Last Saturday I tried to enjoy the Sunken Garden Trail at Moraine State Park but there were challenges along the way. The trail was very soggy, trees were down on the Short Loop, and part of the trail was under a few inches of water.
The flood is the work of beavers who backed up water in the wetlands (above) about 600 feet from the trail entrance (below).
The Sunken Garden Trail is truly sunken here. Fortunately ankle-high muck boots were more than enough to keep me dry.
Be prepared for mud in this winter’s warm weather. And watch out for black-legged ticks. I got one on my pants after I bushwhacked around downed trees. They’re moving around out there, though in slow motion.
Seven years ago when my cat alerted me to a mouse under the heat duct, I knew in my head that there’s never just one mouse. But my heart refused to listen and I said to myself, “Of course there’s only one mouse, and when I catch that one I’m done.”
Hah! Every fall I’m reminded that there are victories but in a 111 year old house you’re never done. Thankfully there are so few mice this fall that Emmalina has not noticed them. Does this mean there are none or that she’s too old to care?
When my husband and I visited the Pittsburgh Zoo last spring we stopped by the cheetah exhibit to watch these graceful cats and learn about them from the zoo’s cheetah experts. We were amazed to find out that cheetahs like perfume. It keeps them from being bored.
Zookeepers have known for years that big cats, including lions and tigers, react to some perfumes the way housecats react to catnip. They sniff and flemen and rub their faces on the scented spot. My cat Emmy shows how it’s done with her catnip toy.
Instead of catnip the big cats prefer perfume and they don’t like the expensive stuff. Watch how perfume turns them on in this National Geographic video.
The elk are putting on a show in northcentral Pennsylvania right now and they don’t care if we watch.
Elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) are one of the largest members of the deer family. Males weigh up to half a ton(!) and can be five feet tall at the shoulder with antlers five feet across. The females, without antlers, are only 3/4 their size. The difference is due to their lifestyle.
From late August through mid-October the elk herd assembles for the mating season, called “the rut.” The males sound off and fight to win females for their harems. Bigger is better. The strongest males have the most offspring.
Their bugling and sparring is fascinating to watch and you can get fairly close because the herd is distracted. Paul Staniszewski photographed these two locking antlers.
And here’s a 6-minute video shot in Benezette, home of Pennsylvania’s largest elk herd.
Visit Elk County, PA to watch the show. Click here for more information.
At the end of September the weather’s fine and there’s plenty to see outdoors. Goldenrod and asters are blooming but everything else has gone to seed, fruit, and nuts. This is great news for chipmunks.
Join me for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, September 30, 8:30a – 10:30a.
Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road. We’ll see birds, fall flowers, fruits, seeds, acorns and busy chipmunks.
Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.
Before you come, visit my Events page in case of changes or cancellations.
In September I often find sprays of oak leaves littering the woodland trails. I used to think they fell in windstorms but I’ve discovered a more common reason. In autumn it’s squirrels at work.
Gray squirrels build leaf nests high in the trees for shelter in winter, nests for their young, and for sleeping at night. The outer layer is composed of leaves and twigs that make a water resistant blob about the size of a beach ball. The inside is lined with moss, grass, shredded bark and other soft vegetation. The entrance faces the trunk.
Squirrel nests can be as much as 70 feet off the ground. Here’s what one looks like.
To gather building materials, the squirrel gnaws near the branch tip — often an oak — until the spray of leaves comes loose. If he isn’t careful to hold the twig, it falls. Oh well. The squirrel gnaws another one.
You can tell when a spray of leaves is a squirrel’s handiwork. The tip of the twig looks chiseled. Teeth made this mark!
Last week I found many leafy twigs on the trails in Pittsburgh. After four days of cold rain the squirrels were making nest repairs.
As winter approaches you’ll find them, too. The squirrels are fortifying their nests and they don’t have much time. The leaves will be gone in November.
(photos by Kate St. John, Marcy Cunkelman and from Wikimedia Commons; caption has a link to the original)
Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) walk with a bumbling gait and have poor eyesight and hearing so when they finally notice danger it’s very close at hand. They’ve evolved a pretty good solution to protect themselves. Possums fall over and play dead.
Playing dead is triggered by extreme fear and it’s involuntary — like fainting. The possum enters a near coma, lying on its side with its mouth and eyes open and tongue hanging out. Meanwhile it exudes a putrid green fluid from its anus that’s unappetizing to predators.
The possum in this video was probably shocked when the big black dog showed up. Boom! He fell over.
But how to remove him?
Wait and he’ll wake up and walk away. Put the dog indoors and he’ll do it sooner.