Extinction is forever, but environmental victories... not so much. Five years after we thought we'd won the Heller Caves fight, the same company, Catharine Properties, plans to apply for a permit to construct a quarry impacting 100 acres in the same area along the Lower Trail. The property is owned by Clifford Wise, who also owns Catharine Properties, as well as Gulf Trading & Transport, LLC. Mr. Wise and other company officials; their engineer, Michelle Merrow; and DEP’s Chief of Technical Services in Ebensburg, Rock Martin, were present at a special meeting held by Catharine Township Supervisors on February 7. About 75 concerned citizens attended the meeting to find out exactly what Mr. Wise intends to do on his property.
Although we received very few details about the proposed mining operation, what we did hear was enough to convince many that the environmental degradation caused by a quarry in such a sensitive habitat far outweighed any economic benefits. A quarry so close to the Lower Trail would create a tremendous amount of noise, dust, heavy truck traffic, and would potentially destroy the critical habitat for a small invertebrate called a springtail, which has been found in the cave system. This species of springtail has been found nowhere else on Earth and has been proposed for listing on the Endangered Species List.
Heller Caves, located in the Heller Caves Biological Diversity Area, adjacent to the Lower Trail, not only contains this rare species of springtail, but also serves as important habitat for rare bat species. The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), which protects our birds and the bats, requested protection for the Caves and the surrounding forested habitat, but their recommendations were ignored by DEP when the first permit was granted.
Fortunately, a new chief is now head of the DEP Mining Office in Ebensburg. Chief Martin assured the audience that this time DEP would adhere to the PGC recommendations. He also stated it typically takes DEP from four to six months to analyze applications and that the application has not yet been submitted.
What can you do to help?
Attend Catharine Twp. meetings: 3rd Thursday of each month at 7 pm
Meetings are held at the Municipal Building at 1229 Recreation Drive, Williamsburg, Pa.
Contact Laura Jackson to get updated information - firstname.lastname@example.org
I had not been to Florida for 33 years, so I was excited to visit the Sunshine State in early October. As I flew over the Orlando area, I was surprised to see so much water. The landscape was dominated by wetlands and lakes, development, and small pockets of woodlands.
Of course, more water was on its way — Hurricane Matthew was gaining strength and heading toward Florida. That gave an edge to the trip that I really didn’t like, but there I was, ready for a conservation adventure.
I was invited to attend the 9th Annual Private Lands Partners Day, held in Sebring, Florida. The Partners for Conservation (PFC) encourages conservation on private lands by collaborating with landowners, federal agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and conservation organizations like Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, and many others. The PFC brings people of diverse backgrounds to the table to develop conservation action plans for species of concern. I was invited because of the habitat work accomplished on our property to benefit Golden-winged Warblers.
I was surprised to meet cattle ranchers and cowboys at the conference. I had no idea that Florida’s cattle industry is one of the largest in the United States. What was even more surprising is what I saw when we spent a whole day touring several cattle ranches:
Vast expanses of undeveloped, open land — tens of thousands of acres.
Water-holding practices — to keep water on the land so it can flow more slowly to the Everglades. These ranches sit at the headwaters of the Everglades.
Swaths of forests full of native trees, ferns, and palmettos.
Huge flocks of birds: Wood Storks, Glossy and White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Sandhill Cranes, Egrets, Wild turkeys... I was in birder’s paradise!
One ranching family keeps 40 percent of its land undeveloped, even though there are intense development pressures on these ranchers. Thank goodness many of them have a strong stewardship ethic to conserve the natural resources and many have put their ranches in conservation easements. A conservation easement allows the family to retain ownership of the ranch, but it can’t be developed. This preserves the land, the wildlife, and Florida’s history.
These huge ranches were astounding and much different from the farms and woodlots that we have in Pennsylvania, but we did share a love of the land and a desire to protect it from development. If you own undeveloped property, I encourage you to consider getting a conservation easement. We have donated an easement on our property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. We want our forest to continue as an important habitat for birds and other wildlife.
