NexGen Blog New

Encounters with Black “Bearies”

Written by Rachel S., a Bucktails and Ursids graduate and ATL, this blog describes her close encounter with a black bear while out enjoying the “berry” delicious offerings her black berry patch had available that day!

Fresh black berries make for a tasty and refreshing summer snack. It seems, though, that I wasn’t the only one with this treat on my mind. On Friday August 21, a black bear came to pick berries with me.

A tasty summer treat ripe for the picking!

The location of my home is smack in the middle of prime berry hunting land, which also makes it prime habitat for black bear. We have loads of blueberries, raspberries, and black berries to name a few, so every summer it’s almost a guarantee that when something is ripe, I’m out harvesting. For years I’ve gone berry picking and the only run-ins with wildlife have been the flashing white tail of a doe bounding off through the woods or a rabbit scampering through the underbrush. Of course, with berries being a food source for bears too, I was always careful of my surroundings, but it seems I had grown complacent.

My black berry patch for the day was located right along our dirt road. If you’ve ever been black berry picking then you know the hazards involved with the activity; the plants grow very thick and tall and have obscenely big thorns that like to grab onto passersby. I don’t mind wading into the thickets for the nicest berries, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to pick from safer grounds, like a road.

The telephone pole covered in scratches and marks.

The patch began underneath an apple tree by a telephone pole. Making my way around the pole I noticed that the side facing away from the road was marked up and some of the top layer of wood was missing. On closer inspection, I found dark hair stuck in some of the splinters. Being in the middle of a black berry patch it made sense that these could be bear signs. It was very interesting to see, but I dismissed the thought that any bear would be in the near vicinity with all the noise I was making. For another 20 minutes or so, I continued foraging along the side of the road.

I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for the snap of a twig, I would have never seen this bear until it was right alongside me. Hearing that snap is the only reason I turned around to see a fuzzy black face moving in my direction just on the other side of the road. I know that like any other wild animal, black bear can move with ease through the woods, but I never imagined that such a bulky creature could be so quiet and graceful.

Further evidence that I was in bear territory. Some hair left behind by a recent visitor.

My heart started pounding with excitement and a twinge of fear. Its size probably ranged somewhere between 150 and 200 pounds and it was that beautiful silky black characteristic of these animals. The bear kept making its way toward me so I lifted up my hands to show it I was there; this way it wouldn’t be startled, as it had startled me. After seeing me, the bear simply turned around and trotted back the way it had come. It took quite a while for my heart to settle down as I stood shaking with delight at having seen a bear. Not only did I have a great day for berry picking, I was also visited by one of my wildlife neighbors, reminding me that I should always be aware when out and about.​

White Breasted Nuthatch – Sitta carolinensis

Eli, a Brookies and Ursids student and ATL, writes about the white breasted nuthatch, sharing ways to identify the bird, as well as other interesting information!  

“The White Breasted Nuthatch is a very common bird and is found throughout the United States and Southern Canada in a variety of deciduous woodland habitats. It is often seen climbing down tree trunks head first foraging, Nuthatches are the only birds that commonly exhibit that behavior. White Breasted Nuthatches produce a loud, distinct ‘’yank, yank’’ call as well as a ‘’er, er call’’. Both calls are easily heard and can pierce through dense woodland vegetation with ease. They do not display sexual dimorphism, with both males and female exhibiting the same white and blue plumage. The black cap on the head, the white underside, and the little blue back are all good identifying marks for the White Breasted Nuthatch.

White Breasted Nuthatches are very opportunistic and will feed on a large variety of insects and seeds. They frequently visit backyard bird feeders, and they are often seen feeding on suet feeders.

White Breasted Nuthatches are careful when approaching feeders, and they often stop on branches around the feeder to make sure it is safe.

The White Breasted Nuthatch is cavity nester often making its nest in dead trees, and will sometimes construct nests in bird boxes. The eggs are white with dark markings, and they are laid in clutches of 3 to 10. After a 12 day incubation period, the eggs hatch, and after two weeks in the nest, the young fledge. The fledglings do not reach breeding age until they are one or two years of age.

Nuthatches display a wide variety of behaviors and adaptations, and are very intriguing to observe. Unfortunately, they are so common that they are often overlooked and few people take time to watch how they interact with the natural world.  Everyone from the beginning birder to the expert ornithologist should take time to observe and learn about the wonderful White Breasted Nuthatch. ”


Words of Wisdom

Shared with us by Tracy, a Bucktails and Ursids student, this photo encourages us to take the time to stop and enjoy nature, no matter how busy we are.

"Nature is everywhere. It's all about taking the time to notice it."

“Nature is everywhere. It’s all about taking the time to notice it.”


Stag Beetle Adventures

This post is shared with us by Cole T., a 2015 Bucktail, who encourages everyone to get out in nature and document their adventures!

