Bronze Copper Butterfly (photo by Dianne Machesney)
The season is almost over for butterflies but there are still some great ones out there.
Dianne and Bob Machesney found this Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus) a week ago in a damp area of Moraine State Park. She and Bob usually see American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) because those butterflies prefer plants that grow in disturbed soil. Bronze Coppers prefer plants in bogs, marshes and wet meadows so they’re much harder to find.
More than a year ago Mason Colby decided to film bald eagles in Craig, Alaska by setting up his Go Pro camera next to some salmon heads.
Things were going well until an immature bald eagle stole the camera! Mason wrote on YouTube:
Set up my go pro next to some salmon heads from the days catch to film the eagles eating and next thing I know, one of them swoops down and snags the camera right off the ground. It carried it up to a mile away and I lost sight of it. For four hours we searched in the rain until I finally found it and the camera was still intact. So glad I got the footage!
Here’s a hollow sound you often hear in the woods but you rarely see who’s making it.
Tock Tock Tock Tock, the sound travels and is echoed by additional singers. Who’s making this sound and what does it mean?
The knocking is a chipmunk warning call that means “Danger From The Air!” One chipmunk has seen an aerial predator and has frozen in position to warn everyone they’d better watch out. The other chipmunks freeze, too, and echo the call until it’s impossible to tell where the warning began.
The video below shows the sound as we usually encounter it — a disembodied knocking. In this case it’s louder than thunder.
If I’d known the sound’s meaning I would have looked for a raptor during my walk in the woods.
Acid mine drainage in well water (photo by Kate St. John)
Two weeks in Maine where the water is clean re-opened my eyes to something I take for granted in Pennsylvania: some places have orange water.
Perhaps you’ve been to this restroom at the Route 528 boat launch in Moraine State Park. The restroom is clean but the water is not. “Notice. Non-potable water. Not for Drinking.” The metallic smell and orange-stained sinks and toilets make you wonder, “If the water’s that bad, should I use it to wash my hands?”
Coal mining contaminated the ground water here(*). The orange water is acid mine drainage. When the coal was removed it exposed pyrite which, when exposed to water, turns into sulfuric acid and iron. Bad water from old surface and underground mines flows into streams and wells in Pennsylvania’s coal regions.
The good news is that Pennsylvania stepped in with coal mining laws in the 1960’s that prevent new water contamination and PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) can require clean up when an old mine is reopened. Slowly, the worst water is being treated and improved.
That’s how part of the Conemaugh River turned from orange to clear in Somerset County in 2013. See before and after pictures and read about the impressive change here on the Allegheny Front.
On the August walk we saw white snakeroot and we’re sure to see it this month, too. At the time I called it tall boneset, a confusing alternate name. What was I thinking?! I should have used its most common name.
White snakeroot grows 1 – 5 feet tall with opposite, toothed, egg-shaped leaves and branching clusters of bright white flowers. Each flower head is a cluster of very tiny flowers, shown above.
White Snakeroot in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
The plant is similar enough to boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) that it used to be in the same genus, but it’s been reclassified to Ageratina altissima. To avoid confusion with unrelated boneset I’ll call it “white snakeroot” from now on.
Late Coralroot, flower close-up, 14 Sep 2015, Butler County, PA (photo by Kate St. John)
Last Monday I attended a botanical outing that promised fall orchids including this one: Late Coralroot.
Late or Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) is a tiny orchid that grows in eastern North America from Quebec to Texas. Like Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) it’s a parasitic plant that feeds on fungi so it has neither chlorophyll nor leaves. Most of the year it lives underground. Then in late summer it sends up one stem to produce tiny flowers only 1/5″ long which bloom from August to October.
The stems we found in Butler County, Pennsylvania were dark purple-brown, about 8 inches tall. From above they looked like small useless sticks but as soon as we found them we realized how easy it would be to step on one unawares. Yow.
The plant’s color and size made it difficult to photograph. Nonetheless, here are some (poor) photos to give you an idea of the plant. Here it is as seen from ground level, though not the entire plant.
Late Coralroot (photo by Kate St. John)
This closeup shows the flower’s white un-notched lip with purple spots. It also shows a strange characteristic: Some flowers are rotated sideways.
Late Coralroot flower, turned on its axis (photo by Kate St. John)
When the flowers go to seed they droop along the stem.
Late Corlaroot, flowers gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)
Here’s a bird I see in Maine that we’ll never see in Pittsburgh.
Northern gannets (Sula bassana) nest in cliff colonies on both sides of the North Atlantic. In the fall the Canadian population visits the Gulf of Maine on their way south for the winter. The adults will spend October to April off the U.S. Atlantic coast while the juveniles may winter as far south as the Gulf coast.
Gannets are large seabirds (6.5 foot wingspan) that catch fish by plunge-diving from 30 to 130 feet above the sea. When the fishing is good a huge flock gathers overhead, diving over and over again. The video shows their amazing fishing technique, both in the air and underwater.
And, yes, these birds are moving fast. They hit the water’s surface at 60 to 75 miles an hour! Gannets can do this safely because they have no external nostrils and their faces and chests have air sacs that cushion their brains and bodies like bubble wrap.