JVAS activities

Juniata Valley Audubon Society is proud to help sponsor local screenings of two fascinating and important nature documentaries this fall. Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home, narrated by renowned entomologist, author and native plants expert Doug Tallamy, will be shown at the Canoe Creek State Park Education Center on Saturday, September 30 at 1:00 PM and at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Altoona on Monday, October 16 at 7:00 PM. Chasing Coral, a Netflix documentary about the planet's disappearing coral reefs that the New York Times called "an emotional race against time," will be shown at the Altoona Area Public Library on Thursday, October 12 at 6:00 PM.

These screenings are in addition to our regular monthly program meetings, and are co-sponsored with other local groups (because screening movies isn't cheap), but we've included them in our programs calendar for easy reference.

Hometown Habitat

Award winning director, Catherine Zimmerman, and film crew traveled across the country to visit Hometown Habitat heroes, who are reversing detrimental impacts on the land and in the water of major U.S. watersheds, one garden at a time. They wound their way through the watersheds of Florida, the prairies of the Mississippi River Basin, the streams and rivers of the Rocky Mountains, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and Columbia River to share success stories and works-in-progress that celebrate conservation landscaping that re-awakens and redefines our relationship with Nature.

Along with the everyday habitat heroes, Catherine and crew introduce us to ecologists, entomologists and other experts who share the science behind how today’s ‘native-plants-know- best’ enthusiasts, landscape architects and conservation groups are helping 20th century-minded city planners, businesses and developers appreciate the myriad 21st century benefits of low-maintenance, seasonally-dynamic and eco-healthy landscapes.

The stories they traveled to tell touch on all aspects of the benefits of native plants and brings to light a sense of community that makes conservation landscaping possible. These are the stories.

That's from the description on the film's website. It's worth pointing out that JVAS includes many such "habitat heroes" in its own membership, such as past president Stan Kotala, whose yards near Altoona are a showcase for native wildflowers, and current president Laura Jackson and her husband Mike, whose mountainside acreage near Everett serves as a sort of outdoor laboratory for conservation and habitat restoration. Laura sent along some recent photos of their yards to help make the case that switching to native plants doesn't represent any sacrifice in garden quality:

spring native wildflower gardens

Laura says that this shows two flower beds full of spring blooms: blue woodland phlox, white foamflower, golden Alexander, wild geranium, wild ginger, Canada violets, and dwarf crested iris. There's also a patch of dandelions in the far right of the photo. The Jacksons let the dandelions go to seed in hopes of attracting white-crowned sparrows, which migrate through our area in the spring but nest farther north. The trees are white-flowering dogwood, wild black cherry, American redbud, and wild apple. All plants are native except the apple tree and the dandelions.

summer-blooming natives

A summer-blooming native flower bed of mostly purple coneflower, black-eyed Susans, cardinal flower, and Heliopsis (ox-eye, or false sunflower). There is a small bog garden in the middle that contains native pitcher plants, sedges, purple violets, and ladies tresses orchids. In the foreground you can see creeping phlox that bloomed in the spring and a small pool with a water lily in it. All are natives, although the water lily is a cultivar of our native white waterlily. The trees in the background are white-flowering dogwood, white spruce, sweet gum, and black locust. Laura notes that the white spruce is not considered to be native to southern PA, but they had very few evergreens on their property, and it attracts bugs which are eaten by golden-crowned kinglets. The kinglets stay here all winter and only eat insects, even in the coldest of weather, so the white spruce helps to provide food for them.

If all this whets your appetite to learn more, be sure not to miss one of the screenings on September 30th or October 16th, which should spark lively discussions afterwards. The first screening, at Canoe Creek, will be followed by an optional walk to look at non-native and native plants and to discuss their impact on native wildlife.

Chasing Coral

Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.

Chasing Coral was directed by Jeff Orlowski and produced by Larissa Rhodes. The film took more than three years to shoot, and is the result of 500+ hours underwater, submissions of footage from volunteers from 30 countries, as well as support from more than 500 people from various locations around the world.

Visit their website to learn more about how you can involved. An essential first step, of course, is to watch the film with us at the Altoona Libary on October 12th. There will be free refreshments and a short discussion after the film for those who can stick around.

Peregrine falcon in flight
Peregrine falcons nest on rocky cliffs, under bridges, and on city buildings in Pennsylvania. This wild falcon was photographed by Mike Jackson as it returned to its nestlings under a bridge near Lock Haven.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society's evening program series resumes at the Bellwood-Antis Library in Bellwood on Tuesday, September 19 with a free dinner provided at 6:30 pm, and the program beginning at 7:00 pm. Mark Shields and Randy Flement will present "Trapping and Banding Migrant Raptors on Tussey Mountain.” (View the listing on our website, as well as all of our other upcoming programs and field trips for the fall.)

