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Red-breasted Nuthatch
Snow days are often good days to keep an eye on the bird feeders for something unusual.  Today was no exception.  Two Red-breasted Nuthatches including this one were attracted to a tube full of peanuts and to the abundance of cones on the Eastern Hemlocks at susquehannawildlife.net headquarters.  During autumn migration, Red-breasted Nuthatches can be somewhat common in our region but they rarely stick around, preferring instead to spend the winter in southern pine forests.

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Carolina Wren
Carolina Wrens can be attracted to your garden by offering peanuts, mealworms, and suet.  They are especially fond of brushy hedgerows, woodpiles, and rock walls where they forage for wintering spiders and insects.  The Carolina Wren sings throughout the year, its loud “chickory-chockory-chickory” can brighten an otherwise gloomy day.

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Dark-eyed Junco
What’s under your tree this morning?   It might be a Dark-eyed Junco searching for small seeds by scratching around in the leaves and detritus.  Also known as the “snowbird”, the junco is a member of the  Passerellidae, our native sparrow family.  It winters in gardens, along forest edges, and in early successional habitat throughout the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.

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A juvenile Ring-billed Gull with a freshly caught Gizzard Shad is pursued by a hungry adult Great Black-backed Gull on the Susquehanna at Conowingo Dam.
A juvenile Ring-billed Gull with a freshly caught Gizzard Shad is pursued by a hungry adult Great Black-backed Gull on the Susquehanna at Conowingo Dam.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker
Have you ever wondered how the Red-bellied Woodpecker got its name?  Well, take a close look at this one.  Not the most obvious field mark, is it?

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Northern Mockingbird
From a lookout atop an Eastern Hemlock, a Northern Mockingbird maintains a vigil over a garden full of berry-producing plants. To assure their survival during cold weather, these bold birds will vigorously defend winter food supplies on hollies, viburnums, poison-ivy, bittersweet, and other fruit-producing trees, shrubs, and vines, often swooping in to startle and flush birds and other animals that approach its stores too closely.

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White-tailed Deity
Spent some time in the woods last evening visiting with the wild ungulates.  Throughout autumn, this big guy has been teasing not only the members of the gasoline and gunpowder gang, but dozens of other White-tailed Deity worshipers as well.  With hormones raging, he’s looking for love, so we left him to his business.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler
By November, as insects become more difficult to come by, migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers are seldom found far from a supply of berries.  This one was in the vicinity of the white fruits of Poison Ivy vines.

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Eastern Comma
The frosted wing edges let you know that this is the winter form of the Eastern Comma butterfly.  Adult commas, also known as anglewings, will soon enter crevices in dead and living trees to begin hibernation.  On some occasions, they’ll seek shelter from the cold among voids in man-made structures.  Look for commas on mild winter days when they awaken to zip around sunny woodlands and gardens.  You may even see these speedy little fliers pausing to feed on tree sap or carrion.

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Shadow Darner
If you happen to see a large dark dragonfly cruising around on a sunny November afternoon, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s a Shadow Darner.  These hardy odonates often persist even after the flights of migratory species have ended for the year.  Shadow Darners are particularly fond of patrolling the shady edges of woodlands where they snag insects and devour them in midair.  Though they are most often found breeding in beaver ponds and other quiet waters, we’ve had them successfully reproduce in the fish-free frog and tadpole pond at susquehannawildlife.net headquarters.

Red Maples

Red Maple
Many cultivars of ornamental maples for the home garden are derived from this native species, and it’s easy to see why.  Despite the variation in the foliage of each, every tree in this view is a Red Maple (Acer rubrum).
Red Maple Leaves
The Red Maple is the most common and widespread tree in all of eastern North America.  It is easily recognized by its three-lobed leaves.  Not only do the fall foliage colors vary among a population of trees, but some individual specimens have a well-stocked palette of their own.  This collection came from a single Red Maple.  Visit a forested area today and check them out!

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Northern Walkingstick
The harmless, herbivorous Northern Walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata), also known as the Common Walkingstick, is well camouflaged when among the twigs and stems of deciduous trees.  As foliage drops in autumn, these wingless insects often descend to ground level and sometimes venture into view.  This individual was found in the vicinity of ideal habitat: a portion of forest including Black Cherry and Black Oak (Quercus velutina) trees.  Juvenile Northern Walkingsticks feed on the leaves of the former, adults on those of the latter.

