Bluebirds in a Winter Wonderland

DSCN1363We woke up to a winter wonderland yesterday and the first thing I did when I got to the Environmental Learning Center was grab the camera and head outside. We only got a dusting of snow overnight but it looked beautiful covering all of the trees around the lake. As I hiked around the preserve I noticed the birds were out and singing in full force. The snow had covered up food on the ground and they were looking for their seeds elsewhere, for the most part at our Project Feeder Watch set up just outside the learning center.

BluebirdAs I made my way down to the lake to photograph the snow covered shore, I noticed what I had been waiting for all winter, bluebirds amongst a snow covered staghorn sumac. They had found their breakfast, and there was plenty of it. During one of the first snows of the season sometime in November I spent a good amount of time standing in the frigid cold just trying to get at least one shot of a bluebird picking at red berries in a bush in front of the learning center. With my hands frozen, I unfortunately came away with photographs of just the pretty red berries covered in snow, and no birds. It has been a goal of mine since that day to get a shot of those bluebirds in the snow.

DSCN1370So as I tried to conceal my excitement to keep still and quiet while bringing up the camera for a shot at these bluebirds, I began to notice just how many there were. I took a few good shots, but of course I had to get closer. Here’s where the snow became my enemy because the crunch of it under my feet started to scare them away.

RSCN1398At that point I went from photographer back to naturalist and started to count. There had actually been at least 25 bluebirds in this stand of staghorn sumac. I know we have a good population of bluebirds here because I usually see 3 or 4 everyday, even in the winter. Now I know their favorite spot and I will certainly be checking back for more! They have plenty of places to stay due to our conservation efforts in providing a large number of bluebird boxes at the preserve, most of which were built by a student at Lackawanna College and then decorated by children at our annual Pike-Wayne Earth Day festival.

RSCN1399We are gearing up for the Paupack Plunge on Saturday and the winter wonderland had us wondering what we were thinking when we signed up to be freezin’ for a reason! You should join us in the fun and help support a great cause!


-Sarah Hall, PPL Lake Wallenpaupack

Hurricane Sandy Prep

Customers urged to stay safe, report outages during potentially serious storm

(Oct. 25, 2012) – PPL Electric Utilities is preparing for potentially significant damage and power outages from Hurricane Sandy, poised to affect the region starting Sunday.

“According to current forecasts, this could be the most severe storm to date this year,” said David Bonenberger, vice president of Distribution Operations. “We’re continuously monitoring weather reports, and we’ll have the necessary crews and resources in place to respond to whatever comes our way.”

Crews from PPL Electric Utilities’ sister utilities in Kentucky will be in the area as early as Sunday night. In addition, contractors who normally assist PPL Electric Utilities with storm restoration have been notified to remain local so they can be called on if necessary.

The utility placed its emergency response organization on high alert and canceled time off for its operations personnel next week. Between today and Monday, utility personnel will be reviewing available staffing, preparing for additional supplies, and arranging for housing and feeding of personnel visiting from outside the area.

 Since the busy storm season of 2011, PPL Electric Utilities made numerous storm response improvements, including increasing phone lines for customer service and expanding emergency call capacity to better handle high volumes of customer calls during major storms. The company also has initiated an alert system and enhanced outage information for customers.

Customers experiencing outages are asked to report them at 1-800-342-5775 (1-800-DIAL PPL) or through the online Outage Center at When prompted, customers reporting by phone should press 1 for “Power Problem.” The Outage Center also is available on smart phones or other mobile devices.

Nor’easter storms can leave significant damage with downed trees, power lines and possibly localized flooding. “Reporting outages is important because the more information we get, the better we can assess damage and prioritize repairs,” Bonenberger said.

Customers also can sign up for PPL Alerts at the Outage Center site and receive updates on outages affecting them. Participants can choose to get the alerts by phone, text or email, or all three.

Staying safe is paramount in severe weather. PPL Electric Utilities advises the public to:

  • Stay clear of downed power lines.
  • Do not use gas ovens or ranges to heat your home.
  • Avoid candles and use flashlights instead. Candles can cause a fire if tipped by animals or people, or if they come in contact with a combustible item.
  • Never run a generator in your home, basement, or other indoor space where exhaust fumes may accumulate.

Other steps to take in an outage also are available at the utility’s online Outage Center at

Fall Foliage Hike

Pinnacle Overlook at PPL Holtwood Preserve

There couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for a fall foliage hike at Pinnacle Overlook at PPL’s Holtwood Preserve on Saturday. It was one of the few perfect hiking days out of the year where it wasn’t too hot or too cold during a nice stroll through the woods. Before setting out on our adventure we took in the beautiful view of Lake Aldred, catching a few glimpses of vultures and several gulls flying over the lake in the distance.

At the overlook, we talked about why leaves change color in autumn. Scientists still don’t know all the details of this complicated process, but basically there are three main factors that influence autumn leaf color: pigments, the length of night, and weather. When the days grow shorter, and the nights get cooler and longer, it’s a cue for the tree to start preparing for winter. Photosynthesis will slow and eventually stop, thus seizing the production of chlorophyll, which produces the green color of leaves. This is all in an attempt to save energy in order to make it through the winter.

