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On Bats in January

Big Brown Bat - image courtesy of USFWS via Flickr.
Big Brown Bat – image courtesy of USFWS via Flickr.

Recently, I embarked on an after-school hike at Caledonia State Park. Despite the below freezing temperatures the previous day, the thermometer held steady at 65 degrees. Tiny remnants of ice lay sporadically throughout the trail, but otherwise Mother Nature provided no indication that winter happens to be the current season.

These woods gave an impression of a cool summer evening, just after a steady rain; not the end of January.

The forest floor erupted as the bright sun poked through the clouds, and I almost expected to see a red/orange colored whitetail and her fawn emerge from the brush along the trail.

Instead, I witnessed a peculiar creature bouncing through the air ahead of us. Hurriedly flapping its wings, it navigated above our heads, appearing to be in a rush, but going nowhere. There was no mistaking its distinctive flight. A large bat was flying before my eyes…on January 28th. For a moment a summer sensation crept into my mind, but then a wave of disappointment overtook me. I could think of only one reason why this should-be-hibernating bat is currently active: white-nose syndrome, which has claimed the lives of millions, has struck yet another individual. Disturbing their natural winter coma the disease causes bats to emerge from their hibernacula too early, and therefore the mammals exhaust necessary fat reserves or freeze to death.

I arrived home disappointed that the only creature I observed, was more than likely diseased. However, I researched this rare occurrence and found that it is actually not so rare. Bats are known to become active during warm spells of winter in order to search for a quick snack. In fact Big Brown Bats are the most likely species to venture out of their hibernaculum in the winter.

So, for the future of conservation and the sake of the wildlife resource, I hope the bat voluntarily awakened from hibernation to take advantage of the abnormally warm temperature. I pray it is resistant to WNS and serves as a symbol of hope for the future of these furry winged mammals.

 

Winter Tracks

Winter Tracks...Did you know? Because of pectinations, which act like snowshoes on Ruffed Grouse's feet, the birds will not sink into the snow.
Winter Tracks…

When I travel into the great outdoors this time of year, an overwhelming blanket of snow hangs over the landscape. On a recent trip to my cabin I found myself appointed to the task of navigating through twenty inches of this thick powder. Although at a quick glance this environment may seem dull and lifeless, it is actually anything but that. And for those who take the time to watch and listen, Pennsylvania’s winter wonderland is exploding with activity…

No matter where I hiked, deer tracks engulfed the snowy surface. In the creek bottom beside my cabin, these cervids created an intricate trail system, which they etched so carefully into the snow. Instead of blazing my own trail, I graciously utilized theirs. Also present on the snowy surface were tracks of the small, stealthy bobcat. If not surrounded by endless woods, one would assume a wandering house cat may have left the prints. Grouse, squirrel, coyote, and rabbits all left behind evidence of their existence in the thick Pennsylvania snow as well. I wish I could know the exact times of their movements, but in the meantime I will continue to follow their tracks and pray that Mother Nature may spare these species through the harsh Pennsylvania winter.

 Did you know? Because of pectinations, which act like snowshoes on Ruffed Grouse’s feet, the birds will not sink into the snow.

Orb Weaver

orbweaver1
Orb Weaver

This orb weaver was almost an inch long and made its home on my back porch around the side door of my house. It would destroy its gigantic web and make a new web every night in a different spot. If you weren’t careful, you just might have walked through its web, which I did a few times.

photo and text by Eric F., Academy student

 

The American Black Bear

…hopefully a name that doesn’t impose fear upon those who hear it. Unfortunately, this beautiful animal is misunderstood by some members of the public. However, my exposure to this species has been nothing but positive. When I think of black bears, images of past experiences spring into my head, which always leave me with a reminiscing smile.

My first black bear sighting occurred when I was only eight. My family and I were travelling to a pond to catch some sunfish, when we saw a huge jet black creature disrupting the green environment. Along the road a sow and her four cubs were feasting on ants, which were scattered throughout an overturned rock.

When I was hiking two summers ago, I stumbled upon a beautiful mature black bear. Its back was facing me, so I froze and hunkered down low. After I sat on the ground, the bear turned around and spotted me. However, instead of fleeing, the bear laid on the ground. From a distance of no more than 30 yards, we both relaxed and stared at each other; a moment that will forever be etched in my mind.

I took this photo right before the bear laid down to engage in a staring contest.

This July my family and I happened upon a sow and two cubs. Instead of retreating with its family, one of the cubs climbed a tall oak. This was the first time I witnessed a bear in a tree, and this cub had no difficulty navigating up the bark. It stayed in the crotch of the tree for a while, as we stood in awe, savoring the moment for as long as we could.

To help them climb, cubs are very agile and have sharp claws.

I have other various experiences with bears, which is one of the many benefits of owning property in north-central PA. The American Black Bear has added excitement to my outdoor adventures and I encourage everyone to take a hike in the northwoods. You may be surprised by what you see, and through observation comes appreciation.