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.

Springing from the Ground

Spring woodland wildflowers seem to spring up overnight coaxed by a little rain, sunshine and warming temperatures. Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve at Holtwood is alive with spring wildflowers. Virginia bluebells give the forest a bluish haze. Spots of yellow, white and purple show where yellow, white, Canada and common violets are blooming. The odd-looking blossoms of Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn add an interesting touch to the mix. You might even catch wake-robin or purple trillium still blooming.

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Dutchman’s Breeches

If you visit the wildflower preserve, don’t forget to look up. Right now woodland warblers are moving in and through the area. Listen for their high-pitches and buzzy songs along with those of returning resident birds.

For more information on Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve follow this link: http://www.pplpreserves.com/preserves/holtwood/pints-of-interest/#shenks

Pike-Wayne Earth Day Festival: Free family-friendly fun!

Earth Day_Ben Every year around Earth Day, Pike and Wayne County based conservation organizations get together with the same goal in mind: Celebrate Earth Day with the community. For several months prior to the event, the planning committee meets to determine what new activities will be offered to the public. All of the planning ends with one big celebration. This year’s event is almost here!

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On Saturday, April 20, the PPL Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and packed full of hands-on activities, craft projects, games and much more. We’re highlighting the 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act that has saved many species like red wolves and bald eagles with a species celebration. Visitors are encouraged to come wearing a mask or

costume that represents their favorite native or endangered flora and fauna. We’ll have a “Costume Cave” set-up that day for crafting simple representations of a variety of species. Whether you come prepared or transform while you’re here, visit the “Costume Cave” to find facts about your species or add to your costume.  Think eco-friendly by using recycled or natural materials… and have fun!

Do some spring cleaning before you come and bring your old t-shirts and tennis shoes! Cub Scout Pack #229 will help your memories live on by transforming your  favorite shirts into reusable bags. Tennis shoes can be recycled with Girl Scout Troop #50151. They’ll show you the process of how Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program works and collect your old tennis shoes to be recycled.

Other activities include:

  • Bird walks
  • Puppet shows
  • Face painting
  • Food and maple products for sale
  • Help build an eagle’s nest
  • Seedling giveaways and take-home wildflower plantings
  • Stream and lake water study using microscopes
  • Energy bicycle

For more information and directions, visit www.pikewayneearthday.wordpress.com or call (570) 253-7001.

Better yet, come out on Saturday, April 20 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to see what all the buzz is about!

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.

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