I just spent about two weeks with my Army National Guard unit at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. This large PA National Guard training area has lots of interesting wildlife, including the only eastern population of the Regal Fritillary, a large orange butterfly. There were a few public butterfly walks, but I was training at the time. The base has a very active conservation management program and The Nature Conservancy sponsored by the National Guard has been conducting studies on the butterfly and its management since 1992.
I've been to the Gap about 5 times in the last 10 years and have had some good wildlife sightings here. This is the only place I have ever seen two particular species of salamanders, the Northern Red Salamander and the Long-tailed salamander. Both are pretty striking species.
My unit's field exercise was next to a large area that is maintained as a grassland. There were quite a few Grasshopper Sparrows, Field Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks singing in the area as well as a pair of resident American Kestrels that hunted the fields. The field we were in had butterfly weed and lots of Dogbane with lots of Dogbane Leaf Beetles eating them. Some butterflies I saw were Common Buckeye, Monarch, Red Admiral, Pipevine Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Yellow Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail and Pearl Crescent.
I believe FTIG has the largest intact grasslands remaining in the northeast. Disturbance from track vehicles as well as small fires started by training exercises contribute to the maintenance of the grasslands. Annual mowing also keeps the woody plants at bay. In historic times the disturbance from large herds of bison and natural and man-made fires are thought to have maintained the grasslands. The biggest drops in grassland species have been in the last 40 years as suburban sprawl is thought to have fragmented remnant grasslands.
This past week I also saw quite a few large Green Scarab Beetles (Cotinus nitida) buzzing around. I saw a posting from Ohio that proclaimed the annual terrorizing of gardeners and unsuspecting people outdoors had begun. Because they are large and loud and like to cruise 2 or 3 feet off the ground when flying, they frequently induce panic in those that are unfamiliar with them. I can attest to witnessing several people in my unit beating hasty retreats when the beetles appeared. Because the beetles emerge around the same time there were often 3 or 4 in the air around us at the same time. I excused myself from several conversations to chase them down and catch them.
Walking on a bridge over a small stream I saw a large wood turtle sunning itself on a rock. When it gets hot, wood turtles move to the water to cool off. The only snakes I saw were Eastern Garter Snakes, which I declined to catch because of their habit of crapping on me.
When I was at FTIG back in September of 2007 for a medical course I spent a few hours at the Second Mountain Hawkwatch, that is conducted on one of the ridges on the base. I saw a few Osprey, many turkey vultures and lots of migrating Monarch butterflies. I think they had 5 or 6 Bald Eagles that day, but it was before I arrived. I also took a walk down one of the trails and found quite a few large dusky salamanders and red efts (immature red spotted newts) as well as a spectacular large orange and black millipede (Apheloria virginiensis) shown in the picture above.
On my way home in September I passed through Swatara Gap State Park where I saw some cool black anthills near the river. The surface sand was white but there must have been a coal seam just underground since all the anthills were black. Near the same location I found a few marine fossils from the Ordovician period, mostly horn corals and brachiopods.
Lepidoptera of Fort Indiantown Gap - Paper describing the unique habitats and conservation importance of FTIG.
Turkey Vulture Migration Project - radio tracking TVs in Pennsylvania