Anyone who has paddled or fished the Upper Delaware River has probably spotted one of the dozen or so eel weirs in the river. Located in shallow rapids, these weirs are v-shaped with a trap at the downstream side. Boulder-sized rocks are used to construct the v, and the rock obstruction channels eels down to the trap. Operating an eel weir is hard work and involves some risk due to river flooding during late summer and fall, when the eel harvest takes place. To gain an insight on eeling on the Delaware, visit Sandy Long’s October.
As summer heat and rains combine, the Upper Delaware regional forests become a marvelous landscape of mysterious fungal life forms that bring to mind the magic of fairyland and folklore. Poking from moss-covered decaying trees, sprouting under the frothy wings of ferns, lifting the old leaf litter from the forest floor, mushrooms capture our imagination with their varied shapes, colors and textures.
With the arrival of warm mid-summer days, many of us are taking advantage of the swimming and fishing opportunities in nearby natural waterways, and many people encounter wildlife of all types while in or on the water. The more interesting descriptions come from encounters with snakes—sometimes heard for example: “I saw a water moccasin on my dock yesterday.” The fact is that in our region, only two venomous snake species are found: the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead. Neither is particularly attracted to aquatic environments.
While walking at Shohola Recreation Area in Pike County, PA recently, I came upon an Eastern painted turtle crossing a dirt road. I bent down for a closer look and noticed that she was sporting a leech brooch on her plastron, just below her neck. She certainly couldn’t observe the unattractive adornment, and I decided to relieve her of this parasite.
One thing I do around this time of year is check for monarch butterflies, usually by just walking down some nearby roads; there are a few milkweed plants growing off the side of the roads that will support caterpillars. I check some of the plants for the tiny white eggs that will eventually result in a new generation of monarch butterflies late in the summer. This year, however, my hunt has been in vain.
The second Upper Delaware BioBlitz was held last weekend, with the blessing of terrific weather, dedicated volunteers and an ideal site making for another successful event. Activities took place on property owned by the Boy Scouts of America, Greater New York Councils, at their Ten Mile River Scout Camp in the Town of Tusten, NY.
A few years ago, I talked to an old friend who spent his younger years in the Milford, PA area, and among his many exploits were the times he went to the bluffs along the river, just south of Milford, to watch breeding peregrine falcons. The peregrines at Milford and other places were soon in trouble. The state of Pennsylvania reached a peak of 44 pairs during the early part of the 20th century before the species was extirpated in the eastern U.S. Like eagles and other raptors, population declines were attributed to DDT and other organochloride pesticides.
Opportunities to experience a BioBlitz abound in our region these days, offering a wonderful chance to learn about the natural diversity of a given site. A BioBlitz is an event where scientists and other volunteers gather to collect, identify, and catalogue every living thing on a demarcated property in a 24-hour period. The results are typically made available to the public following the collection period, along with various workshops and talks.
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.
Scott enjoys the outdoors and wildlife conservation; and is currently assisting NYSDEC with an ongoing eagle study taking place in the Upper Delaware corridor.
Email Scott Rando
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.
Email Sandy Long