With the earth at perihelion (its closest approach to the sun) and with our home star just 27 degrees above the horizon at midday, bright low-angle light offered the perfect opportunity for doing some wildlife photography today. We visited a couple of grasslands managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to see what we could find…
On this State Game Lands parcel, prescribed fire is used to maintain a mix of grasslands and brushy early successional growth. In nearby areas, both controlled fire and mechanical cutting are used to remove invasive species from hedgerows and the understory of woodlots. Fire tolerant native species then have an opportunity to recolonize the forest and improve wildlife habitat. This management method also reduces the fuel load in areas with the potential for uncontrolled wildfires.
The sun-dried fruits of a native Common Persimmon tree found growing in a hedgerow.
Just one year ago, mechanical removal of invasive trees and shrubs (including Multiflora Rose) on this State Game Land was followed by a prescribed fire to create this savanna-like grassland.
Hundreds of Song Sparrows were found in the grasses and thickets at both locations.
White-throated Sparrows were also abundant, but prefer the tangles and shrubs of the thickets.
Northern Mockingbirds were vigilantly guarding winter supplies of berries in the woodlots and hedgerows.
In grasses and tangles on wetter ground, about a dozen Swamp Sparrows were discovered.
The adult White-crowned Sparrow is always a welcome find.
And seeing plenty of juvenile White-crowned Sparrows provides some assurance that there will be a steady stream of handsome adult birds arriving to spend the winter during the years to come.
Dark-eyed Juncos were encountered only in the vicinity of trees and large shrubs.
Several Savannah Sparrows were observed. Though they’re mostly found in treeless country, this particular one happened to pose atop a clump of shrubs located within, you guessed it, the new savanna-like grasslands.
A tiny bird, even when compared to a sparrow, the Winter Wren often provides the observer with just a brief glimpse before darting away into the cover of a thicket.
Within grasslands, scattered stands of live and dead timber can provide valuable habitat for many species of animals.
Woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds rely upon an abundance of “snags” (standing dead trees) for breeding sites.
This Red-bellied Woodpecker and about a dozen others were found in trees left standing in the project areas.
A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker soaks up some sun.
This very cooperative Pileated Woodpecker seemed to be preoccupied by insect activity on the sun-drenched bark of the trees. This denizen of mature forests will oft times wander into open country where larger lumber is left intact.
Just as things were really getting fun, some late afternoon clouds arrived to dim the already fading daylight. Just then, this Northern Harrier made a couple of low passes in search of mice and voles hidden in the grasses.
It was a fitting end to a very short, but marvelously sunny, early winter day.