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July 30, 2015
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River Talk

Two timely seasonal reminders are important to take very seriously right now. The first applies to boaters enjoying Pennsylvania’s abundant waterways. The second is pertinent to all drivers utilizing PA roadways.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) notes that beginning November 1 and lasting through April 30, boaters are required to wear a life jacket while on boats less than 16 feet in length or on any canoe or kayak. The requirement applies to all Pennsylvania waters.

Halloween is associated with many things; today it’s mostly trick-or-treating or costume parties. If you go back in history, however, it can be observed that there was much more of a supernatural element in people’s beliefs. Many of these supernatural beliefs had to do with nature and natural events. A lot of superstition over various creatures got started in the Middle Ages, when we didn’t understand them or their interaction with the environment. In many cases when people didn’t understand animals or their adaptations back then, they were to be feared.

Late one recent afternoon, while I was driving slowly down a dirt road in Pike County, a large bird suddenly swooped just in front of my car’s windshield. I braked and watched as it perched in a tree just overhead. Turning off the motor, I slowly exited with camera in tow, certain that the bird would immediately fly off.

Surprisingly, it remained where it had landed, then proceeded to quietly observe me as I snapped away. The encounter was thrilling, as the bird turned out to be a barred owl, a personal favorite of mine and one I have never encountered in the wild before.

September 8th promised to be a good day to observe migrating hawks; a cold front had just passed and there was a light to moderate wind from the northwest. Some hawks were counted at Sunrise Mountain, but there was another predator of the insect variety that caught my eye. Sitting on a bush, almost invisible as it blended in with leaves, was a mantis sitting in wait for its next meal.

At a recent meeting of the Wayne Conservation District, board members and staff received a sobering update on two factors negatively affecting Pennsylvania’s forests.

John Maza, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources service forester for Wayne and Lackawanna counties noted that the emerald ash borer (EAB), a brilliant green beetle that has decimated ash tree populations in multiple states since first being identified in Michigan in 2002, has now been identified in Luzerne County.

Now is the time when you will likely see furry caterpillars, black with an orange stripe in the middle, crossing roads or sidewalks. These are the much celebrated “woolly bears,” or the larvae of the Isabella tiger moth. There are two generations of wooly bear caterpillars per year, and the second generation overwinters in logs or under bark. Most of the caterpillars seen in the fall are on a quest to find a suitable overwintering location.

In June 2013, the first Upper Delaware BioBlitz took place in Northern Wayne County, PA, during which teams of scientists and volunteers documented 1,024 distinct species of plants, animals and insects during a 24-hour period (learn more at upperdelawarebioblitz.com).

The effort provides a snapshot of the biodiversity of life on the Starlight, PA property, and has since led to the first “Photos of Nature in the Upper Delaware Watershed” contest.

September is here, and many animals in our area are preparing in some way for the onset of colder weather to come. Some insects and many birds have already started to migrate to warmer climes, and it is this migration behavior that enables researchers to get a “snapshot” of the wellbeing of a particular species and its habitat.

While autumn brings a welcome array of rich colors to the region as the light sharpens and foliage begins to change, it also signals the departure of the brilliant green ruby-throated hummingbirds that enhance our lives throughout spring and summer.

By early fall, hummingbirds begin their long journey south, bound for Central America. Many will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight. Males may begin migration by early August, with females lingering into mid-September.

Herons in our region can be found just about anywhere there is water. Lakes, ponds and rivers all have the potential of providing good habitat for herons as well as other aquatic bird species. Herons are hunters, and their diet consists mostly of fish, with some amphibians, insects and even small mammals rounding out the fare. Herons are somewhat shy of humans and will fly off if approached too closely by persons on foot, or in watercraft.