Not Every Forest Within The Reddish Stain Is Plagued By Gypsy Moths Every Year. If The Areas With Intense Infestations In Any Given Year Were Shown As A Darker Color On The Map, We Would See The Darker Areas Pulsating Appearing And Disappearing. Just Because Gypsy Moths Have Been A Problem In A Forest Once Doesn’T Mean They’Ll Be A Problem There Again. If We Were To Examine The Map On A Finer Scale, We’D See That Some Forests Within The Stain Have Had Gypsy Moth Population Explosions Numerous Times, While Others Have Never Been Bothered.
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The Forest I Was In Suffered An Outbreak Of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars In 1981, But They Haven’T Been Back Since. Like Most Things In Nature, We Do Not Entirely Understand What Is Happening. Why Do Caterpillar Populations Explode In Some Areas And Not In Others In Any Given Year? Is It Related To The Spread Of Predators Or Parasites, Or Small-Scale Weather Patterns? Who Knows? Some Interesting Research Has Linked Mice And Gypsy Moth Populations With “Masting” Oak Trees That Is, Oaks That Are Producing Many More Acorns Than Usual In A Given Year. But This Certainly Doesn’T Explain All The Variation.
On The Gypsy Moths’ Home Ground In Asia, There Lives A Fungus Deadly To The Caterpillars. In 1910, Early In The Battle, This Fungus Was Imported And Released. To Everyone’S Disappointment, The Experiment Failed. But Then, Seventy-Nine Years Later, After Everyone Involved In The Experiment Was Dead, The Very Same Fungus Caused A Massive Die-Off Of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars In New England. It Is Impossible To Say If The Killer Fungus Came From The Original Introduction Or Some Other, Accidental Introduction, Or If The Spores Found Their Way Here Naturally, Perhaps On Air Currents. More Natural Mysteries We Cannot Yet Solve.
This Forest Is Known For Its Tall White Pines, But There Are Also Many Leafy Trees Here, Including Oak, Hop Hornbeam, And Big Tooth Aspen. These Last Two Are Favorite Foods Of The Ruffed Grouse, A Strange Bird More At Home On The Ground Than In The Sky. Grouse Like To Eat Tree Buds Through The Winter And Early Spring, And Pollen-Producing Catkins In The Late Spring. In The Summer, The Fan-Tailed Birds Turn To Other Foods, Including Caterpillars And Amphibians. (One Hunter Found A Live Salamander On A Bed Of Watercress In A Ruffed Grouse’S Stomach.) All Of These Foods Are More Abundant In An Older Forest, So When Ancient Forest Acreage Shrinks The Grouse Populations Shrink, Too. A Famous Example Of This Is A Bird Survey In Ohio In 1906. The Survey Found Abundant Grouse In One County Before The Forests Were Cut; After They Were Cut, Grouse Were No Longer Found There.
Many Hikers, Myself Included, Have Been Startled By An Animal Rushing Out At Them From The Dense Undergrowth Along The Side Of A Trail. The Momentary Fear Is Real, But Once The Heartbeat Slows, Knowing One Has Seen A Grouse In The Wild Makes The Fright More Than Worth It.
You Are Much More Likely To Hear A Grouse Than See One, Especially During The Spring Courtship Season. Like Most Male Birds, The Ruffed Grouse Emits Sounds To Claim Its Territory And Attract Females, But Unlike Most Birds, It Doesn’T Call Vocally. Instead, It Beats Its Wings Against The Air, Generating Low, Slow, Thumping Pulsations That Gradually Speed Up. The First Time They Hear It, Most People Don’T Realize The Drumming Is Coming From A Bird. As One Writer Put It In The Colorful Language Of 1913, “It Is The Bird’S Best Expression Of Its Abounding Vigor And Virility, And Signifies That The Drummer Is Ready For Love Or War.”
A Male Grouse Always Drums From The Same Exact Spot, Facing The Same Direction. He Prefers The Root End Of A Large, Old, Moss-Covered Tree That Has Fallen Naturally, A Perch That Enables Him To See Farther Through The Forest. He Prefers A Hardwood Forest, Too, For The Same Reason: With Leaves Off The Trees In The Early Spring, He Can Spy Potential Mates Or Predators Approaching. If You Convert An Old Hardwood Forest To A Young Pine Plantation, You Are Converting It To A Place Without The Sight Or Sounds Of Ruffed Grouse.
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