Congratulations are in order to Mark Bonta (JVAS Vice President and Education Chair), Ian McGregor (Conservation Chair) and Catherine Kilgus. Their team, Gone Pishing, braved the elements last weekend and nabbed 100 bird species in 24 hours to win the Potter Mug at the Shaver's Creek 2015 Birding Cup. The Potter Mug is awarded to a team with a majority of members who have only been birding for less than a year.
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.
The Jacks Mountain Hawk Watch has a commemorative patch for sale. Email Ron Singer at [email protected] 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.
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.
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.
Archery season for antlered and antlerless deer begins today statewide in Pennsylvania. Although archers tend to make very sure of their targets, it's still a good idea for anyone in the woods — birdwatchers, hikers, mushroom gatherers, etc. — to wear a blaze-orange cap at least, if not a vest or coat as well. In State Game Lands it's more or less mandatory, but state forests, state parks, and most other public lands are open for hunting as well. Later on in November, when regular rifle deer season comes in after Thanksgiving, non-hunters should probably stay out of the woods altogether on opening day and the first Saturday, and be very cautious and visible for the rest of the season. And turkey season, which is in November, is also a very good time to get shot if you're not wearing blaze orange. Gobbling and scratching in the leaves is also discouraged.
See the complete list of 2013-2014 hunting seasons on the Game Commission website. (Scroll down for the map of wildlife management areas. Our area is split between 4D, 4A and 2C. )
Needless to say, as a conservation organization, Juniata Valley Audubon strongly supports deer hunting, and many of our members are also hunters. Shoot a deer, save a wood thrush.
Every fall, the Pennsylvania Game Commission offers tours at select game lands around the state. This year, one of them is in our area: State Game Lands 108. Here's the relevant section from their press release:
Cambria County: Sunday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., State Game Lands 108, consisting of 23,086 acres. This 7.5-mile, self-guided, one-way, driving tour will highlight mountainous terrain and fall foliage on the Allegheny Front. Items of interest along the tour route include a rehabilitated strip-mined area, which has been converted to small-game habitat. The area also serves as a study area for grassland nesting birds, including the Henslow’s sparrow, a grassland species of special concern. Northern harriers and endangered short-eared owls also inhabit the study area. Also highlighted are tree and shrub identification, wildlife habitat food plots and a deer exclosure fence. Each tour participant will be provided a brochure with directions and information about various features along the tour route. The tour begins at the State Game Lands access road three-tenths of a mile north of Frugality, along State Route 53, in White Township. Watch for the sign. The starting point is just minutes away from the main beach at Prince Gallitzin State Park, where the annual Apple Cider Festival will be taking place on the same day. The tour will conclude on State Route 865 near Blandburg, in Reade Township. Game Commission land management, forestry, wildlife management, and law enforcement personnel will be on hand to explain the various habitat improvement projects on this SGL and to answer questions.
We just received this update from Molly Anderson via email: "Due to current acorn conditions (or lack thereof) we will be cancelling this workday after all. It’s such a shame too because the weather is going to be nice and cool."
Needless to say, a widespread failure of the acorn crop for a third year in a row is very bad news for wildlife in our area.
JVAS member Greg Grove's letter to the Huntingdon Daily News:
To the Editor, Daily News;
A recent article in the The Daily News (August 30, 2013) described the possible placement of wind turbines on Jack’s Mt. in an entirely positive light. However, there is another very alarming side to this story.
Approximately a couple dozen land-owners on Jacks Mt. have signed leases permitting the building of turbines and access roads on their properties in the following townships: Union, Menno, Oliver, Granville, and Wayne. In addition, at least three properties have also been leased on Stone Mt. in Brady Township, Huntingdon County.
Our society must develop sources of clean energy, including the use of wind – but turbines should be in places where they will do more good than harm. Wind turbines are massive structures, towering 400 feet or more into the air, much higher the towers that support electric power lines.
The sharply peaked ridgelines of Jacks and Stone are far too narrow for the towers. Not mentioned in the Daily News article is that the construction of the towers and access roads will require removal of a significant portion of the mountain top, perhaps as much as 100 feet (or more) of elevation in some places. That is not a typo – imagine our ridges with 100 feet blasted off the top: environmental destruction on a huge scale.
Along with the sheer destruction, what effect will this have on water supplies? The water on which we depend in the valleys comes in large part from the slopes of Jacks and Stone Mts. Nor do we know the effects of the proposed mountaintop removal on wildlife. For example, each fall and spring, thousands of raptors, including several hundred Bald and Golden Eagles migrate along the two ridges, using the power of the wind deflected up slope to save energy as they move between winter and summer ranges. Turbines extending over 400 above the ridge top, with blade speeds (at the tips) of well over 100 mph will likely kill some as happens at other wind projects. Besides raptors, uncounted thousands of other birds as well as bats fly along the ridges, susceptible to the turning blades.
Economic benefit is cited as a reason to welcome wind farms. How much of a boon may occur remains to be seen. Balance that against the fact that our region derives much income from tourism (everything from sight-seers to hunters). Ridges with their tops blasted away are not likely to enhance the experience of visitors from outside the region. Among other aspects, Jacks is nationally known for hang-gliding appeal, drawing many people to the area. Cut the mountain down and put up towers with spinning blades – that attraction will probably disappear.
Our region would realize no particular benefits from the electricity generated; it would simply go into the national grid. The companies, which are not American, are constructing wind projects in Pennsylvania because a significant portion of their costs is government-subsidized. Pennsylvania’s wind profile is of borderline value for generating electricity–without the subsidies, it is unlikely turbines would be constructed in Pennsylvania.
Township supervisors should be made aware of the issues arising from the building of turbines on Jacks and Stone. They cannot prevent the placement of turbines or of people leasing their land to turbine companies. But they can craft ordinances that put some legal restrictions on the siting of turbines, affording at least some protection for neighboring property owners from turbine noise, shadow flicker, and accidents.
An organization called SOAR (Save Our Allegheny Ridges) has been formed to inform the public and township officials about the negative aspects of wind turbines in our mountains. (http://saveouralleghenyridges.org/). There is also a Facebook group called Friends of Jacks Mountain that provides updates on the situation on Jacks and Stone for those who wish more information.
The final JVAS Butterfly Garden workday of 2013 will take place this Saturday, September 7 from 9am till 10am at our beautiful garden adjacent to the Environmental Education Center at Canoe Creek State Park.
We are in need of New England asters and New York asters. If you can bring some to plant in the garden on Saturday, then that would be great. Bring gloves for weeding.
—Stan and Alice Kotala
JVAS Butterfly Garden coordinators
Our annual hike in memory of Terry Wentz took place on May 11 at Canoe Creek State Park, where Terry was Superintendent for many years. The yellow lady's-slipper orchids and flowering dogwood trees were at their height of bloom.