A letter published in the Oct. 4, 2014 Altoona Mirror.

Juniata Valley Audubon urges our state legislators to oppose House Bill 1565 which eliminates the requirement to have forested buffers along streams designated as High Quality or Exceptional Value. HB 1565 would be a step backward and would unnecessarily jeopardize the Commonwealth’s most sensitive waters.

Riparian buffers are an essential component of watershed management, providing numerous physical, chemical, and biological benefits that include reduction of non-point source runoff, attenuation of flood flows, and maintenance of stream water temperatures and aquatic habitat.

By their very nature as being designated the “best of the best,” the High Quality and Exceptional Value streams for which buffers currently are required represent a minority of waters. Further limiting its scope, the existing requirement applies only to new development and includes a number of exceptions. Thus, the current scale of required buffers is already relatively minimal statewide.

Riparian buffers are the least expensive, most effective, and lowest maintenance approach to sustaining water quality and reducing the harmful impacts of erosion, sedimentation, and flooding.

By opposing HB 1565 our lawmakers will contribute to the long-term health and maintenance of Pennsylvania’s water resources, the recreational and ecological functions they support, and the downstream communities they serve.


Laura Jackson
Juniata Valley Audubon


Edward Henry Wehner engravaing of the albatross from Rime of the Ancient MarinerWhat???? It's true, we are spending thousands of dollars each year to print and mail The Gnatcatcher. It has become a significant financial burden for JVAS, just as the dead albatross became a burden to the sailor in Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

If you currently receive the print edition as a chapter-only or a National Audubon member, we need your help so we can keep The Gnatcatcher.

Email me, Laura Jackson, at mljackson2@embarqmail.com and just state that you will accept the digital version of The Gnatcatcher. When each issue comes out, we'll simply email you the download link.

Your email will be a wonderful conservation donation that won't cost you a dime and it will let us keep The Gnatcatcher!

There are a number of advantages with the digital version:

  • The photos will be in color.
  • You will get The Gnatcatcher sooner.
  • You will feel good that you are helping to preserve the financial stability of JVAS.

We pledge to keep your email address confidential. We will not share it with other organizations or companies.

front page of GnatcatcherThe September/October issue of JVAS' newsletter the Gnatcatcher includes an original nature essay by Marcia Bonta as well as a full explanation for why everyone who attends our September program meeting will receive a roll of toilet paper. You can read it on Issuu or download the PDF from our online Gnatcatcher archive.

The issue includes a full schedule of programs and field trips through December, which are also now here on the website. (The web descriptions link to the field trip locations on Google maps, may may be of use in finding some of the more obscure places.)

Finally, we desperately need a new volunteer to edit the Gnatcatcher. Our previous editor, Ruby Becker, has had to step back due to other commitments, and her predecessor Charlie Hoyer was able to take over for the Sept/Oct issue (thanks, Charlie!) but now we do need a new editor. If you have decent copy-editing and organizational skills and are handy with word-processing software, we'd love to hear from you. Both Ruby and Charlie are perfectionists with intimidatingly good design skills, but we'd be satisfied with a much more basic approach, as long as the content is good and the issues are ready in time. The newsletter is published 4 - 6 times a year. The editor does not have to provide content, as members will provide articles and information for each issue. Anyone interested should email JVAS President Laura Jackson: mljackson2 [at] embarqmail.com for more details.

Laura Jackson, incoming JVAS President, presents the 2014 Conservation Award to Ron Singer, founder of the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch
Laura Jackson, incoming JVAS President, presents the 2014 Conservation Award to Ron Singer, founder of the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society 2014 Conservation Award was presented to Ron Singer, the founder of the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch, at our Annual Banquet in April. Ron started watching migrating birds on Jacks Mountain in Mifflin Co. almost 40 years ago, before many people knew that the mountains in the ridge and valley province in Pennsylvania were critical flyways for thousands of birds. Ron's particular interest was documenting the hawks and eagles that migrate over Jacks each year. Ron is still very active today, as he is the main facilitator and compiler of the Hawk Watch. Ron organizes a fall hawk watch each year, and all data is sent to the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). You can access this data on the Jacks Mountain page at hawkcount.org.

Because of his love of the mountains that surround him, Ron has helped with Mid-State Trail 
maintenance and he was instrumental in organizing a large-scale clean-up project along the sides of the Jacks Mountain Overlook which removed huge amount of trash that had been dumped there for decades.

Ron spends innumerable hours on top of Jacks sharing his love of migrating raptors and his expert identification skills with everyone who stops during the migration season. His leadership and dedication to the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch has also ignited a larger group of people to form known as Friends of Jacks Mountain. This new organization is a community action group that was formed because the Jacks Mountain Hawk watch is threatened by industrial wind turbine development on Jacks Mountain.

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society 2014 Conservation Award honors Ron’s dedication to observing and documenting raptor migration, as well as founding and maintaining the Hawk Watch at Jacks Mountain.


