Cedar Waxwings And A Sign Of Spring At The PPl Wetlands

It was nice to return to Northeastern Pennsylvania after my visit to Puerto Rico. I have always said you don’t have to travel far to find the beauty of nature. I did see many wonderful things in Puerto Rico. There was beautiful scenery and I saw many exotic birds  on my trip.   But there is also so much beauty here too, even in Winter.  And I went looking for, and found some, of this beauty at the PP Wetlands yesterday. Trees and mountains along Susquehanna River

It was a mostly sunny and seasonably cold morning. The temperatures were in the low 20’s.  We had some warm weather while I was gone and there was no snow on the ground.  I immediately noticed how swollen the Susquehanna River had become. trees along river

The heavy rains and melting snow had it reaching the tops of it’s banks. As I walked in the wetlands and found most of the canals and ponds were still frozen.  Even though they were now lifeless, they still had a unique beauty to them. ice covered pond in wetlands

I heard a few birds in the distance, woodpeckers, crows and black-capped chickadees, However I did not see a single bird or other critter until almost a mile into my walk. I saw  these two red squirrels scurrying through the underbrush. pair of red squirrels

I continued my walk to the river lands section of the preserve and frozen Lake Took-A-While.frozen lake Took-A-While

I still wasn’t seeing any  wildlife. I knew the water birds would be gone because  the lake was frozen.I was surprised  there were none  of the  usual winter birds commonly seen here. bridge and lake under cloudy sky

This changed when I walked to the river trail. I first noticed a few woodpeckers in the trees. woodpecker on tree branch

I soon walked into a flock of one of my favorite birds, the cedar waxwing. cedar waxwings in tree

These birds are very social and can be found in large flocks, especially in winter.cedar waxwing in tree

They feed mainly on fruits and can be seen fluttering among the tree tops in small flocks in the summer. This flock was larger than the ones I have seen in the summer. There were about thirty birds in it and they were searching for the few remaining berries on the trees. cedar waxwings in branches

And as I have often  observed before there were now other birds in the same area. I noticed  that different species of birds tend to  travel together, probably for safety, in the cold of Winter. I saw a few tufted tit mice, 

and nuthatches in the same vicinity as the cedar waxwings. I watched the birds for a while enjoying the fluttering of the cedar waxwings in the trees over my head. nuthatch in tree

After observing this group of birds I only saw a cardinal and a few sparrows on my return walk. It was still a pleasure seeing the waxwings. On my return walk I  looked for, and found this, a first sign of Spring. A skunk cabbage sprouting up in wetlands! skunk cabbage sprouting cedar waxwing on branch

It is now mid February, and we may still get some frigid weather and snow here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but the sun is higher in the sky, and the worst of Winter is over. Spring will arrive soon and Nature will put on it’s greatest show of the year. And I will be sure to be outdoors and watch it arrive. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike including some more of the beautiful cedar waxwings. PPL Wetlands hike February 17 2018. 

tree lined frozen pond

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.     Vincent Van Gogh

 

 

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Fly Eagles Fly! And They Did, Here In Northeastern Pennsylvania And Minnesota.

As some of you may know, from my past blog posts, I am a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles football fan. It was an  exciting weekend for Eagles Fans.  The Eagles won  their first Super Bowl on Sunday!!!!  On Saturday, before the game,  I decided to drive to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center and see if I could see a live bald eagle for good luck and  in anticipation of the big game.Lehigh Gap Nature Center

I chose this area of the Lehigh River since I had seen  a bald eagle on my hike along the Lehigh Canal in Weissport last week. And my brother Mike often sees them here when he drives home from work. stone building at lehigh gap

I have been to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center before. It is where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Lehigh River. I have hiked up atop the Blue Mountain on the trail  from here. This time I decided to hike north on the D & L trail. It was partly sunny and a frigid  15 degrees when I began my hike.D & L trail at Lehigh gap

 I had only walked a few hundred yards when I saw a large bird in the distance flying toward me. Could it be? Yes it was!  I was delighted to discover that it was a bald eagle!bald eagle in flight

He or she flew directly over me and was looking down at me as he or she flew overhead.  I thought she or he nodded her head, telling me the Eagles will do just fine. I am always thrilled to see our National symbol in the wild. Even more so the day before my Eagles played in the Super Bowl.  These majestic birds  came so close to extinction a few decades ago.  I knew it was  good sign for me and my Philadelphia Eagles.  And sure enough it was. The Philadelphia Eagles flew just as high, beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Here is a link to some more photographs of the eagle. Bald Eagle February 3 2018.bald eagle in flight

I continued my walked along the river and noticed the huge blocks of ice that were scattered along the river banks.  Many were six inches to a foot thick. ice along Lehigh river

The river was mainly ice free now and was flowing rapidly from some rain and warmer weather we had last week. lehigh river

As I walked along, I startled many flocks of juncos who were feeding on the grasses and plants that grew along the trail.junco on ground

There were also quite a few cardinals in the trees along the trail and river. male cardinal in tree

The trail  turned to the northwest after about a mile or so and I walked into the shade.  It felt a lot colder without the sunshine.

The river was still in the sunshine  and I saw a few Canada geese

and a flock of common mergansers wading on it’s deep blue waters. 

I walked out to the Three Ponds Trail,  about two miles out from the nature center. The trail winds around some wetlands and three large ponds. The ponds are now frozen and lifeless but I would think there would be a lot of wildlife activity in the warmer months. 

I climbed up to the Prairie Grass. This trail is high above the D & L trail and the Lehigh river. 

