Skip to content

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.

Please join us in welcoming our new secretary, Kristin Joivell; treasurer, George Mahon; vice president, Mark Bonta; and president, Laura Jackson.

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.

The 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.

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!

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!

Although we previously announced that the CBC would be held early this year, on December 14, we decided to move it back to December 21 when we realized that the 14th was the last day of regular rifle deer season in Pennsylvania.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, December 21, and plan to participate in our annual Christmas Bird Count by contacting the coordinator, Steve Bonta, to coordinate your counting activities. Call 684-1175, or send an email to [email protected] with "Christmas Bird Count" in the subject line. We aim to have as complete coverage of the count circle, with as little overlap of participants' count areas, as possible. Of course, backyard bird feeder counts are always welcome as well.

Although we previously announced that the CBC would be held early this year, on December 14, we decided to move it back to December 21 when we realized that the 14th was the last day of regular rifle deer season in Pennsylvania (and that Steve would be here on the 21st after all, and not in Newfoundland as he originally planned).

One big change from previous years is the location of the count supper. Rather than our habitual potluck, the board decided to instead try meeting at a restaurant this year, which should mean that more people can go out and count birds rather than staying home to cook. So we will meet at 5:00 PM to trade stories and compile bird numbers at Urie’s Rib Shack, 954 Pennsylvania Avenue, Tyrone. Any JVAS member is welcome to join us, whether or not you counted birds, but please visit their menu online and let our hospitality chair, Marcia Bonta, know what you'll be ordering no later than December 12 so we can let the chef know. Anyone who fails to do so will not be able to join us. Email her at [email protected] with "Bird count supper" in the subject line or call 684-3113. We'll have a private room in the back with room for up to 30 people.