Category Archives: Fauna

Marmota Monax

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The Marmota monax pictured above enjoying some evening fruit, recently began frequenting the pear tree in the back yard.

I’ve always felt a bit of a soft spot in my heart for these beings, as they seem to be reviled by most other creatures. Cows can twist or break a leg in a groundhog hole, farmers hate them because of this, and feel no remorse in dispatching them.

Even posters showing the various hunting regulations seem to be biased: The deer season shows a picture of a noble buck with a large rack, fishing season with a picture of a beautifully colored rainbow trout, and other seasons noting dates, times, and field limits. And then, there’s the black and white picture, more of a mugshot, of a groundhog at once looking a bit shifty and nervous. Under the photo the text: “No closed season – no limit”. Yup, groundhogs, kill as many as you want, whenever you want.

I killed one many years ago as it’s presence in the yard caused dog to become frenzied, nearly choking herself on her collar trying to chase the critter from her yard. It took me several mornings to finally terminate the rodent. I would sneak along the barn with my open sited .22 rifle, clad in my mud shoes and bathrobe. Invariably, the ground hog would see me, and scurry to safety before I could get off a shot. One morning, however, it seemed that he just gave up the struggle, sat there and let me shoot him. Repeatedly.

I carried his carcass, already fattened for the winter, jiggling on the blade of my shovel, quite a ways from the house so the dogs would not roll in it as it decomposed.

When I was very young, a neighbor who had been an admiral in the United States Navy would drive around the neighborhood in his beige Ford Falcon, and take me wood chuck hunting.
Under his guidance, I was learning to shoot so well that I was quickly developing the skill to be able to “drive nails in from 100 yards away” with a high powered rifle and scope. My hands and eyes were young, strong and steady, my skills were sharp, and the rifle was powerful and accurate. After a while, it seemed not much of a sport.

There were seemingly comical times. Once, though certain I had connected on a 200 yard shot, the ground hog stayed sitting upright, tilting slightly one way,  then back the other, until finally, just like in the cartoons, he fell completely over with all paws in the air.

For a very short time, I dabbled in killing rabbits, even though I didn’t eat them. Then one cold day, I shot a rabbit that was sitting a couple of hundred yards from me, and through the rifle scope saw that it’s corpse seemed to be smoking.

I walked up to the little critter, eyes still open, and noted a small smudge of blood behind it’s shoulder where the bullet entered; right where I had aimed. Lifting one of his paws revealed that the bullet expanded on impact, and entirely removed the other side of his body. What I thought was smoke, was actually steam rising from the warm, moist entrails I had caused to be exposed to the frosty air.

When I prepared the shot through the rifle scope, the rabbit seemed to look relaxed, calm, and happy to be eating some of the last grass of the faded summer. I squeezed the trigger, and before the rabbit heard the report of the rifle, he was on his way to whatever reward rabbits enjoy for spending time on this earth.

I continued to practice with the rifle for a while, but only on paper targets. I got to the point where I could pretty much hit anything I wanted within 200 yards. I didn’t eat what I killed, and so, lost interest in developing my marksmanship.

A few years ago, a neighbor called me over to kill a raccoon that was apparently rabid. I felt no remorse sending that critter on his way. I’ve since decided that though some may feel that other beings need to die, it’s no longer my desire to be an instrument of death – I’ll leave that to others.

And the groundhog that’s frequenting the yard? Dog doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by it; pears are so plentiful this year that she doesn’t mind sharing.

I sometimes find myself glancing at the .22 resting along the fireplace mantle, and wonder if, with my older eyes and hands, I could still make the shot to the ground hog at the back of the yard.

For the sake of everyone involved, I’ll just keep wondering.

Raccoon

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While driving home late Saturday night, I noticed scurrying at the edge of the light cast by my auto’s headlights.

I moment later, I saw this fellow hurry up a tree as mother and sibling darted into the darkness.

This was the first raccoon spotted this summer. Those beings are pretty shy, and are rarely seen around here during the day.

A nice treat to see this family on one of the last few Summer evenings.

Leucistic Buzzard

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While driving from Clifford toward Elkdale in the valley through which the east branch of the Tunkhannock Creek flows, I noticed a kettle of turkey buzzards riding a thermal to who knows where.

I did a double take, noticing that one of the birds was nearly completely white. It’s not uncommon to see more than one type of bird riding together on thermals, and figured a hawk of some kind had gotten into the mix.

But, after watching for a while, it was apparent that the white bird was a Turkey Buzzard. It’s flight pattern, with slightly twitching wings was the same as everyone else. Both the top and bottom of the wings were white, as was the entire body. The underside of the wings retained the silver feather pattern as typical buzzards,

Yup, that’s not something you see everyday.

That view was just slightly less impressive than the Blue Heron that was standing in the middle of the road a couple of miles later. That fellow, however, took off to the meadow before I could get a clear picture.

I wish I got a photo of this fellow standing in the middle of the road in all his lanky splendor – it looked like he stood more than 4 feet tall!

