PSU Deer Study

This week was tough. Monday and Tuesday we visited a plot that is about ¾ of a mile from the truck, but the quickest (and most efficient way) to get there is not a straight route from point A to point B.

The plot is at the top of a steep ridge (25-30 degree, 45-60% slope), about 3/10 of a mile from the trail. We found a secondary trail to get us closer, but even with that lucky find we still had to bushwhack the last 1/3 of the trek. 

Deer-Forest Study

It may not look like much in the photo, but this slope made for a VERY difficult climb on Monday and Tuesday. 

All of this is perfectly fine and expected at this point in the field season. Some plots are tough to get to. We know this. We can handle this.

What we cannot handle is 100 degree heat index IN THE FOREST. This week was incredibly hot and humid. When the heck did I move to Florida?!

Monday the truck temperature read 98 degrees when we left Bald Eagle State Forest. That is by far the hottest I’ve ever seen it get in the woods in the three field seasons I’ve been doing this. 

The problem with the heat is that it really lowers morale and productivity. You can’t escape it. It’s everywhere, and your body exhausts itself trying to keep your temperature regulated. It’s hard to stay sharp and collect good data, even with adequate breaks and cool water available. 

Despite the heat we managed to stay on schedule Monday and Tuesday. We were back to our regular schedule of two days per plot, one day for vegetation surveys, the other for soils, canopy photos, and fence fixing.

Much to our surprise, the plot looked more like it should be September rather than July when we arrived on Monday. A lot of the black birch seedlings at the site were already changing color. It has been particularly hot and dry at our field sites. 

Our last significant rainstorms were in early June. I suspect that is stressing the trees, especially up on these rocky, exposed ridged. We also found hemlocks that were severely infected with Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Several of the large hemlocks were in poor condition this year, indicating a long-lasting infection. Without pesticide treatment or severe winter die-off, this pest will eventually kill the trees.

Deer-Forest Study

These birch seedlings are already turning color as if they are preparing for fall. This was not an issue the last two years we visited this plot. 

Deer-Forest Study

This hemlock sapling is severely infected with Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, which will eventually kill it. 

Tuesday was tough because we were already exhausted from the Monday heat, but we persevered.  We worked a bit extra on Tuesday because of the difficult access to the plot (better to get it finished than have to come back a third day!).  As a nice morale boost we found TWO SHEDS! Both from the same deer (we think)! Every one of my crew members now has a shed to call their very own from this field season. Way to go!

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Teanna and Aaron showing off their newly found sheds. 

I convinced my crew to work an extra-long day and try to complete all of our tasks (vegetation surveys, soil sampling, canopy photos, and fixing fences) in one day on Wednesday. The motivation was an extra day off which we desperately needed after our sauna experience on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday’s plot, though easy to access, was particularly far and a difficult drive (over 1hr 30min). We worked through lunch, completing most of our tasks in a timely fashion until about 3pm. Then, the heat reigned supreme and our productivity slowed to a snail’s pace. It took us twice as long to complete the remaining tasks, but we pushed through and got them done. It was nearly dark when we returned to campus, but the extra day off was definitely worth it. 

-Danielle Begley-Miller
Ph.D. graduate student
Department of Ecosystem Science and Management
PA Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit


This Week’s Deer Plate Special!

Common Name: Trillium (for several different species)

Scientific names: Trillium erectum, Trillium undulatum, and Trillium grandiflorum

Description: A perennial understory forest herb that uses a rhizome for energy storage. Trilliums are a part of the bunch flower family (Melanthiaceae), and are iconic forest herbs that produce a single flower (purple, white, or pink and white depending on the species) from the top of the stem in April to May.

Trillium’s three leaves are arranged in a 12 o’clock, 5 o’clock, and 7 o’clock pattern from a single stem. This plant is often confused with Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), which has leaves arranged in a 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, and 9 o’clock pattern.

After flowering, trillium will produce a single red berry (regardless of species) at the top of the stem. Berries are produced in late May through June, and can stay on the plant through the entirety of summer if they are not disturbed. In areas with low deer browsing, several stems can sprout from one rhizome, yielding multi-stem trillium patches.

Location: Trillium are more common in northern Pennsylvania but can be found throughout the state. T. undulatum is more likely to be found where soils have lower pH and are lacking in calcium, potassium, and magnesium.

Size: Trillium can vary widely in height, from 2’’ up to 2-3ft when individuals are reproductive and protected from herbivory. Once again, size and reproduction of this plant is dependent on browsing history. A heavily browsed individual is less likely to flower and can be reduced to very small size (~2’’) if browsing is repeated year after year. Trilliums will not produce new leaves (in the same growing season) after being browsed. 

Wildlife Value: Birds and small mammals eat the berries.  Preferred by deer.  As with the hairy Solomon’s seal, deer browse the entire plant, nipping off the leaves from the middle to bottom of the stem.

Photos below are two of the three species listed above. Trillium erectum has purple flowers, while Trillium undulatum has white flowers with a pink coloration near the base. Trillium grandiflorum, not pictured, has an all-white flower. 

Deer-Forest Study

Deer-Forest Study

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