PSU Deer Study

This week was pretty straightforward.  We continued our streak of collecting soils a majority of the week. We did vegetation surveys on Monday, and collected soils Tuesday through Thursday.  We spent the entire week (and the last several weeks) in Bald Eagle State Forest. 

The hike Monday and Tuesday was a relatively long one (~1.25 miles), but luckily it was flat and on a trail. I like to visit this plot because we usually find some cool things on the way. Our finds this year included a group of stump sprouting American chestnut trees (we’re getting good at spotting these!), lots of signs of bear, and an old bird’s nest.

The coolest thing about the bear scat? It clearly had straw in it. I had the opportunity to go out and help trap some bears the weekend before we visited this plot, and I know for a fact the PGC was trapping bears in the area. They fill the bottom of the trap with straw, so it’s likely this was a bear that was o’-too-tempted by those out-of-date pastries. Whether the bear was caught or not? We’ll never know!

Deer-Forest Study Deer-Forest Study

Deer-Forest Study

Another American chestnut tree, some bear scat, and an old bird’s nest were some of our neat finds on the way to do vegetation surveys on Monday. 

Tuesday was a tough soils day. The soils were rockier than usual (is that possible?!), and at one particular hole we pulled out what seemed like dozens of pounds of small rocks. We got the sample, but it took more than an hour. 

Deer-Forest Study

Teanna holding up her treasure after digging around for more than 60 minutes on Tuesday. 

Wednesday and Thursday were uneventful; we revisited a couple plots where we had already completed vegetation surveys. We saw a broad-winged hawk on Wednesday perched in a snag, along with a red-backed vole surveying us while we dug soil sample out of one of the subplots. (I guess it was the vole’s lucky day—we saw it after the hawk )

Thursday we again collected soils, maintained some fences, and took canopy photos of the site [allows us to measure how much sunlight reaches the forest floor]. This site is up an old log landing in a remote part of the state forest.

The road in has been invaded by Japanese stiltgrass and garlic mustard due to human activity. So far, the plots remain intact (no invasion), and the garlic mustard seems to be succumbing to powdery mildew (a fungus). Fortunately, the mildew will eventually kill the plant and stop its spread. It’s pretty cool to see a battle like this in action!  

Deer-Forest Study

Garlic mustard (the large “round” leaves) under attack from powdery mildew fungus in Bald Eagle State Forest.

Next week we have a really tough plot to visit, so it was nice to have an uneventful and relatively easy week! 

-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: Hairy Solomon’s Seal

Scientific name: Polygonatum pubescens

Description: A perennial understory forest herb with an underground storage organ called a rhizome. If carefully excavated, one will see a knotty rhizome with small divots in each knot. This is where the scientific name comes from—the knots were thought to look like knees (polygonatum means many knees). The leaves are alternately arranged and the stem presents with a slight zig-zag pattern. Flowers appear at the base of the leaf stem (axils) in pairs in April to May and early June. Fruits are dark blue to violet and appear in late June and July. Fine hairs coat the underside of the leaves, but not the surface. The hair is the only distinguishing feature between this plant and smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), a close relative. 

Size: Plants are usually small (<3 ft in height), with most individuals <1 ft tall in areas with abundant deer browsing.  Size and reproduction of this plant is dependent on browsing history. Smaller, non-reproductive individuals are more likely to have been browsed by an herbivore than large plants in the recent past. 

Wildlife Value:  Flowers attract hummingbirds and bees which consume the nectar and, in the case of some bees, collect the pollen.  Birds such as grouse and thrushes eat the berries.  Deer will browse entire plant and consume the foliage. 

Deer-Forest Study 

Deer-Forest Study

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