River Talk


TRR photos by Scott Rando

This fawn is displaying its spots as well as the typical reddish coat of summer. These fawns, like adult deer are molting (or shedding), and the fawns lose their spots at this time as the summer coat is replaced by the darker winter coat.

Mammal madness

Well, its September now; the kids are back to school and some folks have made preparations to close summer cottages for the season. It is still officially summer, and green still abounds in the environment, but there are subtle changes that can be seen that tell of a change of seasons.


TRR photos by Sandy Long

The white tussock hickory moth caterpillar is not the demon it’s sometimes perceived to be. 

Maligned and misunderstood

When it comes to our knowledge of the natural world, what we don’t know (or what we have been misinformed about via social media or exaggerated claims often fueled by fear) can cause harm. These misunderstandings sometimes lead to unfortunate outcomes for the targeted species.


Timber rattlesnakes are one of the two venomous snakes found in the region, and they can blend in well to their surroundings. Fortunately for us, they will only strike as a last resort and will usually rattle as a warning. When hiking or working in known rattlesnake habitat, keep an eye to the ground and flip any objects like planks of wood, etc., so that any critter can escape away from you.

Herps: masters of disguise

You’ve probably walked on a forest path or even a secondary road this summer in the morning when it was still cool and spotted bright red or orange newts on the trail or roadway. These are the commonly found red efts, or the immature stage of the red-spotted newt. Almost a florescent orange, they look as if they want to be found.


TRR photos by Sandy Long

This periodical cicada was photographed in 2013 and was one of the new generation of Brood II that emerged in substantial numbers that year, particularly in Staten Island, NY. There are 12 broods in the eastern half of the United States that have a 17-year life cycle and three that mature every 13 years. Thirteen-year broods live mostly in the south, and 17-year broods live primarily in the north. Visit magicicada.org/magicicada/general_information to learn more about periodical cicadas. 

Cicadas: summer singers

Forests of the Upper Delaware River region are currently filled with the sounds of summer insects. I enjoy hearing them signal the rising heat of the day, or falling asleep with the windows open as the mesmerizing calls bring the night alive.


TRR photos by Scott Rando

This is one of several monarch butterflies seen at Shohola Marsh on a day in early August. Most of them were feeding on nectar from the many wildflowers along the access roads. Although I saw lots of milkweed, most of the feeding damage I observed was from milkweed tussock caterpillars, not monarch caterpillars.

A few more monarchs around this summer

I have been seeing something this summer that, for the most part, has been missing during the last few summers. The once plentiful monarch butterfly, which I did not see in the wild, or saw only one or two a year, has become easier to spot this year.


TRR photos by Sandy Long

The Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society is seeking photos of polypore mushrooms found in the Upper Delaware River region, such as this edible species, Chicken of the Woods. Polypores are also sometimes referred to as shelf mushrooms due to their tendency to grow from the sides of trees.

Fascinated with fungi?

You are walking along a forested trail when a glowing orange mass among the trees catches your attention. Closer inspection reveals it to be a beautiful bracket fungus commonly called Chicken of the Woods.


TRR photos by Scott Rando

This mink was rolling around when I first saw it, maybe trying to bask in what little sun was trying to sneak through a low-level stratus layer. They are more active at night and early mornings but can be seen during the day. 

The mind of a mink

I was walking along a lake on a Pennsylvania Game Land tract a few days back when I saw a dark furry shape in some grass not too far off. It was rolling around on its back in the dew-laden grass, seemingly without a care in the world.


TRR photos by Sandy Long

This beetle got a lift back to its natural habitat after finding itself stranded in my home. To relocate an insect, grab a cup and a card, or a sturdy piece of junk mail. Calmly place the cup over the insect, carefully slide the card underneath to gently trap the bug, then relocate it outdoors. As frightening as insects can sometimes appear, they are usually harmless and would like to be left alone. 

Don't bash that bug!

A big black beetle crawls across your kitchen floor as you patter past in your bare feet. A sense of panic sets in. What to do? Smash it to smithereens? NO! NO! NO! Despite their sometimes frightful appearance, insects are fascinating and wonderful creatures, often harmed out of fear and a lack of knowledge.


This green frog has ridges down each side of its back, evident even under water. Both green frogs and bullfrogs share the main indicator of sex: in a male, the tympanum (ear) is much wider than the eye, and a female has a tympanum of equal size or slightly smaller than the eye. This is a female.

True frogs and ‘bull’ frogs

A month or so back, I was on a bird walk and we passed a small shallow pond. A frog was spotted on the far side of the pond, a little too far for a close look with binoculars. It looked like it could have been a green frog. Someone said, “That’s a bullfrog, it’s got a green head and brown back!” Was he right or wrong?


TRR photos by Sandy Long

This Northern Water Snake is preparing to shed its skin, as indicated by the cloudy bluish appearance of its eyes, due to the old skin and lymph fluid secreted to enable shedding.

Know the Northern Water Snake

With summer in full swing, many of us are spending as much time as possible enjoying recreational activities on regional waters. This increases the likelihood that we might encounter one of the Upper Delaware River Valley’s common reptiles, the Northern Water Snake.

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