I had to leave Florida a day early, thanks to Hurricane Matthew, but I won’t wait 33 years before I go back - with bird book and binoculars in hand.
It was a surprisingly pleasant day in late June when we kayaked to Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula in Lake Raystown. We deliberately picked a weekday adventure, to avoid much of the big boat traffic, but we still had to negotiate a few big waves from motor boats. We put in at Snyder’s Run Boat Launch and leisurely paddled along the shoreline. There were just five of us: my husband Mike and me, JVAS member Alice Fleischer, Dr. Eric Burkhart, and his summer intern, Teal Jordan.
We paddled slowly, observing both native and invasive plants that were growing along the water’s edge and into the forest that surrounds most of Raystown Dam. It was a beautiful morning, calm and peaceful, except for the occasional roar of big boats or jet skis. Dr. Burkhart, an expert in wild plant conservation and invasive plants at Penn State, was intently scanning the shoreline, identifying plants that were growing near the water’s edge, or even in shallow water.
Our intent was not just a casual outing; we were heading toward Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula, about an hour’s paddle away on the other side of the lake. Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula is a wild, forested tongue of land that juts out into the lake, at the base of Terrace Mountain. It contains rare shale barrens areas with associated rare plants and insects. We wanted to explore the Peninsula, to learn more about this unusual shale barrens community before it might disappear. The Peninsula is under threat due to a proposed development project.
For now, we were concentrating on making a list of animals and plants that we found on the peninsula. The rocky outcroppings were beautiful and sparsely vegetated. The extreme conditions mean that very few plants are adapted to withstand the arid, steep slopes. However, we were dismayed to see a number of non-native invasive species gaining a foothold: Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), and Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum) were a few species that definitely did not belong there.
On the other hand, we were fascinated by the diversity of native plant species growing on the shale slopes and in the upland forest. Several native species were new to me: False Foxglove’s (Aureolaria laevigata or A. virginica) beautiful yellow spires were in full bloom, aromatic Common Dittany (Cunila origanoides) was a new mint for my life list of native plants, and I had never seen Creeping Bush Clover (Lespedeza repens) before. There was also a healthy forest on the Peninsula - some big Black Oak (Quercus velutina) and Chestnut Oak (Q. montana) were mixed in with a good diversity of other tree species, including Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana).
The next JVAS Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 27. We will meet at 5 pm in the Bellwood-Antis Public Library. Free pizza will be available, but bring your own drink. Members are welcome, but please email Laura at email@example.com if you plan to attend, so we have enough pizza.
A vote on SB 1166 and SB 1168 will most likely occur within the next week. These bills would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, respectively, to set their own license fees. If these bills pass, the agencies would be able to better manage their wildlife conservation programs. As you may know, the PGC has recently eliminated biology aide positions due to lack of funding. Some of these aides were an important part of bird conservation work in the PGC. The agencies haven’t had a license increase in years because legislators don’t want to vote for a fee increase, and that hurts the birds!
Please contact your state Senator and ask him/her to vote FOR SB 1166 and SB 1168. You can find your legislator here.
In case you wonder why JVAS is so concerned about this issue, Scott Weidensaul has provided more reasons why birders should support these two bills. Scott recently posted this on the PA Birds Listserv:
The PGC hasn't had a license fee increase since 1997, primarily because the General Assembly has been holding it hostage to force lower antlerless (doe) license allocations, thus permitting an increase in the state's deer population. We have decades of research that shows, very clearly, how whitetail overbrowsing has badly damaged PA's forests, and especially populations of forest birds (like least flycatchers and wood thrushes) that depend on a dense understory for nesting habitat. The science is clear: We have too many deer, but the Legislature has been able to use the commission's lack of legal authority to set license fees as a cudgel to keep deer numbers higher than they should be. This bill could be a first step toward correcting that issue.
And as Laura pointed out, the PGC's current fiscal crisis has resulted in significant cuts in staff and programs, with the ax very heavily on nongame programs. One can argue about whether the agency puts an appropriate emphasis on nongame wildlife even under the best of circumstances, but these days birds are really taking it on the chin. And birders; the commission has said it may need to close Middle Creek to the public as a cost-saving measure.
