Phenology, or the study of timing of seasonal events of plant and animal species from year to year, has been drawn more into the limelight in recent years due to concerns of climate change. Factors such as temperature, sun declination, seasonal change in cloud cover and precipitation are all thought to be factors in key events of a given species. Noting the time of the first call of a wood thrush, the sighting of the first painted turtle in a pond, or the occurrence of the first bald eagle egg in a nest can all be used to measure variances in timing of natural events.
While traveling along a Pike County roadway, my parents, some friends and I came upon a small bird stranded in the middle of our lane. Tilted backward onto its tail feathers, with its beak open to the sky, we feared the worst for this helpless creature. As we looked for a place to pull over, several other cars passed above the bird, which appeared unable to move. Dad hopped out and gently gathered the beautiful orange and black bird into his hands. When he returned to the car, we saw that our new friend was a male Baltimore oriole that probably collided with a vehicle.
While walking with some friends last weekend, I heard a familiar bark. Tucker, my friend’s labradoodle, was with us and had evidently found something in the woods. I went to check it out, and on arrival to the scene of the barking, I found Tucker had corralled a small porcupine on to a small log. Tucker had already had two separate encounters with porcupines before that required “de-quilling” of his muzzle, and now he was trying for engagement number three. He must have learned something from his past experiences, because I was able to call him off.
They’re back! All around the Upper Delaware River region, hummingbirds are brightening our backyards with bursts of metallic green, red and golden plumage as they ply nectar feeders and early blooms for nourishment.
Hummingbirds must sync migration and nesting times with the flowering of nectar-bearing plants. According to Audubon, “climate change threatens to throw off this delicate balance, with unknown repercussions for hummingbirds.” (Visit birds.audubon.org/hummingbirds-home-effects-climate-change-feeding-behavior to learn more.)
Bald eagle young have been hatching around mid-April, with some early and late exceptions, and now that they are two weeks old or more, they are more visible in the nest. The heads of these eaglets are popping over nest walls, enabling observation and head counts. Small they are, but not for long. The eaglets, which can be cupped in both hands now, will be 10 pounds and have a wingspan of 6.5 feet in 10 short weeks.
The state of Pennsylvania is in the process of updating its Outdoor Recreation Plan. Every five years, states must update their plans in order to remain eligible to receive federal Land and Water Conservation funds. Part of that process includes an online survey in which residents can weigh in on the recreational activities and conservation goals that are most important to them. The deadline to complete the survey is May 16.
The warmer weather of spring is trying to establish itself, and with the weather come some birds that have not been seen or heard since last summer. The melodic song of the wood thrush or the high pitched whistle of the broad-winged hawk are soon to be heard as they return to the region and start their breeding rituals and calls. One event coming up, which helps map populations and species distribution in the state of Pennsylvania, is the annual Pennsylvania Migration Count (PAMC).
From the comfort of our couches, we can observe the wonder of new avian life evolving in locations around the country—gaining an up-close and personal view of the doings of our feathered friends—without disturbing them one bit.
Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, increasing numbers of webcams are revealing much about the lives of birds and providing a fascinating front-row view of their nest-building practices, reproduction and offspring-raising activities. ‘Tis the season to tune in, with nesting underway, eggs incubating and chicks hatching or soon to do so.
A week ago Thursday, the morning was chilly, but the forecast called for mild temperatures and sunny skies. I wanted to check out the Tusten trail and it promised to be a good day for a hike. Most of the way up the steep part of the trail, in a small pond near a seeping rock outcrop, I heard a harbinger of spring: an army of wood frogs.
As if the Cornell Lab of Ornithology isn’t already fantastic enough, this leading authority on birds recently released a new in-depth website that explores many facets of feathers from scientific viewpoints.
Viewers can learn how feathers work in a section devoted to feather anatomy. In Feather Function, the various roles of feathers are explored, such as flight, display, camouflage, insulation and weatherproofing. Other sections illustrate how feathers develop and how they have evolved over time.
Scott enjoys the outdoors and wildlife conservation; and is currently assisting NYSDEC with an ongoing eagle study taking place in the Upper Delaware corridor.
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Sandy Long has a lifelong interest in the natural world and has explored this in words and images through the River Talk column since 2005.
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