Marzoni's logoReservation and payment are due by Tuesday, Nov. 18 if you'd like to join us for the Christmas Bird Count supper on December 20. We'll be meeting at 5:30 at Marzoni's Brick Oven & Brewing Co. at Pinecroft, 1830 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd, Altoona. (Here's a map.)

You don't have to participate in the count to join us for dinner!

The meal will be buffet style with three delicious Italian entrées from the Banquet Menu:

  • Eggplant Parmigiana (Meatless)
  • Beef Tips Marsala with mashed potatoes and vegetables
  • Chicken Alfredo

Also included:

  • Fresh Garden Salad
  • Unlimited Bread Sticks
  • Soft drinks, Juice, Coffee, and Tea (Free Refills)

Marzoni's own, hand-crafted beer is available at an additional cost.

Only $18 per person (includes gratuity). Make check payable to Laura Jackson and mail to:
8621 Black Valley Road
Everett, PA 15537
or pay at the Nov. 18 JVAS program meeting.

For more information on the Christmas Bird Count, see the event description, and be sure to read CBC compiler Steve Bonta's article on the front page of the Gnatcatcher.

cover of Second ATlas of BReeding Birds of PennsylvaniaThe Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania is available at a special discount of 25% off the list price of $64.95, particularly to Audubon Chapters, until December 15.

This beautiful book presents stunning photographs, detailed maps, and compelling descriptions for nearly 200 nesting bird species. Two thousand dedicated birdwatchers – including many Audubon members – contributed the data which provides a comprehensive understanding of the distribution of each species and shows in detail the changes in distribution since the first Atlas.

This beautiful book may be ordered by:

  • Phone: Call 800-326-9180 and pay with credit card between 8:00 am and 4:30pm, Monday-Friday.
  • Mail a check to:
    Penn State University Press
    University Support Bldg. 1, Suite C
    University Park, PA 16802-1003
    In amount of: $56.63 (tax and shipping included for 1 book)
  • Or go to the Penn State Press website, add to cart, and enter the discount code WS14 upon check-out.

For each of these methods, reference the "WS14" discount code for 25% off and reduced shipping.

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We’d like to recognize Terri and Alan Swann as the new editors of The Gnatcatcher. They are JVAS members who have graciously donated their time and talents to produce a top quality newsletter. We really appreciate their efforts!

This issue introduces a couple of exciting new features, in addition to the usual mix of conservation and club news. Laura Jackson, JVAS President, is encouraging members to submit book reviews, original poetry, and nature articles for future issues of the newsletter. Please send your submissions to Laura at

UPDATE: Despite opposition from fishermen, birders, and conservationists, HB 1565 was signed into law by Governor Corbett during the last days of the 2014 legislative session.

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 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.)

UPDATE: We have new editors: Terri and Alan Swann. Thanks to everyone who expressed interest.

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] 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

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 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!