I’m reminded time and again, that summer is a time of watersports, of kayaks and canoes, and for many, those swimming beaches sitting along a state park lake.
We can smell the wood smoke when we arrive at any one, with the knowledge that anything tastes better when made out there, and we are tempted by the special aroma that fills the air.
We often sit along the shore, watching fish dimple the lake’s surface, feasting on what seems like an endless supply of insect life. Some are small fish, some are what stories are written about or told around the evening campfire.
Bullfrogs croak from the backwaters, as geese and ducks circle for a landing. All seem to have a place in mind to spend the night. Some herd their offspring, hiding them along the shorelines, fortunate to survive yet another day.
I watch an egret fishing in the fading light, as Karen points out a Great Blue Heron standing like a carved statue. In a single motion, the Heron stabs a fish for its evening meal. It’s nature — that beautiful place where life and death is in some strange way a balancing act.
An eagle, her mate and eaglets, circle and land in a nest far removed from the onslaught of tourists now invading their territory. Like the Little Green Heron, they prefer solitude. Later an osprey does a fly-by, nothing in its talons, just heading back to a nest we did not find.
With any luck, a black bear will roam through the area, the smell of all that food too much of an enticement. Black bears are more welcome here than they are in city, or any other place that men and women live with manicured grasses. As with all wildlife, it simply makes sense to remember they are wild animals — an animal to be respected rather than feared.
Power of observation
There are few, if any, birds or mammals to which we don’t pay attention. This year, there seems to be an abundance of cottontails, opossums and raccoons. Now that the fields are mowed, groundhogs are popping up with regularity. The more we see, the more we learn, like reading book after book on the same subjects. Only here, you understand the facts through observation.
Observation, combined with research, really is enlightening, and despite all the studies conducted on so many different species, I have found that many things happen out there that have not been recorded or documented as fact. For example, I recently watched a turkey vulture eat a live snake, and fortunately photographed the entire event. The snake was definitely alive, and I was surprised to watch the vulture fly away with the snake in its beak.
When I returned home, I researched the turkey vulture in various books and online. All of my sources stated that the turkey vulture only eats dead animals. On the menu of their food, was snakes, but not live snakes.
Just last week, I watched a Great Blue Heron fishing for hours on end. I stood there with the camera on a tripod, waiting for it to catch a fish. After an hour, I snapped photos of the action. The Heron had speared a sucker, and promptly ate it as I took photo after photo.
The fish seemed like enough of a meal, but the bird kept fishing. I assumed it was still hungry, so I stuck around for another half hour, camera at the ready. It was then that he picked up a bluegill — he had not speared this fish and seemed to be mouthing it. The Great Blue then dropped it back into the water; the fish seemed unharmed. “Okay,” I thought aloud, “the bugs are really biting now, time to pack up things.”
By now, I was kicking myself for not using bug spray before I headed out. Karen warned me that the “bugs” were really getting bad, but the pull of a Heron still fishing kept me in a trance. The sun was just heading for the envelope of the trees, when the Heron struck again, a mud catfish of decent size. I thought for sure this would finish off the day with a bang for the large bird, but instead, he dropped it ever so gently back into the water.
As I write this, I’m still nursing a good number of large bites, and wondering what I witnessed. Do these birds have a preference in what they eat, or was the spine of bluegill the fishes’ defense mechanism? The catfish, with those whiskers may have stung the Heron’s tongue, but I can’t be sure, and despite extensive research cannot find an answer.
Fortunately, I always carry a camera, and am able to study the photos closely. I was able to determine each species the Great Blue had captured, and how he handled each catch. I’m still left to ponder why he speared the sucker, which meant sure death, and only picked up the other two fish, meaning both were likely to survive the experience.
One thing of which I’m certain, is that the Great Blue hadn’t been reading magazines that support “catch and release” fishing.
Extensive research at times seems intrusive. Placing microchips in wild animals, cameras near their nesting areas, tags in their ears and collars with transmitters around their necks, seems to make some animals less wild looking.
Recently, a camera was placed on a cow elk, and was programmed to collect video and audio during specific times of the day, according to a Pennsylvania Game Commission news release.
The collar will fall off the elk in about 75 days, at which time the commission will send the collar back to the manufacturer so the recordings can be retrieved. By providing never-before-collected information at the micro-scale, the recordings and readings from the collar will assist biologists and land managers, and will help in the planning and development of habitat-management programs.
The Keystone Elk Country Alliance purchased the collar and will use the information collected for educational programming, as well as habitat management.
“High-quality habitat is vitally important to elk, to the game commission and to KECA,” alliance President and CEO Rawley Cogan said. “We are pleased to fund this pilot habitat study and we look forward to cooperating with the biologists to refine the habitat-management plan for Pennsylvania’s elk range.”
I’ve heard from many readers who object to spending money on a project that may, or may not help biologists find out exactly what elk eat and when. Others suggested that they should do the project during the winter months, when the elk are searching for food under harsh conditions.
All that I can say is that if you really want to know what goes on out there, you have to get “out there” and observe, and then return to follow-up your findings with research.
Dave Wolf may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org