Celebrate National Outdoors Month!

Celebrate Natonal Outdoors Month!

“The United States is blessed with a wealth of natural diversity that remains at the heart of who we are as a people. … Our natural surroundings animate the American spirit, fuel discovery and innovation, and offer unparalleled opportunities for recreation and learning. During Great Outdoors Month, we celebrate the land entrusted to us by our forebears and resolve to pass it on safely to future generations.”
-President Barack Obama

What better way to participate in National Outdoors Month with friends and family than at PPL’s environmental preserves?  Our preserves offer camping facilities, miles of hiking trails, boating, picnic areas, geocaching and much more for your outdoor adventures. See you there!

 

Birding With the Pros

We had the opportunity to lead a bird watch on Saturday with some pros, which turned out to be a very unique experience! Several members of the Pennsylvania Society of Ornithologists came to the PPL Susquehanna Riverlands in Berwick, PA to enjoy a morning of birding where we identified over 50 species (not including the particularly energetic gray and ground squirrels that joined us). We also travelled to nearby Council Cup to observe Peregrine Falcon activity. These endangered raptors are nesting on the cliff just below the trail that takes you to the top of the mountain that overlooks PPL’s Susquehanna power plant. As we enjoyed the lovely view we were visited by the male and female Peregrines, cacking to one another as they flew around us not 30 yards away. This was certainly a highlight ending to our morning that will not be forgotten!

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Young and Restless

Fawn052013cropSpring is here in all its glory. The old and drab is giving way to the new and lush. Young birds and animals are testing wings or legs and venturing farther afield from nests and burrows. As they leave the shelter of their hiding places, young animals have many encounters with other species. They learn about finding food and how to avoid becoming food themselves. Sometimes they narrowly escape disaster and sometimes…
We must remember that if we encounter a young animal or bird in our travels, the best approach is to allow it to go its own way. Countless generations of animals have survived quite well without human intervention and will continue to do so. Young animals and their parents know much better than we do how to care for themselves and their offspring. Not that a helping hand once in a while can’t be beneficial. A quick airlift of a box turtle from a busy highway assures it will live to produce many more generations. The honk of a horn to frighten an undecided deer or rabbit from the berm of the road keeps your car and the animal intact.
Yet, when it comes to young animals, we seem to lose all our senses and cave in to a deep-seated maternal instinct. Our need to be good Samaritans, while certainly good intentioned, has very detrimental effects on young animals taken from the wild. Many “rescued” animals survive, but only with proper and almost constant human care. However, the quality of life is drastically reduced for these animals. Chances are they will never lead a “normal” life and may perish suddenly and unexpectedly in captivity. The probability of surviving in the wild on their own is actually very good for young creatures. Parents are usually nearby even though unnoticed, ready to answer distress calls of the young quickly and effectively. Natural food is also close at hand, allowing young animals to feed at will. So, if you find a cute, young animal, resist the temptation to pick it up, take it home and care for it. Confinement to a cardboard box pales in comparison with life in the natural environment. Allow nature’s babies to be young and restless on their own.

Rising from Frost

Skunk Cabbage in SnowSeeming like the antithesis of the proverbial phoenix rising from warm ashes, the first wildflower of spring rises through frost and snow. This often overlooked flower is skunk cabbage. It deserves a second look. Growing on flood plains and wooded wetlands, skunk cabbage began making an appearance long before the first official day of spring. Back in late February the tiny protrusions of growing skunk cabbage poked through the soil, emerging from the ground when all other plants were still in their wintry slumber. Amazingly, unlike the phoenix, skunk cabbage doesn’t depend on an external fire for its annual rebirth. Its heat comes from deep inside to help it grow and flower when freezing temperature would kill other wildflowers. It does this breaking down starch stored from last year.

Skunk cabbage blossoms are unusual in other ways also. Their flowers are surrounded by a pointed hood with a slight spiral twist. These hoods, called spathes, wrap partially around the flowerhead leaving only a tear-shaped opening, protecting the precious pollen from wind and rain. The insulative walls of the spathe also keep the flower warm. One biologist found that the skunk cabbage flower stayed about 36oF warmer on the average than the air temperature around it.

Skunk cabbage flowers should be admired for their early flowering abilities. It is more difficult to admire their beauty. Dainty and delicate these blossoms are not. Rather than subtle shades of pink or blue, skunk cabbage spathes are a deep maroon, either plain or mottles with yellow and green. They lSkunk Cabbage Spathe 01ook like rotting flesh. To round out this deception, they produce a rather unpleasant odor that attracts carrion flies. The flies not only find a warm place to shelter on a cold night, they also assist in pollinating skunk cabbage flowers.

You might not accept skunk cabbage as the loveliest wildflower of spring, but as it heats the soil around it and pushes back winter as it rises from the cold soil, you must admit that like the mythical phoenix, skunk cabbage is, indeed, unique.

Enhancing the Habitat

invasive bush honeysuckle from nps siteIn a cooperative effort between the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Wildlife Management Institute and PPL, invasive bush honeysuckle is being removed from land managed by the PPL Montour Preserve. Bush honeysuckle was introduced to the states from Eurasia as an ornamental shrub, for wildlife cover and for soil erosion control. It grows rapidly and takes over an area, forms a dense shrub layer, decreasing light and depleting soil nutrients. Bush honeysuckle grows in an early-successional forest habitat.

A young forest habitat, or early-successional habitat is required to maintain sustainable populations of many species. American woodcock, ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit and indigo bunting are examples of the many species that find young growth shrubs and trees suitable. Young forest habitat also provides food and cover for many other species that use a variety of habitats, including ring-necked pheasants, song sparrow and white-tailed deer.

Invasive removal 2013Habitat improvements and maintenance are proposed for existing young forest habitats. To maintain the young forest stage of plant succession, ongoing habitat management practices, primarily periodic treatments, will be completed as needed. A large part of the habitat

Exotic bush honeysuckle is often confused with native honeysuckle species. Most native honeysuckles have solid stems and are an excellent food source for birds. Learn more at the National Park Service’s website. management plan includes the control of invasive species and noxious weeds, like bush honeysuckle, autumn olive and multi-flora rose. All habitat improvements to existing young forest habitat are proposed as enhancements.

To ask your questions, contact us at pplpreserves@pplweb.com.
Find directions to our preserves, program information and trail maps at pplpreserves.com.

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