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Eastern Ratsnake Crossing a Road
With cold weather settling in, reptiles including this Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) are making their way to winter den sites.  Many will be crossing roads, trails, and lawns, unknowingly subjecting themselves to the mercy of the more than one million merciless people living in the lower Susquehanna valley.  Don’t behave like a sociopath, please refrain from murdering, molesting, or kidnapping them.  Turn over a new leaf this fall and give them a brake.  Then leave them alone.

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Double-crested Cormorants
Double check those big flocks of southbound geese flying high overhead, especially if they’re silent.  Double-crested Cormorants are currently passing through the lower Susquehanna basin and are often seen far from water during their autumn movements. Look for tails that are nearly as long as the head and neck.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Like a flycatcher, the petite Ruby-crowned Kinglet sometimes darts from its perch in pursuit of airborne insects.  More frequently, you’ll see them quickly searching twigs and foliage for tiny invertebrates to snack upon.  Though common in woodlands during autumn migration, only a few will remain for winter, mostly in the vicinity of pines and often in small flocks with other small birds such as chickadees and Brown Creepers.  During freezing weather, kinglets probe beneath peeling bark and chunks of rotting wood for overwintering insects, including their eggs and larvae.  On rare occasions, they will visit bird feeding stations to nibble on suet.

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Wild Turkey
A warm weekend will give foraging Wild Turkeys a chance to continue finding protein-rich grasshoppers and crickets before freezing weather forces them to transition to seeds, berries, acorns, hickory nuts, and other fare for sustenance.  Watch for gobblers and hens in forest clearings while you’re out and about having a gander at the fall foliage.

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Monarch
After somehow finding refuge from freezing temperatures during recent nights, Monarch butterflies were on the move in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed this afternoon. This one was photographed taking a break to recharge on nectar from flowering Frost Aster, also known as Heath Aster.

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Merlin
Lightning fast, a migrating Merlin quickly passes a raptor counting station’s lookout.  The falcons are on their way south right now, so be certain to click the “Hawkwatcher’s Helper” tab at the top of this page to locate a hawk watch near you.  Then pack a snack and go sit for a while to enjoy the birds and the autumn foliage.

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Hermit Thrushes
Earlier today, these migrants were found feeding on berries along the edge of a forest clearing in northern Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.  Can you find the three Hermit Thrushes among the early successional growth seen here?   For extra credit, identify the three species of berry-producing pioneer plants that are shown.  For additional credit, which one of these plants is a non-native invasive species?   Click the image to see how you did.

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Northern Flicker
The Northern Flicker is one of four migratory woodpeckers currently working their way south through the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.  Flickers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, not only transit the area each spring and fall, but remain in lesser numbers for the winter.  And while a population of each of the first three are regular breeders in our region, thus allowing observers to see these species year-round, the sapsucker nests only to our north.

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Lesser Angle-winged Katydid
The Lesser Angle-winged Katydid (Microcentrum retinerve) is a common late-summer and early-autumn inhabitant of treetops.  Males like this one are recognized by the brown spot seen dorsally just behind the head.  Most active at night, they are sometimes attracted to artificial light.  But owing to their affinity for arboreal life and their superb leaf-like camouflage, these and other katydids are more often heard than seen.  The song of the Lesser Angle-winged Katydid is a set of two or three rattles given in quick succession and repeated at one second intervals.  In response to decreasing temperatures during the fall, the song becomes progressively slower and the interval between sets of rattles increases.  A hard frost ends the chorus for the year.

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Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar
During autumn, fuzzy caterpillars crossing roads and trails are a familiar sight throughout the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.  In oak-hickory forests you may encounter the stunningly beautiful Hickory Tussock Moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillar, but don’t touch it; the spine-like bristles are mildly venomous.  Some people react with skin irritation and rashes after contact.  This native species rarely defoliates its host trees.  When it does, it’s usually just weeks before the deciduous leaves would fall, so the overall health of the plant is little affected.  To balance the population, there are numerous avian and terrestrial predators that feed upon both the larval and adult stages of the Hickory Tussock Moth.