Jacks Mountain commemorative patch featuring a broadwinged hawk
Jacks Mountain commemorative patch

The Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch has a commemorative patch for sale. Email Ron Singer at risinger2@verizon.net if you would like to purchase one for $5.70, which includes shipping. The patch features a Broad-winged Hawk, since thousands of them migrate over Jacks each fall.

You can learn more about the Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch at their webpage.

Pink lady's-slipper orchids at Rocky Ridge
Pink lady's-slipper orchids at Rocky Ridge (photo by Stan Kotala)

It's been a cold spring, but the warblers are returning on schedule, and the wildflowers are slowly beginning to catch up. By Mother's Day weekend, the woods and meadows should be bursting with activity, and I don't imagine very many readers of this post will be willing to remain indoors, even if it's raining. So plan to join us for the annual Terry Wentz Memorial Hike on the Lower Trail led by Alice Kotala. It will be an easy, five-mile hike from Mount Etna to Alfarata along our area's premiere rail-trail through an outstanding example of a Ridge and Valley riparian forest.

More than 150 species of birds have been identified along the Lower Trail, and if you go on the hike, be sure to take note of everything you see and hear, because the second Saturday in May is also Pennsylvania Annual Migration Count (PAMC) and International Migratory Bird Day. This is a more informal count than the Christmas Bird Count, but the data is still of great use to ornithologists and ecologists tracking the movements and numbers of neotropical migrants, especially as climate change takes hold. There's a compiler for each county; the complete list is on the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology website. As Blair County compiler Michael David explains,

This is a fairly unstructured event – simply go birding anywhere in the state on the 10th and, to the best of your ability, identify and count every bird you see. Record the time you started and stopped and how far you walked and drove and that’s it!

The Lower Trail hike doesn't begin until 1:00, so you have all morning to go birding in your neighborhood or back forty.

The eponymous Rocky Ridge
The eponymous Rocky Ridge (photo by Stan Kotala)

Finally, on Mother's Day itself, I'm leading a wildflower ramble with my mother, naturalist-writer Marcia Bonta, through one of central Pennsylvania’s best spots for spring wildflowers — not to mention the Oriskany sandstone rock formations that give this state forest natural area its name. It will be fun to see what's in bloom this year. Photographers are welcome (but be very careful to stay on trail and not trample anything). We meet there at 10:00. Go to the event listing for full details and a good map.

To whet your appetite, read Stan Kotala’s “On the Trail” column about the place.

At our annual spring banquet yesterday, the outgoing president (that's me) oversaw the installation of the four new officers elected at the program meeting in March. We can never remember precisely what the installation of new officers entails, so we had to improvise. I considered stepping down in a blaze of glory: shouting "HAIL GAIA!" and removing my still-beating heart from my chest with an obsidian blade and feeding it to a flock of migrating gnatcatchers. But that seemed a little messy, so I settled instead for sharing brief biographical sketches of JVAS' benevolent new overlords. Please join me in welcoming our new secretary, Kristin Joivell; treasurer, George Mahon; vice president, Mark Bonta; and president, Laura Jackson.

Kristin JoivellKristin Joivell, shown here on a recent JVAS hike examining a promethean moth cocoon, is our new secretary. Kristin teaches kindergarten at the Juniata Valley Elementary School, lives in the Huntingdon area, and brings an infectious enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge about nature to the JVAS board, being both well-read and widely traveled. Stick close to Kristin on a nature hike if you want to learn the i.d.s of critters and wildflowers — or to generally just have a good time.


George MahonDespite his regular attendance on field trips and thus his frequent run-ins with Stan Kotala's camera, JVAS treasurer George Mahon is almost always seen with his eyes turned to the ground or the sky, displaying the same restless curiosity that led him to teach junior high science in Altoona for many years, and to first become involved in JVAS activities way back in the late 1970s. I have also grown to appreciate George's endless patience and attention to detail over the past year as he's eased into the treasurer position — surely one of the most thankless and time-consuming posts in any organization.

Mark BontaYou'd think I'd have a better photo of my own brother, but he got off Facebook last year, so what can I do? Mark Bonta agreed to step in as vice president, which mainly means he'll be the programs chair. He's been attending programs pretty regularly since he started teaching geography at Penn State Altoona last fall. He and his wife will be moving to the area permanently in August, after a couple of years in Philadelphia and many years in Mississippi before that. Mark was a member of JVAS as a kid, which helped to spark an interest in birding and nature that now makes its way into his classes and research. He's currently leading an expedition in the mountains of Honduras to document a possible new species of ant-shrike.

Laura Jackson with hickory horned devilLaura Jackson, our new president, hardly needs an introduction. She and her husband Mike (also a member of the board) have been among our most active members for years, attending numerous township meetings, writing letters, agitating, advocating, giving slideshows and workshops, and putting their own time and money where their mouths are on their mountainside property near Everett — a conservation showcase. Laura's always-pleasant demeanor masks a steely resolve, as many developers and politicians have learned to their sorrow. We are deeply fortunate that her work with SOAR has finally slowed down enough to permit Laura to take over as JVAS president. And oh yes, that's a hickory horned devil on her shirt.