Stage Beetle photo captured in action

Stage Beetle photo captured in action

“On my way to work in the morning, this fairly large Stag Beetle crossed my path.  As you may notice, I took this picture with my cell phone.  I want to stress the importance of this.  I encourage everyone reading this to go outside and bring your cell phone and a journal.  You don’t need an expensive camera to be able to go outside and enjoy nature.  Please try that at least once this summer.  Go on adventures, and document them in a nature journal.  You don’t have to be a great artist.  I’m certainly not.  But it’s very fun to draw and write about different things.  It really helps you appreciate nature more.”


Birds Have Wings: Crazy Vagrants

This post is written by Eli, a 2014 Brookie, and avid birder.  He has a number of feeders near his home, as well maintaining a sanctuary area for birds of all kinds to enjoy.  Eli is also a boy scout, and often instructs younger scouts on good birding practices.  Here, he writes about vagrant birds, and some of the reasons they will occasionally be spotted in nontraditional locations.  All photos are also taken by Eli.



Applications are now available for both youth and adult mentors for the 2015 summer field schools including Bucktails, Brookies  Drummers, and Ursids!  Click here to learn more.

Two weeks ago, I was leading the bird chat at the Appalachian Audubon Society meeting. There were the usually juncos, cardinals, titmice and other usual suspects as birders call them being reported. Then out of the blue one Auduboner shouted out, ‘’Brown Thrasher!’’ Upon hearing this, the rest of the group let out a big ‘’aww’’ immediately followed by some quiet murmuring among the more experienced birders. As the witness to the sighting testifies in front of the birding ‘’jury”, the jurors either convince the witness he or she is wrong, or the sighting is confirmed and the witness is congratulated. In this case, the evidence stood and the sighting was confirmed.

Unfortunately, the trial did not reveal the reason for this bird’s utter ignorance of traditional migratory patterns. Instead of the Gulf Coast, this hardy bird chose to stick it out in Pennsylvania, where it was a balmy -2 degrees. These are the birds that completely ignored their traditional migratory patterns and instead do what they want. They are called vagrant birds, and Up until recently, we knew little about them and what made them go so far off course (or not). The recent increase in participation in citizen science has helped unveil some of the mystery about bird migration and even found some previously un-known migratory routes. Here are some reasons that birds may become vagrants and some recent vagrants that have been found in our neck of the flyway.

Red Breasted Merganser

Red Breasted Merganser

Birds are hardy animals that can survive both extreme heat and cold. Temperature doesn’t greatly affect the birds themselves, but temperature does affect insects that many birds depend upon for food during the summer months. When cold weather hits, some birds such as flycatchers and thrushes (like the Brown Thrasher) head south, others like the Chickadee and Cardinal switch to eating seeds and berries during the cold winter months. Still other birds only go as far south as necessary like the Bald Eagle and Eastern Blue Bird. Often times, a few birds will find a stockpile of insects such as an ant mound or wasp’s nest and stay longer on their breeding grounds, hence making them vacate their normal migratory route.

One of the newest theories on the why birds vacate their routes is that it is a natural way for the species to expand its range and increase genetic diversity in the flock. If the ‘’sacrificed’’ bird survives, the species expands its range. If not, one or two birds dying is no big loss to the flock. This theory has come about largely since citizen science projects, such as Cornell’s Great Back Yard Bird Count, allow for ornithologists to examine large quantities of data quickly without having to spend hours in the field collecting the data. This new found resource has led to creation of extremely detailed range maps. This large scale data collection has led to scientists discovering that Rufus Hummingbirds come east before heading south for Mexico. One bird that was banded in Alaska, was re-captured in December in Pennsylvania!

Long Tailed Duck

Long Tailed Duck

Storms are another common source for bird vagrancy. Strong winds and poor weather often disorient birds making them turn up in places they shouldn’t be. Bad weather also has another effect on bird migration, fall-out. Fall-out is when there is a large storm off the coast during migration. Birds flying over the ocean at this time become extremely tired from the less than optimal flying conditions. As a result, they land on the first spit of land they can find. This effect is called fall-out because the tired birds seem to just fall-out of the sky. Fall out occurs commonly at places such as Cape May, New Jersey and South Padre Island in Brownville, Texas.

You may have been wondering how birders react when they find one of these vagrant birds. Well, usually if a good bird is found, within the first 24 hours the location is up on the internet where birders are looking for reports of rarities. After the tech birders find out about the bird, mobs of them show up at the location within the first 48 hours of it being reported. After the first mob finds the bird, all of their less tech-savvy friends find out about the bird, and they arrive soon after the tech birders. If the bird has not left by the time the more casual bird watchers find out about it and get to its location, a flood of these “weekend” birders will venture out to see the spectacle. This sometimes results in large ‘’bird jams” in the vicinity of the bird’s location.

Some other feathered friends who stopped in for a visit!

Some other feathered friends who stopped in for a visit!

Nature never fails to surprise us, and vagrant birds are no expectation. Go out and look for these amazing animals but remember to respect private land and other birders. Never get too close to the bird and never disturb a nest or nest cavity. If you follow these guidelines, you enjoy chasing birds for many years to come.


Thanks and Good Birding,