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Yesterday, October 7th, 2022, was hardly a date which will live in infamy, but it was the day that our late-season Ruby-throated Hummingbird fueled up on nectar, bathed in sunshine, and then terminated its layover in the garden at the susquehannawildlife.net headquarters to resume its flight to tropical wintering grounds.  Farewell little friend, have a safe journey.

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Butterflies of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed: Horace's Duskywing
A small butterfly with flights extending into October, the Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) is an easily overlooked inhabitant of forest clearings in the vicinity of oaks, particularly Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), a favorite larval foodplant.

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Yellowjacket Hover Fly
With today’s abundance of sunshine, the storm-related cold snap has come to an end and autumn insects were again out and about in the lower Susquehanna region.  Yellowjacket Hover Flies (Milesia virginiensis) are important pollinators, feeding on flower nectar along the edges of forests and in meadows.  These harmless mimics of yellowjacket wasps not only resemble their ill-tempered lookalikes in appearance, but they produce similar buzzy wing sounds too.  Yellowjacket Hover Flies are known colloquially as “news bees” due to their habit of lingering around people and constantly “giving them the news”.  The larvae are as beneficial as the adults, feeding on decaying plant matter in rotting wood.  Larvae of some other members of their family, the Syrphidae, feed on aphids.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Having arrived yesterday during a break in the storm, this Ruby-throated Hummingbird spent a rain soaked fourth of October feeding on nectar among the abundant blooms covering the Mexican Cigar plants at susquehannawildlife.net headquarters.  When the remains of Hurricane Ian finally depart the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed, it’ll resume its flight to the tropics for the winter.  And yes, October is late for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in our region.  Throughout autumn, each passing day increases the likelihood of a hummingbird found here being one of the hardy species from western North America, so look carefully at any you see this fall.

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Golden Eagle
An early-season Golden Eagle passes the lookout at Second Mountain Hawk Watch in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, today.  This eagle is not an adult.  White in the tail indicates that it has not yet reached its fifth year of life.  It may have spent the summer wandering well south of breeding grounds in northeastern Canada, then, upon commencing autumn migration, arrived here well ahead of the nesting birds.  To learn more about determining the age of Golden Eagles, click the “Golden Eagle Aging Chart” tab at the top of this page.  Though the large flights of Broad-winged Hawks are done for 2022, the greatest number of other raptors, including Golden Eagles, will be passing local counting stations during the coming five weeks, so be certain to also click the “Hawkwatcher’s Helper” tab to find details on regional sites that you can visit.

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Mammals of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed: A White-footed Mouse Peers from its Nest
Uncle Tyler Dyer reminds all his vegetarian friends to speak clearly when ordering the “House Salad” in a noisy restaurant, otherwise you may go hungry.  Unlike Uncle Ty, the White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus), seen here in its nest, is omnivorous, so it seldom goes hungry.

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Common Raven
Resembling an overgrown crow with a wedge-shaped tail, the Common Raven is an oft times comical corvid; this one twisting its head to have a gander at observers on a ridgetop hawk-counting lookout.

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Purple Finch feeding on Green Ash seeds.
It seems a bit early, but Purple Finches are indeed beginning to transit the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed on their way south. This one is feeding on the abundance of seeds produced by a Green Ash that has, at least thus far, survived the Emerald Ash Borer invasion.

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Vallisneria "Pearling" as it Produces Oxygen
Submersed aquatic plants in streams, lakes, ponds, bays, and estuaries do more than take up nutrients and provide habitat for fish and other organisms, they produce oxygen during photosynthesis.  Here we see tapegrass (Vallisneria) in bright sunlight releasing a visible string of oxygen bubbles, an emission known as “pearling”.  British chemist, theologian, and philosopher Joseph Priestly (1733-1804), who spent his final decade residing along the Susquehanna in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, isolated oxygen during experiments in 1774 by exposing mercuric oxide to direct sunlight.  During the following year, Priestly published his findings in “An Account of Further Discoveries in Air”, describing what he called “dephlogisticated air”, the gas later named oxygen.  To observe and record the effects of pure oxygen in the absence of atmospheric air, Priestly first tested it on a mouse, then breathed it himself.