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The Dock

This week’s blog was written by Micaela J., a Bucktails alumni. Micaela is interested in pursuing a career in engineering, although she hasn’t decided what type of engineering she would like to go into yet. Last summer Micaela attended Northampton County Junior Conservation School which sparked her interest in the environment and how we impact it. That program led her to learn about the Wildlife Leadership Academy, which she soon wanted to attend because of its focus on conservation and learning about the plants and animals in our environment.

You know how we all have that one safe spot that we always can relax at? Well, Lake Wallenpaupack is my calm space where I can relax and find peace. My grandparents built a house there in the ’70s, and when my family goes to visit, I always go down to the dock. Since my grandparents’ house is positioned on a hill, there are over 70 steep steps that wander through the trees to get down to the lake. No matter the time of day or night, the view from the dock is worth every step.

The docks edge

When I reach the end of the steps I tenderly balance my way across the rocks that line the edge of the lake shoreline. In the beginning of the summer, the gray rocks are all underwater, but by the end of September, the water level of the lake has lowered, revealing the once submerged rocks. Standing where the lake meets the rocks I take a seat on one of the larger cool rocks. Closing my eyes I can hear the subtle waves crashing on the shore around me. I can hear a breeze whisper through the trees behind me, almost as if they were admiring the autumn weather. The leaves of the beech, chestnut oaks, birch, and soft branches of the hemlock and white pine dance in the soft wind. As a boat passes by, the waves crash harder by my feet, as if trying to wake me from a dream.

Summer’s ending

I slowly stand up and wander over to where the dock begins. Stepping onto the dock, I can feel my balance shift, adjusting to the water that sits, always fluid, below the dock. I pass the empty slips that hold my neighbors’ boats over the summer until I reach the end of the dock. When I get there, I take a seat, take off my converse and socks, and roll up my jeans just above my ankles. Slowly, I lower my feet into the lake, feeling the cool, crisp water as my toes break through the water’s surface. I lean backward, my feet still in the water and my body lying on the dock, and stare at the clouds above my head. They twist and swirl above me in the fall breeze like wisps of cotton. As waves hit the dock, I can feel the wooden slats rock and hear the metal bolts and hinges clank as the waves gently move under the dock and towards the shore. As I am laying there I get lost in thought and lose track of time. When I come back, I sit up to see the sun setting behind the mountains across the lake. The reds and oranges dancing and reflecting on the water. The beauty of these sunsets never ceases to amaze me.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

My Discoveries at the PA Grand Canyon

This week’s blog was written by Sierra R., a Bass alumni. She attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy this summer because it looked like a good opportunity to further her education and to give her a deeper look into different career fields. Sierra’s hobbies include hiking, nature journaling, Girl Scouts, and theater.

The Pine Creek Gorge is an amazing gem of PA. It lies in the Tioga State Forest in between Leonard Harrison and Colton Point State Park. Often called the PA Grand Canyon, it covers 47 miles of protected state land and holds a variety of wildlife. During my visit to Leonard Harrison State Park, I got to document some of the plants and animals as well as the outstanding landscapes that make up the ecosystem of the gorge.

The overlook at Leonard Harrison State Park Visitor Center

As soon as I arrived at the main overlook, I found some very unique wildlife. An especially-exciting find was a porcupine resting on a pine tree branch, overlooking the valley. Although porcupines are nocturnal, they occasionally can be spotted during the day in trees foraging for food like the one I spotted. Along with the porcupine, I saw turkey vultures swooping through the open canyon. In the earlier hours of the day, I also spotted an eagle.

The porcupine I saw sitting in a pine tree at the overlook.

After taking a few pictures, My family and I began our descent down the Turkey Path. While it is only 1.7 miles, it is all on a hill, making it a bit more challenging. The long uphill at the end is worth it, as the trail has beautiful landscapes, with large rocks and plenty of trees and ferns. Along the path, I found some of my favorite plants like Jack-in-the-pulpits with fruit turning a bright candy red.

A Jack-in-the-Pulpit with bright red fruits

Another personal favorite that I spotted is the maidenhair fern, which I found on the hillside near a set of trail stairs. Maidenhair ferns have a unique leaflet and stem shape. They prefer moist shady areas to grow as their leaflets are rather delicate and not very drought resistant.

A maidenhair fern I found on the Turkey Path.

As we descended further down to the bottom of the gorge, we came to the beginning of a waterfall. Because of the dry weather, not much water was flowing. Although, The rocks alone were an appreciable sight. Eventually, part of the waterfall did have water trickling down its front and lead into the Pine Creek that flows through the bottom of the gorge.

The PA Grand Canyon is one of Pennsylvania’s best natural wonders. If you ever get the chance to visit it in person, I highly recommend it. I am so thankful I got the opportunity to share some of the little features that make it so special.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.

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.