SPRINGTIME IN THE KEYSTONE STATE
Springtime means more than birds singing and crocuses peeking through the snow. It’s a cue for wildlife to emerge from the winter’s doldrums and begin to wander across the landscape.
What better time is there for people to also venture into the forests and meadows and along the stream banks to observe Pennsylvania wildlife in their natural habitat.
Here’s a list of some nice spots in Lycoming County and surrounding counties to view wildlife and birds during spring:
Looking for some full strut? Wild turkeys can be found in farm fields in the early mornings. By the end of March, the male turkey, called a gobbler, will be decked out in its breeding-season regalia. To entice hens (female turkeys), a gobbler will fan its tail, drag its wing tips on the ground, strut back and forth and let loose with loud gobbles. It’s quite a show. According to the state Game Commission, during the breeding season, male turkeys can be goaded into gobbling with the sound of a car horn, by beating a tin pan or making nearly any loud noise. If you’re lucky, you might see two gobblers fighting for territory and hens.
Mink and otters can be spotted along the banks of the Susquehanna River and Pine Creek. Be sure to bring binoculars to help spot these animals. To find otters, look for slides on the banks. Those willing to sit and wait quietly in the evenings may spot lots of wildlife along the banks of local waterways.
Glacier Pools in eastern Lycoming County, northwest of the Borough of Picture Rocks, is a 270-acre retreat of forest lands, wildflower meadows and unique vernal pools. Public access is sponsored by the East Lycoming Recreation Authority. The pools are a great place to view amphibians emerging for spring. Wood ducks like the pools, too. The trail system is easy to traverse. “The property is all of that, from its unique geology and dramatic vernal pools to the beautiful woodlands, grassy fields and outstanding views of the surrounding countryside,” says Gary Metzger, a member of the Lycoming Audubon Society. “Penn’s Woods wildlife abounds, and the bird life is all that you would expect from such a property set in an extremely rural area and maintained in a natural state. On a brisk morning, spring through fall, the parking area alone has enough bird life around to hold your attention for quite some time.” For details, go online to glacierpoolspreserve.com.
Bald eagles are more common now than ever before, both in Pennsylvania and in states throughout the nation. Some of the best places to see them are on the waters and banks of Pine Creek. Little Pine State Park near Waterville has an Eagle Watch area where the birds have been nesting since 2004. The Lake Shore Trail follows the lake to the back of the nest.
Rider Park, an 800-plus-acre mountaintop county park adjoins a unit of Loyalsock State Forest, just northeast of the village of Warrensville. Accessible from April until October, a 3-mile loop trail has tons of birding and many wildlife viewing opportunities. You might see black bear, deer and other mammals. “Migrating warblers and other songbirds are everywhere in the late spring, early summer (and) early fall periods, and resident forest and field birds are plentiful year-round. The park maintains bird feeding stations over the winter, attracting birds for visitors’ viewing pleasure. Here, too, the Lycoming Audubon Society maintains an extensive bluebird trail, which hosts numerous eastern bluebirds and tree swallows in the early summer,” Metzger says.
Waterfowl and water birds can be seen in practically any large pond, stream, lake or river in the region. Lake Chilasquaque at PPL’s Montour Preserve hosts the common Canada goose but also snow goose and tundra swan migrations. Little Pine State Park’s lake also welcomes migrating birds, waterfowl, wading birds and mammals, all of which frequent the
lake and stream along the valley. Susquehanna State Park, off of Arch Street, offers a quiet area close to the city of Williamsport where people still can get a glimpse of migratory water birds, and State Game Lands 252 in Elimsport has many impoundments where waterfowl like to feed.
Elk can be seen yearlong along a route from the Renovo area, along Route 120 and through to Benzette. The best times to see these large members of the deer family are early morning and the hours just before dark. Look for them grazing in fields but also standing in yards and in the forest. They will bed down during the day when it gets hot out.
Riverfront Park and Canfield Island – Loyalsock Township’s James Bressler Trail, which is handicap accessible, wanders through Riverfront Park’s old floodplain forest, across a slough that makes Canfield an island when the West Branch of the Susquehanna River is at high flows, and out onto the island proper. It is a fine, three-season bird watching destination. Resident forest woodpeckers and songbirds can be spotted in late fall, late winter, early spring and summer. Bluebirds, song sparrows and swallows frequent the meadow in the middle of the island in summer, and resident waterfowl can be spotted in the slough and river from vantage points on the trail. In early spring, migrating waterfowl crowd the river and later that season and in the late summer and early fall, migrating songbirds literally are everywhere. Many eastern bluebirds and tree swallows use the nest boxes of the Lycoming Audubon Society’s bluebird trail in late spring and early summer. “This is a destination close to ‘town’ and easily accessible to most of us,” Metzger says.
The Susquehanna River Walk and Timber Trail, an asphalt loop trail running on either side of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the city of Williamsport and South Williamsport Borough is a favorite local birding destination. During all three temperate seasons, numerous waterfowl are common visitors to the river and various songbirds make use of the trees and brush lining the river on either side. Magnificent raptors such as bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, merlins and Cooper hawks travel the river corridor and perch along it, affording excellent views. Peregrines nested on the Market Street Bridge last spring, and a pair of bald eagles are nesting just upstream of the river walk again this year.
In late winter and early spring, huge numbers of waterfowl, terns, gulls and other birds use the main and west branches of the Susquehanna as a travel corridor for their migration. This winter’s severe weather has concentrated resident and traveling waterfowl in the open water immediately above and below the Hepburn Street Dam, all visible to folks on the South Williamsport portion of the walk. “What could be more convenient than this natural corridor running between the city and the borough, teeming with bird life much of the year,” Metzger says.
The green roof of the Tiadaghton Resource Management Center, off Route 44 just above Waterville, provides a vast view of the Pine Creek Valley and the birds that soar up and down it.
Farrandsville and Lick Run Natural Area, Graham Road in Farrandsville – The northeast bank of the Susquehanna River above Lock Haven is a mixed hardwood and conifer site with exceptionally high plant diversity. The area is one of the few remaining examples of an old remnant northern Pennsylvania mixed forest ecosystem. Botany enthusiasts will enjoy this area. Bird species that might be seen include the northern parula, cerulean, Canada and worm-eating warblers; yellow-throated vireos, blue-gray gnatcatcher and Acadian flycatcher. The Lick Run Natural Area is primarily mixed conifer and rhododendron. Birds found here include blackburnian, pine, Canada and black-throated blue warblers; northern and Louisiana water thrushes, hermit thrush, veery and golden-crowned kinglet, according to Wayne Laubscher, a Lycoming Audubon Society.
The McIntyre Wild Area, east of Ralston off of Route 14, is known for its swamps that provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife. A trail system makes the wild area accessible to hikers. According to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the area is about 7,500 acres in size and holds the complete watersheds of four small streams that cascade in numerous waterfalls. McIntyre also was the site of a 19th century mining town and contains the ruins of its buildings and facilities. The Band Rock Vista provides a spectacular view of the Lycoming Creek Valley.
Many state parks have bluebird nesting boxes lining trails and areas inside the properties. Bluebirds are early nesters, so they can be sighted bringing materials to build their nests right now.
Most state parks and forests have a tab on DCNR’s website indicating where to best view wildlife. Check www.dcnr.state.pa.us.