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Spotting Neighborhood Fawns

This week’s blog was written by Allie F., a Bucktails alumni. Allie is a high school sophomore who plans to pursue a career in medicine. She decided to attend the Wildlife Leadership Academy due to her interest in biology and nature. In her spare time she enjoys music, dance, and hunting.

For the past few months, my family and I have been seeing deer around our neighborhood. Most often, we see a doe with her two fawns. We have been watching them and have even been able to take a few pictures on our phones and trail camera. I always enjoy watching the young deer, and it made me wonder about how long they will stay around our house, as well as how well they will survive.

At ten weeks of age, fawns begin to wean off nursing. While fawns may still nurse after 10 weeks, they do not need to from a nutritional standpoint. Fawns usually stay with their mother until their 1st birthday, taking place in Spring. By that Fall, 1/2 to 2/3 of male yearlings disperse farther from their home range. They do this in order to find mates and increase diversity.

Two fawns waiting for their mother

Fawn survival rates have been increasing recently since about 2000. Fawn survival is based upon their age, and it is thought that gender and weight may also influence survival rates. Some dangers that they may face are predators, humans, and natural causes. Potential predators include coyotes and bobcats. Black bears, however, are their biggest predator. Humans can interfere with their survival with the building of fences and roads, as well as harvests of agricultural fields. Fawns have the greatest chance of survival in agricultural areas, rather than forests. Fawns also struggle with starvation, disease, and being abandoned by their mother.

I am excited to continue to watch the fawns grow up. After this winter, I will wonder if the deer I am seeing are the doe and her fawns that I watched this year, or if the fawns left their mother and are somewhere else.

The photo used in this blog belongs to the author.

Don’t Forget About Fungi!

This week’s blog was written by John B., a Brookies alumni. John is a senior in high school. He found out about the academy from his Chinese teacher who thought that he would enjoy it. John figured he would enjoy the camp because he enjoyed a conservation camp that he attended previously. John loves spending time outdoors and often goes fishing. His plan is to attend college next fall to pursue biology and possibly Chinese too.

Down in the Outer Banks on vacation this week, I didn’t expect to see many members of the fungal kingdom. However, even in this sandy, ocean environment, their services are still much needed. It was on a palm tree that I saw some small, orange mushrooms. The tree’s green, thriving leaves led me to believe these are parasitic mushrooms stealing the tree’s nutrients. Although probably a nuisance to the landowner, I am always delighted when I see new mushrooms.

Small orange mushrooms found on a palm tree

About two years ago I began my journey into mycology. I heard about the most delicious mushrooms that appear in the woods right where we live. These were the infamous Morel Mushrooms, and even though they show up only about 1 month of the year, I spent all year in the hunt. This is possible because mushrooms often appear with certain trees and in certain soils. Just as a deer hunter would scout out new places all year, I did the same for the mushrooms. When the time came for the mushrooms to grow, I found only a few. Of course, I was delighted: but not satisfied. 

A Morel Mushroom found under a Tulip Tree

Now, I can identify many species of mushrooms in the woods and know when many of the edible ones will appear throughout the year. Mushroom foraging has been a rewarding hobby that has taken me to many new places throughout the state. As the summer changes into fall, I look and see the leaves fall from trees and annual plants die back. Fungi are what clean up all the dead matter and make room for the new sprouts we all love to see in the spring. Don’t forget that though you may only see them rarely, fungi are everywhere: recycling deceased life into new prosperous growth.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

Our Lives are Sunflowers

This week’s blog was written by Melinda J., a Bucktails alumni. Melinda has been interested in nature throughout her life, which is why she attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy. She enjoys watching shows, reading books, and learning. Eventually, she would like to find a career in STEM.

A common misconception regarding sunflowers is that they follow the sun as it travels across the sky, but only young sunflowers exhibit this behavior also known as heliotropism. Once they mature, sunflowers continue to face east throughout the day, but why?

A bee sitting on a sunflower

When sunflowers are young, they develop a circadian rhythm, which explains their behavioral patterns each day. As the sun rises from the east, the eastern side of sunflowers grows more, making them turn toward the sun. The opposite occurs at night; sunflowers elongate to the west to watch the sunset before turning back to the east by morning. By growing with the light, sunflowers can grow bigger than if they faced one direction.

A field of sunflowers facing east

Eventually, they grow slower and cease turning with the sun. Facing east allows them to stay warmer throughout the day, which attracts more bees for pollination. Mature sunflowers respond better to light during the morning, leaving them facing eastward for the rest of their lives. The lives of sunflowers are quite similar to our human lives. As children, we rely on family, teachers, mentors, and friends to guide us through life in order to help us evolve into better people. We often develop similar traits or interests as our role-models, which ultimately lead us to our own path. Eventually, you stop depending on others and mature into an independent person. Every once in a while, you need a friend or a parent to help you through, but you continue to face one direction, your own. You are no longer a little plant, stretching its neck to follow the sun, but a mature sunflower, standing tall.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

December Student of the Month – Lorelei M.-B.