Thanks to all four new officers for stepping up to the plate. The future of the chapter looks very bright.

Gnatcatcher 2014 March-AprilThe latest issue of the JVAS newsletter, the Gnatcatcher, is out and will be on its way to members' mailboxes shortly. In the meantime, you can download and read the PDF version in full color. This is especially useful for a full appreciation of the feature story on outdoor painting by JVAS member Sam Dietz. Also included is a full description of, and sign-up information for, our spring banquet, with a program by Trish Miller on Golden Eagle Migration, plus some exciting news about a sizable addition to State Gamelands 147 in Blair County. Check it out!

After weeks of waiting for the right weather, my husband Bruce, always the designated driver, a new young birder in our area, Michael David, and I headed down to Sinking Valley to do our annual Winter Raptor Survey. It was a perfect day—fifteen degrees, still, and blue-skied.

We had a slow start, but finally Michael and I started seeing white spots sitting in trees. They all turned out to be red-tailed hawks. Sometimes we thought they might be something else and Bruce set up our scope. Nope! Only red-tails. This went on for most of the morning.

Since Michael was working on his county list, we noted other birds too. Robins eating staghorn sumac fruit. Twenty-six horned larks in the fields along Crawford Road so close we could almost touch them. A great blue heron sitting under a tree near the stream at the Arch Spring homestead. A pileated woodpecker clinging to a sapling near the road.

Ah! But I’ve saved the best for the last. After counting 26 red-tails and not even seeing a kestrel, we drove beneath what might be a kestrel. “Stop!” I yelled to Bruce and found I had made the same mistake as last year at the same place. A flock of mourning doves took off.

Then Michael started studying a flock of what he thought were starlings, but they turned out to be brown-headed cowbirds.

“I think I see a rusty,” he said and was out the car and down the road to study the flock more carefully. After all, my sons Steve and Mark had spotted a rusty blackbird in a flock of cowbirds during Christmas Bird Count, perhaps in this very same place.

I followed Michael at a slower pace and stood waiting for him to decide if he had found a rusty. Just as he had concluded that whatever he had seen had flown, I glanced idly across the barren, snow-covered field at a huge old tree standing by itself and saw two spots of white. I looked through my binoculars, expecting to see more red-tails and instead saw a pair of mature bald eagles, one sitting on the branch directly above the other.

Finally, raptors to get excited about! Michael wondered if they were a pair and perhaps nesting in the area. After all, this is the time of year when they begin building a nest. I certainly hope folks living in Sinking Valley keep an eye on this pair.

To cap the day, just after we saw the great blue heron, a golden eagle flew low over our car. Perhaps it was the same eagle Bruce and I had seen fly low over us while we walked on our Far Field Road several days ago.

Altogether, it was one of the more exciting Winter Raptor Surveys we have done over the years.

—Marcia Bonta

The Winter Raptor Survey is a state-wide citizen science program coordinated by JVAS member Greg Grove with the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology. See their website for information on how to take part.

The January-February 2014 issue of the JVAS newsletter, the Gnatcatcher, is now out [PDF]. Members should be getting the paper edition in their mailboxes today or tomorrow.

Speaking of which, it's time to renew your membership in JVAS. If you're not already a member, you can print out the form in the PDF version of the newsletter. This year, for the first time, we are offering the option to not receive the paper version, and just read the Gnatcatcher online. While this is undoubtedly a somewhat more environmentally friendly choice, we do understand why some will prefer to read it the old-fashioned way. And if you have a physical bulletin board, you may want to tack up the Spring 2014 field trips and programs brochure [PDF].

Speaking of which, it's interesting to note that there is now no single, canonical source for information about JVAS events. The brochure includes all of the monthly program meetings and those field trips that are planned well in advance, but there are often fuller descriptions here on the website — not to mention embedded Google maps. And many more impromptu outings are only advertised on the JVAS Facebook page, so we encourage people to like our page on Facebook if they want to keep abreast of absolutely everything we're doing.

At any rate, the latest issue of the Gnatcatcher includes articles on the snowy owl irruption, Fort Roberdeau County Park in winter, and the importance of early successional forests. Check it out.

The November-December issue of the Gnatcatcher is now out [PDF]. Paper copies should be arriving in mailboxes shortly. In the meantime, feel free to download and share the digital version (and visit the growing archive for other recent issues you may have missed). Featured articles in this issue include one by JVAS Conservation Chair Stan Kotala on some major riparian restoration work along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata, and a couple of pieces by JVAS Vice President Laura Jackson: a portrait of "The People Behind Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch" and a description of the recent PSO-sponsored field trip there and all the raptors they saw. Additional news notes and a reminder about the Christmas Bird Count on December 21 round out the issue.

Thanks to Gnatcatcher editor Ruby Becker for another terrific job!