Pennsylvania

All posts tagged Pennsylvania

By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant and Sheila Vincent, Group Programs Coordinator

A crowd of elk-aholics gather to watch their favorite show: Battling Bulls!

A crowd of elk-aholics gather to watch their favorite show: Battling Bulls! Photo by Derek Stoner.

After a spectacular sunset and good views of a bull elk and his harem of cows the first evening, what would our second evening bring?

Once again our DNS van navigated the steep hills above the village of Benezette to arrive at the legendary Winslow Hill wildlife viewing area.  A long procession of vehicles and camera-toting tourists soon signaled our quarry’s presence.    

A mature bull elk bugles in defiance! Photo by trip participant Molly Daly.

A mature bull elk bugles in defiance! Photo by trip participant Molly Daly.

A weedy field served as the parade ground for a mature bull elk and his seven cows.  The bull sported an impressive six points (tips) on each antler, making him a 6X6 in elk-watcher parlance.  This 800-plus pound beast bellowed and bugled to advertise his dominance.
The enraged 6X6 bull, drooling from the mouth and nose, does his best to look intimidating.  Photo by trip participant Molly Daly.

The enraged 6X6 bull, drooling from the mouth and nose, does his best to look intimidating. Photo by trip participant Molly Daly.

Caught up in frenzy of the mating season, this bull was drooling and showing the whites of his eyes.  He raked bushes with his antlers, pawed the ground, and orbited the herd, checking on the status of his cows.   

The 6X6 bull heads back to be with his harem of cow elk.  Photo by trip participant Molly Daly.

The 6X6 bull heads back to be with his harem of cow elk. Photo by trip participant Molly Daly.

The distant bugle of another bull captured the attention of the 6X6 and riveted the dozens of viewers along the field edge.  From the valley below, the interloper emerged. 

Amazingly, the new arrival sported an even-larger rack (7X7) and larger body.  The two bulls postured and bugled, slowly approaching each other.  With the moment of truth arriving, the viewer’s held their collective breath.  Would they clash and lock antlers?

Heads turned sideways to guage each others size, the bulls circled round like a couple of heavyweights unwilling to fight.  The more-energetic 6X6 would make short charges towards the interloper, who did not seem to have much aggressive drive.  The showdown lasted nearly an hour.  As dusk fell, the 7X7 finally backed off and left the scene.

Our group felt priveleged to witness such a display of nature’s wild side.  While difficult to fully convey the feeling of the moment, this compilation of video clips from the bull encounter may give you an idea of  the power of this experience:    http://animoto.com/play/PDFHo3NjExcdCm1y0DC0sw?autostart=true  (Click on “Full Screen” for best viewing)

By Derek Stoner, Education Program Assistant and Sheila Vincent, Group Programs Coordinator

Brightly-hued maples color up the hillside on a rainy day at Parker Dam State Park.

Brightly-hued maples color up the hillside on a rainy day at Parker Dam State Park.

On September 27-29, Sheila Vincent and I led a DNS trip to the Pennsylvania Wilds, a swath of 2-million acres of protected forest and wilderness in the north-central part of the Keystone State.  A great array of wildlife can be found here, plus spectacular scenery.  The fall color looked great , despite the gray rainy weather when we arrived.
Part of the large colony of White Birch at Marion Brooks Natural Area, the largest such stand in Pennsylvania.

Part of the large colony of White Birch at Marion Brooks Natural Area, the largest such stand in Pennsylvania.

On our first venture into the Quehanna Wilderness, we visited the largest colony of White Birch known to exist in Pennsylvania.   Primarily a northern species, these tree thrive in areas of disturbance.  In fact, this section of wilderness is part of the vast Allegheny Plateau, created by the grinding of glaciers during the last Ice Age.  The birches are part of the Marion Brooks Natural Area, a preserve that also features unique plants such as Cucumber Magnolia,  Lady’s Slippers, and an array of ferns.  
A cluster of Redcoats or British Soldiers, a type of fruticose lichen.

A cluster of Redcoats or British Soldiers, a type of fruticose lichen.

In the disturbed soil around a man-made pond, we encountered a tremendous concentration of Redcoats, a striking lichen.  A lichen is the pairing of a fungus and algae in a mutualistic relationship.   Most lichens are gray or dull green– few are as vivid as the Redcoat.
A blooming Gall-of-the-Earth, also known as Tall Rattlesnake Root.

A blooming Gall-of-the-Earth, also known as Tall Rattlesnake Root.

A mysterious wildflower drew our attention.  With purple stems, asymetrical leaves, and straw-colored blossoms, the Gall-of-the-Earth is a distinctive member of the Aster family.  There is disagreement as to the origin of the plant’s name.  One camp holds that the drooping flowers look away from the sun, thus symbolizing the bitter descent of fall into winter.   The other camp suggests that the bitter-tasting roots, used to treat dysentery and rattlesnake bite,  gave the plant both its names.
A paper wasp nest seemingly impaled on a hawthorn bush.

A paper wasp nest seemingly impaled on a hawthorn bush.

For a bunch of naturalists exploring an unusual ecosystem, every discovery seemed noteworthy.  This bizarre paper wasp nest, built just a foot above the ground, had the extra protection of hawthorn spikes.   
An incredible sunset greeted us on our first evneing in elk country.  The elk grazed in the misty valley below while we watched.

An incredible sunset greeted us on our first evening in elk country. The elk grazed in the misty valley below while we watched.

The botanical diversions were great, but of course the big attraction up here is of the four-legged variety.   Would we see any elk?  Would we get to hear the haunting bugle of battling bulls?  Stay tuned for the second half of our story…

Photos by Derek Stoner