Our student of the month is Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, and outstanding alumni of the Bucktails, Brookies, Gobblers, and Ursids virtual field schools this past summer. Lorelei has an incredible connection to the environment and a clear passion for conservation. She jumped at the chance to attend multiple field schools this past summer when they pivoted to a virtual format, and soaked up every bit of information she could! After the field schools, Lorelei took everything she learned and applied to to new and existing projects she has been working on.

Lorelei connects many of her outreach projects with her Cherokee heritage, researching information and sharing it with her community – her goal, in her own words, is to “help others learn more about the complex relationship between the Cherokee and our natural world”. She has created several trifolds that talk about the importance of deer to the Cherokee, traditional Cherokee fishing methods, the traditional ties Cherokee have to turkeys, and Cherokee storytelling about bears.


Lorelei with her Uncle Michael

Lorelei is also an outstanding educator herself – she has been teaching other students who cannot leave their homes during the pandemic all sorts of excellent information about conservation and the environment. Lorelei has designed and taught virtual science classes to elementary students about plant identification, as well as mentoring her younger brother. She is also a Monthly Blog Correspondent – check out one of her blogs (about Haleakalā National Park – click here to read!).

Lorelei has met many challenges head-on, and excelled. We know that she has many more outreach projects planned, and every day brings more exciting news of what project has come to fruition! Lorelei is everything we hope to see in our students – passionate, conservation-minded, and driven. We are so proud of all her accomplishments, and look forward to seeing her future endeavors!

Plants From Beyond the Grave

This week’s blog was written by Emma C., a Bucktails alumni. Emma is an avid student, ballet dancer, and nature lover. When not at dance or school, she enjoys hiking, photography, painting, watching musicals and movies, learning interesting histories, and especially reading. She is particularly interested in science at this time, advancing to the state science fair last year. She was extremely excited to attend the Academy because as she puts it, nature is her, “safe place” where she feels at home. Her favorite quote is by the brilliant scientist Rachel Carson, “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'”

From Sasquatches to fairies to ghosts, people have always seen outlandish things in the woods. Never seen one before yourself? It may be more likely than you think. During a light hike through a park near my house, I came upon a rather odd plant — an all-white structure from the tips of the flower to the very bottom of the stem. When I first looked at the small sprout, it appeared almost translucent, as though it were a piece of plastic or glass. After further inspection, it was clear to see that it was opaquely white. The petite plant had a short stem, and a bell looking flower that curved over to face the forest floor. It looked quite out of place compared to its very green and lively summer surroundings; almost otherworldly. After doing some research on the plant, it appears others agree with me.

Commonly known as the ghost pipe–also called Indian pipe or corpse plant–Monotropa uniflora is one of only about 3,000 non-photosynthetic flowering plants. This unique characteristic is the reason this plant has no green on it since it does not need the green chloroplasts to capture energy from the sun and complete the process of photosynthesis. Instead, the plant is actually heterotrophic like us humans, compared to autotrophic like most other plants. This means that instead of making nutritional food for itself, the ghost pipe must get its food from an outside source. Most of these heterotrophic plants have parasitic relationships with other organisms. Some can be directly parasitic to another plant, but the ghost pipe is a bit more tricky. Ironically, while the ghost pipe is commonly mistaken for a type of fungi, it is actually most often parasitic to fungi engaged in mycorrhizal relationships.

Monotropa uniflora (Ghost Pipe); Pine Hill Recreation Area, Waynesboro, PA

Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship with various photosynthetic trees. In this relationship, the fungi colonizes in the root system of the tree, providing increased absorption capabilities of both water and nutrients. In return, the tree provides the fungi with energy such as carbohydrates to sustain itself. The ghost pipe tricks the fungi into forming what the fungi believes to be a symbiotic, mycorrhizal relationship, when in fact the ghost pipe is forming a parasitic relationship. After the tree transfers energy to the fungi, the fungi then transfers some of this energy to the ghost pipe but receives nothing in return. The tree meanwhile is completely unaware of this extra loss of energy, as it is already providing energy to the fungi. The ghost pipe dupes both the tree and the fungi into giving up their energy for free.

Interestingly, the ghost pipe is actually a part of the blueberry family. Native Americans once used the plant for medicinal purposes, including treating eye infections. It usually grows to be about 4-8 inches tall, has five-petaled flowers, and has only one flower per stem. The plant is usually found in a small cluster as I observed it, though you could perhaps find a single stem by itself. Since it has no need for sunlight, it can grow in great darkness and shade. The startling plant can be found across the United States (though it is absent from the Rocky Mountain region) as well as parts of Asia (such as Japan).

The sneaky and otherworldly ghost pipe is another one of nature’s great wonders. It represents the great diversity of life we have on this planet, and the unusual connections among organisms we often miss. When I stepped into the woods that day, I had no idea I would find such a fascinating plant. It just goes to show, you never know what you will find in nature. We must always be searching, discovering, and learning more about this vast planet. Who knows what we will find next!

The photo used in this blog belongs the author.