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October 08, 2015
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River Talk

HONESDALE, PA — The latest taxidermy mount to be added to an ever-expanding display of animals at the Wayne Conservation District (WCD) is the fisher, a mid-size carnivore characterized by a long darkly-furred body, short legs and a full tail.

Also referred to as tree otter, tree fox and fisher weasel, this mammal sports an appealing triangular face topped with wide rounded ears and oval pupils that produce a green eyeshine at night. Adult males weigh seven to 12 pounds; adult females weigh four to seven pounds.

Spring is the time of year when all aspects of nature seem to come alive; buds and sprouts are appearing on bushes, trees, and out of the ground, and bears make their appearance after wintering in their dens. Birds are heard in the forests and fields chirping and trilling away; many of these calls heard are breeding and territorial defense calls.

For the past week, I have fallen under the thrall of a mesmerizing event that is being streamed live via two webcams hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A pair of herons are tending five beautiful blue eggs in a nest built in a dead white oak in the middle of Sapsucker Woods pond outside the Cornell Lab’s Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in the Ithaca, NY region.

I was on a hike on a trail in Shohola during mid-March when I spotted what appeared to be a butterfly flying in the distance. I waited and watched as it landed nearby. What butterfly flies around in March when it is still cold and several weeks from “greening up” time?

The answer was soon obvious as I got close enough to identify this dark-colored butterfly with a yellow fringe around its wings. I was looking at a mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiope) on a late winter jaunt. One of the nicknames for this species is “Harbinger of Spring.” It did indeed make an early appearance.

I awoke at 2:30 a.m. earlier this week to the sound of garbage cans being dumped onto their sides. This was followed by 20 minutes of rustling and tearing, as a black bear snacked on my neighbor’s garbage. The bruin then strolled down the road and repeated the activity at another neighbor’s driveway. The next morning was garbage day for residents of our rural road. Morning light revealed the remnants of the raid scattered around.

Milder weather arrived in earnest during the first half of March, and that brought on an urge to launch the kayak and do a little paddling. During a sunny day just before the Ides of March, I set out on Walker Lake in Shohola, PA and found many signs that spring was well on the way.

While walking in the forest recently, a friend of mine came upon a small pool of feathers on a fallen log and found herself wondering what bird had become sustenance for another creature. Utilizing a wonderful website and database established by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) through its Forensics Laboratory, we were able to determine that the mottled black and white feathers had most likely belonged to a downy woodpecker.

After visiting a friend at the hospital in Port Jervis during late February, I saw that it was turning into a fairly decent day outside; the weather was partly cloudy and the temperature was climbing into the high 40s. It was a good afternoon to drive up Route 97 and scout the river. I was mainly looking for eagles and other raptors. The first flying critters I spotted, however, were not birds at all, but a mass of flying insects. I had encountered one of the first fly hatches of the season on the river; the emergence of the black stonefly.

A five-minute walk from The River Reporter office on Erie Avenue in Narrowsburg, NY leads to a site where a beaver has constructed a lodge from nature’s building supplies gathered along the banks of the Delaware River. Although ice has threatened the structure several times, the mild winter has largely left the water in a fluid state, allowing the mound of saplings, branches and brush to remain intact.

Since the 1950s, researchers have been using telemetry to study the movements of animals in the wild. One limitation back then was that only large animals, such as elk or bear, could be telemetered, because the technology of the day was vacuum tubes and relativity short-lived battery packs. But then came the age of the transistor, then the integrated circuit, and finally, hybrid chips containing millions of transistors. One desktop PC would have filled up an average town meeting hall in 1975 for a system of equivalent capability.