Both agencies — the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission — need a more stable income stream to manage the wildlife they are mandated to protect for our benefit. These bills would remove a significant element of politics from the mixture, and deserve our support. Whether or not you're a license-buyer, please contact your state senator immediately at the link above, and ask them to support SB 1166 and 1168.
The PGC has done some remarkable work to help birds like the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Sandhill Crane, Golden-winged Warbler, and many others increase their populations in Pennsylvania. Join us as we celebrate another year of commitment to bird conservation by both the PGC and Juniata Valley Audubon Society.
A "silent auction" also will be held to raise funds for conservation efforts supported by the JVAS. Members are asked to bring new or gently used nature-related items to donate for the silent auction. Please bring the items before 5:00 PM at the banquet. Books, artwork, pottery, native plants — anything related to nature will be auctioned. Bring your checkbook or cash to support this important fund-raiser!
We will order off the menu, so payment in advance is not required. However, we ask that you email or call JVAS Hospitality Chair Marcia Bonta by April 12, as we need to let Hoss’s know how many plan to attend. Please call Marcia at 814-684-3113 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The 1st annual Earth Day Birding Classic at Penn State Altoona will be held on April 22 and 23, 2016. Registration is free. The goal is for teams in six different categories to count as many species of birds as possible in the 24-hour-period beginning at noon on April 22. This non-profit event is co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies program at Penn State Altoona and Juniata Valley Audubon Society. Pledges that team members garner will support bird conservation and education in central Pennsylvania. Teams of 3 or more (2 or more for Senior citizens) will count birds in Blair and surrounding counties, and prizes will be awarded during the closing ceremony. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place at the Slep Center on the Penn State Altoona campus immediately prior to and following the event. Registration deadline is April 15 – to register and for more information, please contact Catherine Kilgus at email@example.com.
March and April Fridays: 12:30 pm - 6:00 PM
If you are interested in getting to know one of the premier birding areas in Pennsylvania, contact JVAS vice president Mark Bonta by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to join him on weekly Friday afternoon outings in March and April to locations along Spring Creek and Bald Eagle Creek in Centre County. Novice birders welcome! Possibilities include multiple locations in Bald Eagle State Park (in the top 5 eBird hotspots for the state), Curtin Wetland, Julian Wetland, Gov. Tom Ridge Wetland, Unionville town park, Talleyrand and Kraus parks in Bellefonte, Spring Creek Nature Park, Fisherman's Paradise and the rest of Spring Creek Canyon, and several State Game Lands. Expect to see large waterfowl concentrations and plenty of other exciting species. You can join a trip in progress at any time during the afternoon if you have a cellphone, or you can join up at the starting point of Bellefonte, in the municipal parking lot across from 409 West High St. downtown; trips leave at 12:30 PM and conclude before dusk. Routes vary depending on what species are where. Possibilities exist for longer hikes or no hikes at all. RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED and trips are subject to cancellation. Trips run every Friday, beginning 4 March and ending 15 April.
Birders converged on the Culp Christmas Bird Count Circle in Blair County on a cold and windy December 19, 2015 to participate in the 47th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by Juniata Valley Audubon Society, under the direction of National Audubon. The first CBC ever was in 1900 - an alternative activity to count birds ALIVE, since prior to 1900 the tools of choice were not binoculars, but were guns, with participants competing to see how many birds they could KILL.
Some key counters were sorely missed as they could not participate this year due to illness, but the 18 people who did participate on December 19 counted a total of 5,082 birds, representing 67 different species. JVAS President and CBC Compiler Laura Jackson would like to thank the following counters who braved a cold and windy day: Susan Braun, Michael David, JP Dibert, Carl Engstrom, Kurt Engstrom, Stephanie Gallagher, Debra Grim, Charlie Hoyer, Mike Jackson, Kristin Joivell, George Mahon, Stephen Martynuska, Ian McGregor, John Orr, Mark Shields, and Jody Wallace. JVAS VP Mark Bonta helped to organize the counters and contributed the sighting of a Horned Grebe that was recorded as a “count week bird,” making 68 the total number of species recorded during the count week.
