be seen. But here and there, the water rippled with the kerplunk of countless wood frogs diving into the shallow depths.

Spring is here, even if it seems late for a lot of people. Many animals are getting ready for the warm weather to come. Migration and breeding activities are at the top of the list for many birds, and newly born young of various mammal species will shortly make their appearance.

Across America, growing numbers of people are becoming aware of the costs and impacts associated with meeting our country’s energy needs through continuing dependence on fossil fuels. In Pennsylvania, we need look no farther than the anthracite coal region of Northeast Pennsylvania to see evidence of the lasting legacy of coal extraction.

There are some insects that just don’t know when to quit, it seems. On a mild day in winter, you may spot small flying insects, spiders, or even the striking Mourning Cloak butterfly. These insects are protected by antifreeze-like substances in their bodies, and it doesn’t take too much mild weather to see them emerge for a temporary hiatus from their deep winter dormancy.

In my last column about webcams, readers were pointed to opportunities to intimately observe birds with the aid of modern technology. Those who prefer a more active role can consider participating in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch project, in which “citizen scientists” are helping to provide answers to questions about bird nesting behavior by monitoring nests and reporting their observations utilizing online data entry tools.

With spring around the corner, migrant birds of all types are preparing to make their move north. Eagles that are over-wintering in our area are returning to their Canadian breeding grounds, and the first returning turkey vultures should be arriving in our region right around the start of March. A few raptors suffered various mishaps during fall and winter, however, and they spent the winter healing up at the avian equivalent of a hospital.

With mating season underway for Pennsylvania’s peregrine falcon population, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has launched its popular annual webcast.

This year’s events will be captured by new high-definition cameras that will stream the footage live on the Internet. The new cameras are expected to create crisper, more detailed images than in the past.

If you believe in groundhog meteorology, then according to the prediction of “Punxsutawney Phil” that occurred not too far back, we should have an early spring on the way. Barely a week after Phil’s prediction, a winter storm sideswiped us and went on to dump more than three feet of snow over parts of New England. Groundhog Phil may have lost a few fans due to the storm named “Nemo.”

The common merganser is a fairly large and attractive duck that is frequently encountered in the Upper Delaware region. Many will recognize the deep green head of the male and tufted cinnamon head of the female. Both sexes sport long narrow bills with serrated edges that aid these diving ducks when hunting the small fish, amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans and other invertebrates they prefer.