Sunday, July 31, 2016

Diversity in cracks

I don't really enjoy the Wilkes-Barre cityscape except for some of the restaurants (Cafe Toscana is awesome). Nature seems to make inroads in spite of the city having any vision of green space that I'm aware of. 

I was impressed by a meter x meter plot behind the Wilkes parking garage. There must have been a dozen plant species crammed into the spot and a house finch flew in while I was admiring this patch. 

Big birds of North America

In a new Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History there is an article on a newly discovered fossil from Wyoming of a paleognath - the same group that contains ostriches, emus, rheas, and tinamous. The specimen is about 50 million years old - post dinosaur apocalypse and pre Pleistocene. 

I love the idea of paleognaths in the neighborhood. I wonder though what ecology would look like if we were around then. Would be still have our rules (Bolgers, latitude and species diversity, etc). 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

WEBS 2.0

WEBS (Women Empowered By Science) is one of the great programs that comes out of Wilkes University. This brings middle school girls on campus to do activities with faculty or their lab members with the goal of building interest in science. Last year a news crew from WNEP came did a segment on our efforts

One of my worries is that there's a gap between middle school and college where they might lose interest. To address this I started taking high school girls into the lab and I called it WEBS 2.0. This year I had two high school juniors and they worked on our barcoding project. 

Today was their last day and they asked the best question they could have asked:

"Can we do this next year?"

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Planting pollinator-friendly plants - baby steps

I find campus plants to be exceedingly boring and just reflect what's available at the landscapers. So I'm going to add a little bit here and there. 

This is my first addition. On the east side of the Cohen Science Center I added joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) a few days ago and three smaller common milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca).  In the picture, roses are in the background. 

Up in the greenhouse, I have about twenty more plants growing and when they get 12" (totally arbitrary), I'll plant them outside. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Red squirrel predation on wood thrush nest

We've been monitoring a dozen Wood Thrush nests this summer and about half have failed. We didn't have cameras on them until recently so we weren't sure why they failed. Yesterday, I finally checked out an SD card from a camera that was on a nest in Schnecksville, PA - an area of farmland. 

One photo shows a red squirrel pulling a young fledgling out of the nest. What's remarkable is that red squirrels are largely restricted to pines. So what's this guy doing? 

This nest was doubly damned. It also had a cowbird egg. So even if the squirrel didn't consume the nestlings the cowbird would likely kick out all the nestlings. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Plant babies

Back in May I was just getting started with the persimmon and milkweed babies. They've been growing up!

The persimmons are slow growing but progressing nicely and the tallest is over three feet high but most are about a foot. The swamp milkweed is even more variable: the tallest is a foot but many are a few centimeters (yes I'm using English and metric units). They seem to refuse to grow straight but that's probably my fault. 

The new addition to the family are 24 paw paw (Asimina triloba) seeds that I just planted this morning. 

Paw paw seeds down in the dirt

Persimmon babies

Milkweed babies and toddlers

Milkweed toddlers

Moon Lake State Forest

You don't need to go to Georgia to get a visualization of the Walking Dead set. Moon Lake State Forest opened this year and replaced Moon Lake Park of Luzerne County. 

The fields where my daughter played soccer are covered in hip-high grass. There were no vehicles seen for the first few minutes so it was a surreal seen. 

Now here's the amazing thing. For at least a decade Moon Lake Park was packed with campers - from all over the east coast. Despite the traffic, there were beautiful wildflowers throughout the park including pink lady slippers (not pictured), rattlesnake plantain (a favorite orchid!), wintergreen, and black cohosh (which is anything but subtle). 

Monday, July 11, 2016

16 newbies

We had freshman orientation this weekend (yes, long before school begins - no idea why) and I picked up sixteen new advisees. They ranged from the students with all 5s (top score) on five AP exams and a years worth of college credit to a student that asked class "THE 100" was... that was "The 100".  I probably would have made the same mistake when I was a student.

We ask students to take calculus and biology even if they scored 5 on the respective AP exam so I'm not sure why they would take the class. Kinda screwy.

Of the sixteen students, I suspect we'll get a few that don't show up for classes. Keeping with past experience, another three won't persist past the first year and another three will leave bio after their sophomore year because of orgo. This leaves seven students. Two of these should have taken the hint and left bio and these might even be the worst students. Persistence and reality often make uncomfortable and unbalanced partners in a student's brain - reality napping until the last moment. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wood thrush nest finding success

We've been searching a ton and finding tons of territories but not having much luck finding nests.

The other day I found a male and female checking out an empty nest in Pinchot State Forest. Yesterday - 3 eggs! That gives us ten nests for the year. Pretty pathetic. Hoping the second clutch will be happening soon and we'll pick up a bunch more. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Leave to the Canadians to nail it: Rush's Witch Hunt

Rickett's Glen

On Wednesday, I spent two hours looking for Wood Thrush nests at the "Hayfield" of Rickett's Glen State Park while students measured plant growth and looking at ant species. Two hours of heaven despite not finding a nest (two territorial males though). 

The woods that poke into the fields had a beautiful stand of black cherry trees (Sebastian demonstrates below). The other cool things were a wood frog, American toad, and a super thick section of beech trees. 

Wood frog (this species can be frozen solid [after acclimatization] and revived) 

very young toad

Find the wood frog 
One of the beautiful black cherries encountered 
Looks beautiful but suggests overgrazing 

Find the toad! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Early morning outing: Pinchot State Forest

Since things have really slowed down on the Wood Thrush front, I thought I would go out by myself and just sit and watch an area where I know there are wood thrush. This kinda worked: I found a couple building a nest. So it goes. 

This is where Pine Forest Run meets PA HWY 309. Other birds there included Louisiana Waterthrush (probably nesting), Eastern Phoebe (nesting), Blue Jays, Northern Flicker (or is it Yellow-shafted?), Northern Cardinal, Scarlet Tanager (breeding), Black-and-White Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Veery, Gray Catbird, Downy Woodpecker, American Woodcock, and American Robin. 

Oddly, no Eastern Pewee, cuckoos (seriously, with all the gypsy moths around!), or Great-crested Flycatcher. Or Wood Thrush 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Pinchot State Forest

Yesterday my crew and I spent an exhausting morning looking for wood thrush nest. We explored a section of... well I'm not sure. If you look at Pine Run Road in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, you'll find a large green section that represents a natural area (note that cemeteries show up as green as well). I'm just not sure who owns it. The signs saw Lackawanna State Forest, the Google map suggests Pinchot State Forest or State Game Land 119. So it goes. 

Didn't find any wood thrush nests despite finding several singing males and some females. What was enjoyable was the landscape: steep slopes with several trees that probably were >75 years old (that's old in coal mining country). The part I searched was near PA HWY 309 so there was a human presence more than I normally see. It made for some interesting photos. There also was a large number of American chestnut sprouts.