Mild fall weather meant that there was plenty of open water, but waterfowl were surprisingly scarce. Canoe Lake is a good location to observe waterfowl, but no Canada geese were to be found. Observers did find 10 Buffleheads, one Common Goldeneye, seven Hooded Mergansers, and one Common Merganser, as well as a few Mallards, at Canoe Lake. Elsewhere in the count circle, 143 Canada Geese were found, just two Wood Ducks, one American Black Duck, and over 200 Mallards. Fortunately, the 10 American Coots spotted at Canoe Lake were alive - last year approximately 12 were found dead floating in the lake. The reason for their death remains a mystery.
It was a good day for raptors: 5 Bald Eagles and 1 Golden Eagle were counted, as well as 1 Merlin, 3 Northern Harriers, 7 American Kestrels, 4 Sharp-shinned Hawks, and 6 Cooper’s Hawks. As expected, Red-tailed Hawks were the most common - 28 were found. The highlight of the raptor survey was finding a Northern Goshawk. Sinking Valley, with its broad vistas and farm fields, is a good habitat for birds of prey, as well as for the gallinaceous birds like Wild turkey (48), Ring-necked Pheasant (16), and some exotic Chukar (7) - a partridge native to Eurasia that has been introduced as a game bird. Sadly, our state bird, the Ruffed Grouse, is in decline, and only one was found. Another species that frequents Sinking Valley in the winter is the Horned Lark - 70 were counted.
All species of woodpeckers were observed, except the Red-headed Woodpecker; European Starlings are responsible for their absence. In fact, the Starling was the most common species counted in the circle, with observers reporting a total of 1,714 birds. Brown-headed Cowbirds were the second most common bird with 550 reported. A few Red-winged Blackbirds (8) and just one rusty Blackbird were found in some of the Cowbird flocks.
Many common “winter birds” were seen: Winter Wrens (2), Golden-crowned Kinglets (16), American Tree Sparrows (40), Dark-eyed Juncos (265), White-throated Sparrows (120), Purple Finches (7) and a few Pine Siskins (7), to name a few.
The relatively mild winter meant that many birds which might be scarce during cold winters were still in abundance: 53 Eastern Bluebirds, 50 American Robins, 7 Northern Mockingbirds, and 24 Killdeer.
Observers at feeders and along wooded trails also reported good numbers of our common backyard birds: 76 Black-capped Chickadees, 81 Tufted Titmouse, 50 White-breasted Nuthatches, and 7 Carolina Wrens.
It is a challenge to thoroughly cover the count circle, centered at Culp - a crossroads in Sinking Valley. The circle is 15 miles in diameter, so the effort includes observations while driving the roads, hiking the fields and forests, or counting birds at backyard feeders. This year, 18 birders counted throughout the day, from dawn to dark - and even after dark for owls, for a cumulative effort of 75 hours looking for birds.
The Culp CBC is usually held the Saturday before Christmas, so if you might like to participate next year, call JVAS President Laura Jackson (814-652-9268) and get your name added to the list of potential participants. If you live in the count circle, you could count birds at your feeder. Otherwise, expect to spend part of a day on an exciting adventure exploring parts of Blair County.
A Christmas Bird Count Dinner was held immediately following the count when most of the birders enjoyed an evening at Marzoni’s - after a great meal each group reported their findings at the “tally rally.” A good day was had by all!
Please let me know what area you plan to cover for the CBC. We will have a planning meeting at The Dream Restaurant on Dec. 6th at 5:15 pm to assign areas. If we don't hear from you before then, we won't know what area you want to bird. We can meet there for free as long as people buy dinner. Ask for the meeting room under Laura Jackson's reservation.
Also, we will have the tally rally dinner at Marzoni's on Dec. 19th. Reservations need to be sent no later than Dec. 11 and cost $20.00. See more details in the last issue of The Gnatcatcher. Send your check payable to JVAS to Laura Jackson 8621 Black Valley Road, Everett, PA 15537. We encourage you to attend, even if you can't help with the CBC.