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At the end of each calendar year, I take time to reflect on how the birding world enriched my life and how I was able to give back to the birds.

Dear JVAS Community,

Happy New Year to you and your family!

At the end of each calendar year, I take time to reflect on how the birding world enriched my life and how I was able to give back to the birds. As many of us do, we participate in citizen science initiatives and programs such as the JVAS Earth Week Birding Classic, Shaver’s Creek Birding Cup, Christmas Bird Counts, The Great Backyard Bird Count, attend Hawk Watches, or just create lists of the variety of bird species that we have seen or heard for the first time, or maybe for the thousandth time. Either way we are fascinated by our feathered creatures.

Thinking back on 2021, a sequence of bird watching events I would love to share with you all happened during mid-April, a time in which migration is increasing and a great opportunity to observe vagrant birds. For three consecutive days I was privileged to see and appreciate three new lifetime Pennsylvania birds. Spotting a rare vagrant is an unanticipated delight so when this occurred, I was beyond ecstatic.

Neotropic Cormorant with Double-crested Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant (r) with Double-crested Cormorant

4/12/21: I made a trip to Lycoming Co. to visit the Williamsport Dam in which the first PA state record Neotropic Cormorant (NECO) was discovered the day before. It was a dreary day, but seeing this bird perched next to the more common Double-crested Cormorant of our area, was a treasure and a wonderful learning experience to see the differences. The NECO is typically found on waters of southern U.S. states, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

American White Pelican
American White Pelican

4/13/21: After work on this day, I did not have to contemplate at all after receiving a notification about a species I have only observed in North Carolina, an American White Pelican (AWPE). I arrived at the beautiful Shawnee State Park, Bedford Co. and was greeted by a thick orange billed all-white pelican drifting on the lake. One thing I learned about this species from reading in a field guide is that groups of AWPE will work together in order to herd fish into shallow waters for easy feeding.

King Rail
King Rail

4/14/21: Could lightning strike a 3rd time, you betcha! At a residential backyard in State College, Centre Co., of all places, I was able to enjoy alongside many other local birders the 4th Co. record of a King Rail. This was my #295th lifetime PA bird species, and I enjoyed watching as it was consuming earthworms in the yard. King Rail numbers have declined 90% in the last half-century, placing it as a species of high concern in the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan.

I want to thank each of you for your continued efforts supporting the birds and environment that we adore. Our mission cannot be accomplished without your help and dedication for conservation and restoration of our natural ecosystems.

I am also extremely grateful to work with amazing JVAS board members, who volunteer their own time to help with planning for new initiatives, programs, field trips, conservation, and financial efforts and much more. Thank you, Laura and Mike Jackson, George Mahon, Schawnne Kilgus, Matt Karabinos, Laura Palmer, Denice Rodaniche, Allison Cornell, Dave Bonta, Susan Braun, Michael Kensinger, Warren Baker, Sharon Clewell, and Catie Farr.

Here’s to a stellar 2022 together and good birding!

John Carter

Dear JVAS Community,

I hope this message find you well and enjoying the splendors of the season transformation from summer to fall.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” I took this quote to mean when we walk into nature, we come out strengthened and confident in ourselves. A walk into nature helps clear our minds, builds a positive relationship with the natural world, and creates a sense of peace.

trees

Over the past month JVAS hosted several field trips in which many people attended exploring and learning about the great outdoors. We look forward to the upcoming field trips, including the 53rd Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the Culp circle. Please consider volunteering to help with part of the circle count on Saturday December 18th. See more details about the CBC in this issue of The Gnatcatcher.

Here are some walks to consider visiting in the local outdoors:

The Albemarle Nature Trail: (2858 Back Vail Rd, Tyrone, PA 16686) follows a 1-mile loop through a deciduous forest, open meadow, and wetlands formed by a beaver dam. The area serves as home to a variety of animal species and native birds such as wild turkey, great blue heron, owls, red-tailed hawk, and songbirds. The Albemarle Nature Trail provides habitats for many plant species.

Bells Gap Trail: (163 Igou Road, Tyrone, PA 16686) Outstanding views of eastern ridges, the Tuckahoe Valley and Bellwood Reservoir. A Rail Trail that is an easy out and back stroll 2 miles (one-way). The trail consists of fresh crushed limestone surface and is home of many bird species. Along with the rich railroad history, the trail includes several covered benches on which to rest and enjoy the scenery.

Coyler Lake Trail: (Lingle Rd, Centre Hall, PA 16828) The Lake Loop is 2.7 miles that features a beautiful 77-acre lake and is good for all skill levels. Owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and managed by the Fish and Boat Commission for public fishing and boating. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and bird watching.