Fall Foliage at Pinnacle Overlook.

Once the chlorophyll pigment fades, you begin to see the carotenoid pigment that was always there, but masked by green. This pigment produces the yellow, oranges and browns you also see in carrots and bananas. The magnificent reds and purple hues you see in autumn are not always present, but are thought to be produced in fall as an additional sunscreen for the leaf that is susceptible to sun damage as chlorophyll fades. These reds are produced by anthocyanin pigments, which give color to familiar things such as cranberries, red apples, and grapes, among many others. The reason autumn colors can vary greatly among different regions, especially in PA, is because of the nice sunny days, and cool nights we have in northern PA. Leaves produce sugars on those sunny days, but the cold nights prevent the tree from pulling the glucose out of leaves for storage at night. This makes for the beautiful colors we see up north versus the more dull yellows and browns we see down south.

On our hike, we enjoyed the crunchy fall leaves at our feet and several interesting species, both native and invasive, along the way. Be sure to get outside and enjoy PPL’s thirty-nine miles of trails around Lake Aldred and the Susquehanna River at our Holtwood Preserve before the weather gets too cold! There are only a few more weeks of prime autumn leaf peeping left, and I plan to take advantage of them! I hope you do the same!

You have at least one more chance at the Fall Foliage Walk at Lake Wallenpaupack on Sat. Oct 20 at 10:00 am. For details see our calendar of events here.

-Sarah Hall, PPL Wallenpaupack

Ways to Conserve Energy and Stay Cool

In the summertime, demand for electricity peaks and energy costs for consumers rise with increased use of cooling appliances. In fact, for many households, the central air conditioner is the single largest consumer of electricity, even though it is only used a few months of the year (according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency).

 Air conditioning can increase energy usage during the summer months, particularly during stretches of extreme heat when energy usage rises even higher. In the midst of a heat wave, here are some ways to save energy, stay cool, and save money.

 1)      Give your air conditioner a regular tune-up. Air conditioners need to be kept clean and well maintained. Having your AC unit serviced at least every year or two can help you save on cooling costs. 

2)      If using window air conditioners, install the unit in the window of the room that will get the least sun during the day if possible. 

3)      Exterior wall and ceiling insulation is equally important for keeping the warm air from seeping inside during hot summer months. Make sure your house has the proper amount of insulation. Find out how much insulation is just right for your home by visiting this U.S. Department of Energy Web site.

4)      Make sure your home’s windows and doors are properly caulked and weather-stripped. Look to seal any air leaks as well. Leaks waste a surprising amount of money.

5)      Plant deciduous, or leaf-bearing, trees on the east and west sides of your house. You’ll benefit for years to come with shade and a nice breeze.

6)      Keep your window curtains, drapes and blinds closed during the day when the sun shine’s in. Windows can act as a giant heat lamp in the summertime.

7)      During the hot summer season, set the thermostat at 76-78 degrees when the house is occupied, and at 85 degrees or off when no one’s home. You’ll save 1–2 percent on cooling costs for each degree you can raise your thermostat.

8)      Air filters should be changed regularly, at least prior to the summer season and inspected each month. Filters are inexpensive and can help ensure efficient operation of the appliance.

9)      Invest in a programmable thermostat. These smart thermostats, which can operate your heating and cooling systems according to your specific preferences, can adjust your HVAC unit based on the day of the week and time of the day. You can save you money all year round. 

10)  Ceiling fans are wonderful to have for air movement and they typically cost very little to operate, pennies a day.  It costs much less to move air than to cool it.

11)  Window or portable air conditioning units are designed for single rooms. Use them generally when areas are going to be occupied, keep doors closed and turn them off when no one is using the room.

12)  Use natural lighting where ever possible and use only lights that are needed since light bulbs generate a great deal of excess heat. CFLs generate much less heat than the older incandescent light bulbs, which only use 10 percent of the energy for lighting, the rest is wasted heat.

13)  If you are depending on just fans (window, floor or ceiling fans), you need to keep windows open for air circulation. This is critical for safety.

14)  When temperatures are cooler at night, consider shutting off the air conditioner and ventilate the house naturally or with fans during overnight hours.

For more information on ways to save energy and stay comfortable, visit the PA Public Utility Commission at or Edison Electric Institute at

Stopped in Our Tracks

On Saturday, John Jose of Otter Creek Environmental Education Services treated a group of 24 kids and adults to an educational program about Animal Tracking at PPL’s Martins Creek Preserve. This lively group was eager to learn about “stride” and “straddle” using indoor sand tracking trays and handmade animal track molds.

With temperatures in the upper 40’s, the group hit the trails at the Lower Mount Bethel Township Welcome Center to see if they could discover any animal tracks in the mud. To our surprise we made a unique discovery on a February day- a garter snake slithering around in the brush! The reptile must be as confused as we are about these warm winter days and lack of snow. 

We finished the program by searching for tracks on the sandy banks of the Delaware River. Our search revealed many different animals had been there recently including a skunk and a muskrat. Can you name the two other animals that left evidence of their visit to the river by leaving their tracks in the sand?

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