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Neighbors Laurie Graham and Larry Wilson sent these photos of the white Turkey Buzzard:

White Turkey Vulture 9_6_15 #3 White Turkey Vulture 9_6_15 #2 White Turkey Vulture 9_6_15

 

Dinner from Mom

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No doubt animals have feelings and thoughts, or at least instincts.

Who would deny that this little guy is having one of his best evenings of the summer?

Whether that vaguely uncomfortable sensation of need in his body provoked the thought “Hungry, I better go find mother”, or the instinct to follow his nose toward the familiar warmth of mother’s scent, the end result is the same: mouth to teat, milk to belly, belly filled, uncomfortable sensation replaced with contentment ensuing.

After eating his fill, he might be thinking “Good time for a nap!”, or feeling rejuvenated and energetic from his evening meal, maybe it’s time to find some pasture mates, nip at each other’s hooves and frolic. Or maybe just enjoy a full belly and stay where the comforting scent of mother is warmest and thickest.

Certainly animals are subject to sensations. The heartiest of cows and horses still need at least a three sided structure in their pasture within which to shelter themselves from driving wind. Horses and deer will bed in snow midway down a lee slope – far enough from the crest to avoid the worst of the wind, high enough from the bottom to avoid the coldest air that rolls down the slope and pools in valleys.

Some say cows are so sensitive that they can predict the weather. If cows are lying down in a pasture, it will rain; if standing, clear weather will prevail. Or, most often observed, some standing, some lying down – no doubt a reliable indication of partly cloudy weather 😉

Habit requires thought, or at least conditioning. Some evenings require a walk into the pasture to lead the herd back to the barn for milking. Some evenings, bags swollen, all the girls come back to the barn anticipating the relief milking will provide.

It is undeniable that cows have personalities. Some will wait patiently to be milked, some will kick and thrash about. Some seem to enjoy the pressure of the farmer’s head against their belly as he sqauts and applies the milking machine. Some seem rather modest and indignant to have their nipples washed, tolerating daily milking only for the relief it provides.

If large enough, a herd of cows will develop social cliques. Even within a small herd, cows have best friends, and those individuals they will avoid. Just like people, they are naturally attracted to some, and develop aversions to others.

It’s probably impossible to say if cows enjoy sunshine more than a cool gentle rain, or if they find the shape and texture of some clouds more pleasing then others. Their sentiments may be restricted to keeping in proximity of those individuals to whom they are drawn, finding where in the pasture the combination of moisture and sun causes the grass to grow most sweetly, where a shelter, natural or man made, provides the greatest comfort from the elements.

Cast this way, it’s pretty evident that when you get down to basics, cows are not much different than people: they like their bellies comfortably filled, they enjoy the company of their family and neighbors, and shelter from the elements.

Pileated Woodpecker

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The commute to work the other morning was interrupted by loud drumming coming from somewhere in the yard. I had a pretty good idea of the source, and returned to the house for my camera. Resuming my commute, a pileated woodpecker flushed from the other side of the walking apple tree; I snapped a picture of him as he flew out of the yard.

They are a startlingly large and beautiful bird. Smaller woodpeckers are fairly abundant, but other than old Saturday morning cartoons, (Woody Woodpecker is a pileated woodpecker), most people never see a pileated woodpecker, noted to be uncommon in these parts.

Wikpedi reports the following: The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is a very large North American woodpecker, roughly crow-sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is also the largest woodpecker in the United States, except the possibly extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Adults are 16 to 19 in long, span 26 to 30 in across the wings, with an average weight of 11 oz.

Robin

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This fellow picked his way through the mud of the driveway yesterday – who knows why. Doesn’t seem like there would be any worms poking up through the frosty ground quite yet. Geese have been flying low headed north for the past week, but today, with squalls, gusty winds and temps in the low 20’s it feels more like mid-winter than the cusp of spring.

Twenty years ago, it was a fairly dry, snowless winter until the 13-14 of March. A storm was forecast – “The storm of the century” they said. Having heard of similar predictions earlier in the winter that resulted in a mere coating of snow, we didn’t pay much heed.

The wind shifted and began raising it’s voice to a howl – snow began to fall with intent. Billy and I were skiing together as the storm gathered strength. By the time the storm really wound up, the drift at the top of the Tunkhannock trail would deepen by half a foot each time we rode the lift to the top – visibility was down to a few feet.

Elk finally closed mid-afternoon, but the roads didn’t really look that bad – at least from the Wintergarden bar. We had a beer, and even though conditions did not seem foreboding, figured it was time to head home and hunker down.

I drove through more than half a foot of snow, and beached my little VW Fox as far up the driveway as I could. Billy and Ben pulled their vehicles close in behind. We would see the snow hood deep before all was said and done.

Before leaving the mountain, we took radios so we could keep in touch. A few of us stayed here at Hill View, a few at Endless Mountain Resort condos, more folks in the Village of the Four Seasons, some stranded right at Elk.

We could walk between Hill View and the condos at Endless Mountain Resort – the snow was consistently waist deep; drifts came past our chests. We took food to the condos, and shared with friends and strangers alike. Calls to Pendot were met with the message that it would be three to four days before the roads would be passable.

