River Talk

TRR photos by Sandy Long

As its name implies, the variable oakleaf caterpillar feeds on all species of oaks, with a preference for white oaks. It will also consume species such as beech, basswood, paper birch, American elm, and occasionally walnut, black birch and hawthorn.

A collection of caterpillars

Most of us would recognize the fuzzy black-and-brown-banded woolly bear caterpillar or the distinctive monarch caterpillar and its striking bands of yellow, black and white. But there are many caterpillars we might encounter in the Upper Delaware River region that are more challenging to identify.

TRR photo by Scott Rando

The lower of these two sub-adult bald eagles is R27, a New York radio-tagged eagle captured two years prior. New York State is also experiencing issues concerning lead toxicity in bald eagles. A 22-year study where 300 bald eagles were screened for lead has shown that about 17% had high levels of lead, high enough to be lethal.

PA Game Commission: Bald eagle lead poisoning on the rise

It’s mid-January in a conifer forest with a few clearings within. On the ground, at the edge of one of the clearings, sits an adult bald eagle. It’s not by choice the eagle is sitting on the ground; a few days back it started to experience awkwardness in flight.

TRR photos by Sandy Long

This wood frog was resting under the leaf litter in my yard, where it will eventually overwinter. Due to their light tan coloration, wood frogs are well camouflaged by fallen foliage. An easily identifiable characteristic is the dark mask that stretches from the frog’s eye to just behind its eardrum.

Lurking in the leaf litter

While raking leaves in my yard recently, one suddenly leapt away from me. Similar in color to the foliage on the ground, the leaper turned out to be a wood frog, who probably didn’t appreciate my disruption. The truth is, most animals prefer their habitats to be ungroomed, and as unaltered from their natural state as possible.

TRR photos by Scott Rando

This monarch was caught by the camera in mid-flight after stopping for a rest as it checked out some goldenrod. This individual, like many others of its species, is on its way south to Mexico. Migration counts are still ongoing at hawk-counting sites, but the numbers are above average compared to the last three years.

Still time for fall butterflies

For those readers that have been following the monarch butterflies through the summer, you have probably been encouraged by the number of monarchs seen compared to the previous few years. In the August 16 issue, I did a River Talk column on the increase in monarch sightings, and that trend seems to have continued.

TRR photos by Sandy Long

Finding fall foliage

Fall foliage season in the state of Pennsylvania is a spectacular thing to experience. With more than 17 million acres of forested land throughout the state, there are abundant opportunities to enjoy the trees, brush, berries and vines that contribute to this deeply satisfying sensory treasure.

TRR photos by Scott Rando

This close-flying broad-winged hawk allowed us to get a good look. Broad-winged hawks are smaller than red-tailed hawks; they also feed on small mammals. In flight, the barred tails are very evident as well as the dark fringe on the trailing edges of the wings.

The flight of the broad-winged hawks

If you have been in or near the woods during this past summer, you may have heard a high-pitched single-note whistle. It is piercing and carries a fairly long distance, even through the forest. Occasionally, you may have spotted a stubby-winged hawk, appearing somewhat like a miniature red-tailed hawk, sounding this call.

TRR photos by Scott Rando

This fawn is displaying its spots as well as the typical reddish coat of summer. These fawns, like adult deer are molting (or shedding), and the fawns lose their spots at this time as the summer coat is replaced by the darker winter coat.

Mammal madness

Well, its September now; the kids are back to school and some folks have made preparations to close summer cottages for the season. It is still officially summer, and green still abounds in the environment, but there are subtle changes that can be seen that tell of a change of seasons.

TRR photos by Sandy Long

The white tussock hickory moth caterpillar is not the demon it’s sometimes perceived to be. 

Maligned and misunderstood

When it comes to our knowledge of the natural world, what we don’t know (or what we have been misinformed about via social media or exaggerated claims often fueled by fear) can cause harm. These misunderstandings sometimes lead to unfortunate outcomes for the targeted species.

Timber rattlesnakes are one of the two venomous snakes found in the region, and they can blend in well to their surroundings. Fortunately for us, they will only strike as a last resort and will usually rattle as a warning. When hiking or working in known rattlesnake habitat, keep an eye to the ground and flip any objects like planks of wood, etc., so that any critter can escape away from you.

Herps: masters of disguise

You’ve probably walked on a forest path or even a secondary road this summer in the morning when it was still cool and spotted bright red or orange newts on the trail or roadway. These are the commonly found red efts, or the immature stage of the red-spotted newt. Almost a florescent orange, they look as if they want to be found.



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