Lake Perez—Lake Trail: (325 Charter Oak Rd, Petersburg, PA 16669) This 3-mile lake loop is located near Stone Valley Recreation Area near Shaver's Creek Environmental Center. A wonderful opportunity to see wildlife, and numerous woodland bird species. There are also several surrounding trails of various lengths that you can explore.

I will conclude this message with a quote from Albert Einstein, "Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better."

forested lakeshore in autumn foliage

JVAS has developed a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Statement.

Dear JVAS Community,

I hope this message finds you and your family healthy.

It has been quite the summer with the mystery illness of the Songbird Mortality Event which is still being investigated to its cause. I do applaud all of you who acted during this time to keep your feeders down and cleaned. I do have some positive news as we flit into our Fall season and the growth of our JVAS community.

After reviewing the current JVAS boundaries we had the opportunity to add adjacent zip codes that do not have a local Audubon Chapter associated with it and are within the current counties we serve. The following zip codes which include Mifflin, Centre, and Huntingdon Counties: 16668, 16627, 15753, 16616, 16656, 16866, 16844, 16823, 16865, 16803, 16801, 16827, 16828, 17063, 17084, 17004, 17009, 17044, 17029, 17002, 17051, 17060 were thoughtfully discussed by our board and we feel it would help serve adjacent communities near the current boundaries of JVAS to help contribute to the mission and goals.

A few of the initiatives that are outside of our normal year-to-year plans, such as involving members in field trips and educational programs, is to increase diversity and education to our members. The pandemic has helped teach us that we can communicate in so many new creative methods.

If you are not getting emails from JVAS and would like to help conserve paper by receiving a digital copy of the Gnatcatcher Newsletter, please send us your email address so we can communicate with you more effectively. We will not share your email. Please Email: [email protected]

Increasing membership will also lead to stronger efforts in communicating conservation efforts and having more people voice their thoughts to the government and local authorities on important issues that impact our environment. As the saying goes, "Strength in numbers," and if we continue to build our JVAS foundation with voices that are within counties we already serve, it will help the overall mission of Audubon.

Having folks that are not currently part of a local chapter will also help create affinity within those Audubon members and would develop a local connection.

As we continue to work together towards our mission, JVAS developed a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Statement:

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society is committed to welcoming and encouraging birdwatchers and nature lovers from all walks of life. We believe we are able to grow and learn better when we are committed to inclusivity. We respect the individuality of each member, and we want to continue to engage a diverse membership; we encourage people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientation, physical abilities, religions and beliefs, and socio-economic backgrounds to embrace conservation, birding, and nature. Without a diverse perspective and a commitment to conservation, JVAS cannot move forward. Together we can work towards our goals of protecting birds and the environments they need to survive.

Thank you for being a continued valued member of JVAS and I look forward to continuing serving as your chapter’s president. I am enthusiastic in what we can accomplish to make a difference in our communities.

You might be thinking to yourself, “What can I do to help support the birds even more?” And I would say, “Consider planting some native plants!”

Dear JVAS Community,

Spring is here, friends, with new birds passing through our yards, flowers of different varieties emerging from the ground, bees buzzing, butterflies floating by... and the temperature is rising. You might be thinking to yourself, “What can I do to help support the birds even more?” And I would say, “Consider planting some native plants!”

According to Audubon, “In the United States, a native plant is defined as one that was naturally found in a particular area before European colonization. Native plants are the foundation of a region’s biodiversity, providing essential food sources and shelter for birds, especially those threatened by the changing climate. Since native plants are adapted to local precipitation and soil conditions, they generally require less upkeep, therefore helping the environment and saving you time, water, and money.”

Plants that are native to the areas where you live have the greatest number of benefits. They support birds and other wildlife through many stages of their lifecycle. They provide food in the form of seeds, nectar, berries, and nuts. Native plants play an important role in supporting insect species that are critical to the survival of nestlings and migrating birds. Native plants also contribute to healthier, more resilient human communities by more sustainably adding shade, storing carbon, and absorbing storm water to help reduce flooding and polluted run-off after storms than non-native plants.

black-eyed Susans
black-eyed Susans
One of my favorite native plants that I enjoy each year is the black-eyed Susan. This is an herbaceous annual which grows one to two feet tall in full sun in moist to dry, well-drained soil. The daisy-like flowers are yellow with a brownish-purple center, and bloom on rough stalks from June to October. Black-eyed Susan attracts birds such as wood warblers, cardinals, grosbeaks and wrens for its seeds and pollinating insects for its nectar, and is resistant to browsing by deer.

