Vultures, Disappearing Fungus, and Fairies
October 18, 2012: Returning to Fort Washington State Park this week, a few participants immediately began collecting acorn caps, moss, and other suitable small natural objects to decorate the interior of the fairy house they began constructing last week.
Before heading to the pine grove, we stopped at the Hawk Watch platform. One participant heard a hawk’s cry overhead as we approached the platform and spotted a red-tailed hawk. The Hawk Watch compilers kindly brought out their extra binoculars for us to use, and our group used some of the spotting information we learned last week to identify vultures and red-tailed hawks and to tell the difference between black vultures and turkey vultures. (For more information about turkey vultures and tons of great information about birds in general, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
We also checked out the antics of the squirrels and chipmunks around the feeder area. “Is that a nuthatch?” one participant asked as the group generally showed more awareness and knowledge of the birds at the feeders.
We returned to the pine grove to complete the fairy house and to show a participant who was absent last week the coral fungus we had discovered. We found that the fungus had completely disappeared! Instead, there were many circular areas of disturbed pine needles, and we speculated about what had happened. One person thought an insect could have made the circles, another thought they were left from a deer tracking through, and a few people thought that a mammal like a skunk or raccoon could have made the circles while sniffing out the fungus.
The beginnings of last week’s fairy house had collapsed, but the group quickly mobilized to rebuild, thatch, and decorate the inside of the house, all within about 20 minutes. We then spread out for some quiet observation time in the pine grove, looking outward toward the deciduous trees in the distance. One participant found an insect missing a leg and carefully sketched it before it disappeared into the leaf litter. We noticed the shape of the pines’ lower branches and the shelf mushrooms on a dead tree. I pointed out how the pine needles beneath us were in bundles of five, indicating that the trees were white pines.
From there we made a quick trip to the Wissahickon Creek. One participant discovered animal tracks in the silt. We studied them and thought they might be a raccoon’s. All but one participant wanted to walk through the water. I am not sure why I thought the water temperature might dissuade them. Despite the “minor freezing” feeling they reported, the Talking Stick naturalists gleefully made their way across the creek, seeking out the shallower sections (usually), and asking if they could return next week with their bathing suits.
On our way back to parents, we stopped by another section of the creek to get a look at a basking painted turtle. She was there, and we will check out if she is still there next week.