Mark and Randy's talk will cover the history of their banding efforts on Tussey Mountain, the size of the raptor flight, and the species of raptors that they see and capture, including photos of the birds in flight and in-hand. They'll also describe their trapping methods and banding procedures. A special part of the program will be an opportunity to see a live falcon — Mark’s Peregrine Falcon, Thistle.
   
Mark Shields is a retired USAF officer. He worked as a raptor biologist prior to joining the USAF. He has been a falconer for over 40 years, as well as being a raptor propagator. Since 1983, he has been a raptor bander and has worked under four Master Bird Banders.  Mark continues to stay busy as an artist making reproduction medieval artifacts.

Randy Flament has been a wildlife photographer since 1980. As he says, "I just love being in the woods leaning as much as I can about anything in the wild." Photography allows him to share some of that with other folks, but he prefers to document seldom-seen behavior rather than just take generic portraits of animals. He has been working in the timber business for 40 years.

Registrations due by April 12!

April 19, 2016: JVAS Spring Banquet

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) Bird Research Projects”
Presented by Doug Gross, PGC Bird Biologist

Silent Auction 5:30 PM Dinner 6 PM at Hoss’s Steak & Sea House
110 Patch Way Rd. Duncansville, PA 16635

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: marciabonta@hotmail.com

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 catiegk5059@gmail.com.

→ Download the Registration Form

→ Download the Pledge Sheet

→ Download the Rules & Guidelines — or see below.
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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 (markabonta@yahoo.com) 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.

Tufted Titmouse
Many song birds, such as this Tufted Titmouse, prefer black oil sunflowers. These seeds are high in fat, providing much-needed energy during the winter.

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.

Bald eagle in flight
Counters spotted 5 Bald Eagles this year - a record high for the Culp CBC Circle; Bald Eagles were rarely seen during the Christmas Bird Count until recently. Reintroduction efforts by the Pennsylvania Game Commission are so successful that Bald Eagles are actually nesting in Blair County.

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!

A complete list of all the bird species counted for the Culp CBC can be found on the National Audubon website.

Here is the link to an interactive circle for our CBC on Dec. 19th. Search Culp, PA and you'll see our circle with Tyrone Twp near the center. Zoom in and out to see details, as well as other CBC circles. You can also change the maps, which is a cool feature.

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.

blue-gray gnatcatcher with its mouth openThe latest issue of the Gnatcatcher, the newsletter of Juniata Valley Audubon, is available for download and online viewing. (If you receive the paper edition, it should be arriving in mailboxes soon.) Articles in this issue include a message from the president, Laura Jackson, about saving the owls and other raptors on Amherst Island from industrial wind development; a profile of v-p Mark Bonta and his community conservation work; photos from recent JVAS field trips; reviews of two nature-related novels, Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash and Martin Marten by Brian Doyle, which sound as if they would make fine Christmas presents; information on how to take part in our annual Christmas Bird Count; and much more. Check it out!

Resplendent Quetzal
Resplendent Quetzal (photo: Honduran Conservation Coalition)

Dates: Feb. 17 - 28, 2016

Cost: $1,500 + airfare

Are you a birder eager to explore one of Latin America’s hottest emerging destinations, but also interested in helping ensure that the birds and habitats you visit will be around for others to enjoy in the future? Do you also want to learn about other aspects of Honduran nature, and experience Honduran culture? And, would you like to travel comfortably, yet save big over other birding/natural history tours? The Honduran Conservation Coalition offers you an ethical, affordable alternative.

Participants should see over 300 species of birds, a variety of habitats from coast to mid-altitude rain forests, and will visit some outstanding efforts by Hondurans to protect the environment and educate their citizens on birds and conservation.

Trip leaders: JVAS vice president Dr. Mark Bonta, a Penn State Altoona geography professor and recognized authority on Honduran culture and nature, with 25 years’ experience in Honduras; and Gilberto Flores-Walter, bilingual Honduran birder and coffee farmer, as well as vice-president of the Honduran Ornithological Association.

The tour is limited to 10 paying participants, so email Mark right away if you are interested: markabonta@yahoo.com

Additional information: Birding for Conservation: Honduras 2016 [PDF]
Registration form [PDF]

And don't miss our October program, Honduras: Wildlife, Parks, and People (Tuesday, Oct 20, 7:00 pm in the Bellwood-Antis Public Library). Mark Bonta, Ian McGregor, and John Dibert will describe their trips to some of Honduras’s most important protected areas.