Here are some helpful resources from the National Audubon website to help understand Native Plants and improving your backyard habitat for wildlife:

Thanks for continuing to help our birds and other wildlife!

spicebush swallowtail on swamp milkweed
spicebush swallowtail on swamp milkweed

JVAS President's Message

It was an early Autumn morning and the sun was just peaking over the mountain top. I could hear the Red-winged blackbirds and Song Sparrows wake up the neighborhood. I was enjoying a fresh cup of shade grown Lenca Farms coffee, and that was when I heard the sound that makes all of us bird lovers just cringe. Yes, it was a loud thud against the window from an alluring Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyed Vireo

With the white eyebrow stripe bordered above and below by blackish lines, this olive-green colored bird was certainly dazed but did not appear to have any other injuries such as a broken wing. I held the bird for a few minutes to see if it would come to and fly-off, but it seemed comfortable in my hands. I have read that birds can overheat in your hands, so I didn’t want to hold this adult bird longer than necessary. I got a shoebox and softened the bottom with some cloth. After 15 minutes, I opened the box and the bird was clearly calm and alert, ready to take flight once again.

Sadly, in many of window strike cases, birds suffer serious injuries such as internal hemorrhages, concussions, or damage to their bills, wings, eyes, or skulls. Window collisions kill vast numbers of birds in the United States each year and is reported to be at least a billion birds per year.

Here are some strategies from the National Audubon website to help protect our bird friends from window strikes:

  • Make windows look like a barrier to birds, such as
    • Window decals may help, but they must be placed no more than 2-4 inches apart in order to be effective. Birds will try to fly through larger gaps. This means that on large windows, many closely spaced decals may be necessary to deter bird collisions.
    • Create temporary designs with window markers or tempera paints, soap, or hang ribbons on window exteriors. Again, designs or ribbons should be placed no more than 2-4 inches apart.
  • Install external screens or netting on windows. When done effectively, external screens can break up reflections or can slow birds down before they hit the glass.
  • Close window drapes or blinds partially or completely whenever possible. This is especially important at night when interior lights are in use.
  • Position feeders either directly on a window with suction cups or within 3 feet.
  • Avoid placing plants near windows inside your home.

Thanks for helping keep our birds safe!

—John Carter

Additional Solutions

Mike and I have also found birds that were injured or killed by flying into a window. Most of the problems occurred outside our big kitchen window, in the back yard where we have bird feeders and a bubbling boulder to provide water for wildlife. The kitchen window reflects the forest that surrounds our backyard, so it’s no wonder that birds fly into the glass. Birds don’t realize that they see a reflection; they think they are flying into the forest.

One thing that does work is screening. Frank Haas, a well-known Pennsylvania birder, started the Bird Screen Company. His products do work, by providing a screen that deters most birds from hitting the windows. The screens are not flush with the window and have enough tension, so birds that hit the screen bounce off without being injured. We bought enough screens to cover our kitchen window and thought we had the problem solved, until our backyard bears discovered the suction cups that attached the screens to the windows. For some reason, the bears delighted in removing the suction cups, rendering the screens useless.

Still searching we found a product called Bird Crash Preventer. This setup has easy-to-install brackets that held up a curtain of fishing line spaced 4 in. apart and fastened to brackets below. The fishing line is very reflective, so birds avoid the “curtain.” However, we found that small birds like American Goldfinches would fly between the fishing line and hit the window. We then strung more fishing line to make the gap just 2 inches apart. This helped, but a few birds still hit the window. Next, we bought black garden nylon netting sold in hardware stores used to cover fruit trees and shrubs. We strung this on top of the fishing line, attached it to the brackets, and pulled it taut. When birds hit the netting, they just bounce off without being injured. Voila! Problem solved.

There are other solutions, too. Check out Acopian Bird Savers (Zen Wind Curtains). You can purchase this solution or make your own. This product has been scientifically shown to be effective. You can download the research papers from the website.

—Laura Jackson

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.

Reprinted from the Sept-Oct issue of the Gnatcatcher.

JVAS member Alice Fleischer takes a look at the rocky outcropping of Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.
JVAS member Alice Fleischer takes a look at the rocky outcropping of Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.

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.

This map shows the developer’s plan to transform a native forest with rare habitats into a resort and marina.
This map shows the developer’s plan to transform a native forest with rare habitats into a resort and marina.

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.

False Foxglove is a beautiful native flower.
False Foxglove is a beautiful native flower.

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).

While we did not identify any of the rare shale plants or insects, our short study of the Peninsula gave us an appreciation for shale barrens habitat, as well as a renewed vow to try to save it from development. Please sign the JVAS Petition to protect the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.

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