After the second day, the voices crackling through the radios faded; some due to diminished battery power, some due to increased alcohol consumption. Our cupboards held enough for two people for a few days. We were, however, sharing the cache among several people – lack of food would become an issue soon.

It was agreed that two of us would set out on cross-country skis toward the Village, and the lodge at Elk if necessary, to supplement our dwindling food supplies. Though a pleasant jaunt in agreeable conditions, with snow so deep, it was uncertain which route to take: along the roads buried in two to three feet of snow, or the shorter, steeper course down to the old Stone Bridge, where the snow may be bottomless, and up past Vauter’s farm.

Knowing that the trip would be strenuous either way, we decided to leave just before noon. We’d have the most heat from the sun, but plenty of daylight as the trip back with the weight of the food would certainly be longer.

And then, over the sound of the diminishing wind, we heard the unmistakable voice of a big diesel approaching. A huge yellow front-loader/grader was making it’s way down Lyon street. We made our way out to the road, and waved to the driver. He motioned to us and our vehicles, now buried nearly up to their windshields, then nodded. He backed up a few feet, and with two or three passes with his machine, unburied our vehicles saving us several hours of hand shoveling.

We were freed from the grips of the blizzard – we could drive out for more food!

Throughout the storm, we never lost power, or cable TV for that matter. The cupboards, however, did get pretty bare. We joked that as long as we had beer and vodka, we would be OK, even though we all knew that one of us was a diabetic who was down to their last day of medicine by the time the diesel machine freed us – days before Pendot said we would be able to get out.

Bonds were formed amongst those of us who weathered the storm together here on The Hill – certainly there were hundreds of similar stories.

Statistics say that over 300 people along the East Coast lost their lives in the “Blizzard of ’93”.

Usually well insulated from such extraordinary forces of nature, our daily lives obscure the fact that our comfort and safety are the result of selfless behaviour of others: those among us willing to face the uncertainty of a perilous trek for the well being of the group, folks who grow, harvest and process the food we eat, equipment operators who keep our roads maintained and passable, physicians whose practice and care maintain our health and well being.

Even when the weather is calm and agreeable, it’s good to keep in mind how much we rely on each other every day of our lives.

January Thaw

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Last night, rain took away the natural snowpack. Cold came back this morning after dawn; strong wind, sun, clouds, sleet and flurries now. This young girl got to sleep in Spring like temperatures last night, and doesn’t mind the thaw at all – she is enjoying foraging what was left behind by last autumn, without having to paw through deep snow.

Though we’ll need a good snowfall to resume cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, skiing at Elk should be excellent for the weekend and beyond – perfect snow making conditions now, and for at least the next week.

Kilgore Memorial Race, Wilburger Memorial Race, and Women’s Ski Days will be held at Elk Mountain. Music this weekend all over the valley – Hitchin’ Cricket and Six East Band at Chet’s Place, Blue London at Stone Bridge. For those venturing off The Hill – tomorrow is First Friday Scranton, and Classical Guitarist Gohar Vardanyan is in concert at The University of Scranton.

Butterfly

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This fellow sips a late lunch perched on a Sunchoke flower in the garden. Why not take a drive in the country, stop by Creekside Gardens in Tunkhannock, and visit their Butterfly House soon – a treat for young and old alike!

A beautiful day on the hill today – mid 80’s, no humidity, light wind, just about perfect. Some of us are enjoying the day from behind a window, and are looking forward to completing our work, and being somewhere outside this evening.

The NEPA Rail-Trail Community Walk Series continues with an event tonight at 6:00 on the Simpson Trailhead, off Rte 171 near Forest City – call the RT office with any questions 570.679.9300.

Later, music will fill the East Branch valley as Blue London wails out their great mix of classic tunes, 7 to 11 tonight on the Patio at Stone Bridge.

Just a few more weeks from now, the Monarchs will be leaving for Mexico, the Sunchokes will be near ready for eating, and 80 degree weather will be a memory.

Get up – get out – enjoy the late Summer beauty on The Hill!

Ducks

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Skiing at Elk ended a week ago. This time of year, some of us usually venture North in search of a few more ski days before surrendering to Spring. Some go South, seeking an early taste of Summer on a tropic beach. Many find ourselves raking the Winter out of flower beds, and watching each day’s subtle changes that measure the progression of Spring as it unfolds.

No ice to be found anywhere – ducks swim happily along wherever it pleases them. No snow pack to keep the yards wet. Almost two weeks of near Summer weather is making this one of the most tolerable mud seasons in recent memory.

Spike Buck

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This fellow barely paid any attention as his picture was snapped from a fairly close distance. One of his girlfriends waited warily from deeper in the woods before he turned and rejoined her to continue their twilight forage; soon, he’ll scrape the velvet from his antlers.

Now, these beings, especially those whose snow spots have recently faded from their backs, are more curious than fearful when encountering humans. It’s prudent to remember, particularly when driving a vehicle, the old saying “Where there’s one, there’s two”. Drive a bit more slowly, and if you see one deer, expect that another will follow closely behind.