It consists of native grasses which have grown on the soil that was contaminated by a zinc plants that operated nearby during the last century. I remember the barren hillsides when I would travel to Philadelphia as a child. The plant was closed and, with the help of conservationists, the hillsides are now making a comeback.

The trail were steep and ice covered in spots making for some difficult walking. The views, however were worth the effort. View of Lehigh River

In addition to the magnificent views of  river, mountains and towns below, I also saw this house in the distance atop Marshall’s Hill in Palmerton. It is remodeled now but I remember when it was run down and dilapidated. It looked like the house from the Adam’s Family. It was built by a retired Civil War general, Elisha Marshall, and was said to be haunted. 

The trail eventually began a steep, and ice covered, descent. I was surprised not to see or hear a single bird on the trail. I am sure there would be many migratory song birds up here in the Spring. 

The Prairie Grass Trail crossed another nice hiking trail the Lehigh-New England trail. I crossed this trail and walked down to the D & L trail but I plan to return and explore these paths again. Lehigh New England trail

I returned to the Nature Center seeing this beautiful blue bird along the way. Here is a link to some more birds I saw on my hike. Lehigh Gap Birdsblue bird on tree

I enjoyed my hike in the Lehigh Gap and will be  back to explore the many trails in warmer weather. I left  feeling good having seen an eagle. I knew it was a good omen. And it was. My Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl Champions. Fly Eagles Fly!!!! Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike. Lehigh Gap Nature Center hike February 3 2018. Buildings at Lehigh Gap Nature Center

“Farewell,” they cried, “Wherever you fare till your eyries receive you at the journey’s end!” That is the polite thing to say among eagles.

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks,” answered Gandalf, who knew the correct reply.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien

bald eagle in flight

 

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Pinchot State Forest: A Hike To Crystal Lake

It was a mild January day here in Northeastern Pennsylvania yesterday. I decided to explore the Pinchot State Forest and Crystal Lake. Located about 25 miles northeast of my home, I noticed the  lake on the maps when I  hiked in the nearby  State game lands in Dennison Township.Parking area D & L trail near Crystal Lake

It looked like there would be some wetlands around the lake and I hoped to see some wildlife on my hike. I arrived at a parking area along the the D & L Trail just outside of Glen Summit.  I met a fellow who was taking his dog for a walk on the road leading to the reservoir. He was ahead of me and would scare any wildlife  so I decided to walk up the  the Big Wapwallopen Creek to the lake. Big Wapwallopen Creek

I knew of the “Big Wap” from my high school days when my friends would fish this creek were it entered the Susquehanna River near Berwick. I had no idea it’s headwaters were up here. Big Wapwallopen creek

As I set out on my hike  I saw a group of woodpeckers fluttering in the trees above me. I believe they were hairy woodpeckers although it is hard to distinguish them from the very similar downy woodpecker. hairy woodpeckers in tree branches

I know  the lack of spots on the outer tail feathers and larger size of the  bill are the identifying features but it is still hard for me to tell the difference. hairy woodpecker with extended wings

It was a little rough walking up along the creek but it was worth seeing some of the ancient  hemlock and yellow  birch trees growing alongs the banks of the stream. 

I also came upon some old ruins which must have been associated with an  aqueduct that supplied the city of Wilkes-Barre with water many years ago. old ruins along creek

I continued my upward climb   along the creek until it got too steep and covered in thick brush.  I left the creek and followed a  path along a new waterline. It led me to the treatment facility of the local water company. I followed the road up to a large dam and  completely frozen Crystal Lake. It is situated atop what I think is Penobscot Mountain. ice covered Crystal lake

I am sure there would be plenty of birds and  waterfowl in the warmer months but I didn’t see  a living thing on the frozen waters. 

I followed a  trail that began near  the lake and proceeded south and east. I saw  a few   golden-crowned kinglets feeding in some thick woods at the start of the trail ,

and a nuthatch too.

I soon came upon some wetlands but there was no birds or other wildlife to be found on the frozen waters. 

The trail entered a large expanse of scrub oaks. I have hiked many hours  in the  scrub oak forest atop the mountains where I live.

These  forest are usually home to deer, small animals and, in the summer,  many species of birds. On this walk I didn’t see or hear any sound of wildlife for almost a mile. It was only when I neared  a few pitch pine trees towering over the scrub oaks that I heard a few blue jays and black-capped chickadees in the distance. 

The harsh weather conditions on top of the mountains in Northeastern Pennsylvania create these forest. And these same conditions make it a difficult place to live in the winter. ice covered trail

I walked out  about another mile before I decided to return. The sun was warming it up now but I still did not see a single bird in the scrub oak forest. I did see a few teaberries growing along the trail.tea berry

Once I neared the lake I again saw a few nuthatches, black-capped chickadee and this tufted titmouse. tufted titmouse on branch

I walked the road back to the parking area  and a flock of golden-crowned kinglets fluttered alongside me as I descended the mountain top. 

I was soon at my car, reading a guide and map of the Pinchot State Forest that I picked up at the parking area. I know I will be exploring the many large tracts of land that make up this forest in the near future. And I hope to find much more wildlife on my next visit to Crystal lake. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike to Crystal Lake. Crystal Lake hike photographs January 27 2018.

“A person does not grow from the ground like a vine or a tree, one is not part of a plot of land. Mankind has legs so it can wander.” 
― 
Roman Payne

 

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More Snow And Clouds At The PPL Wetlands

Last  Sunday I  again  awoke to find above freezing temperatures here at my home in Hazle Township. It was, for January, a mild  34 degrees. After my usual early morning walk through my neighborhood, I decided to visit the PPL Wetlands and check out  the Susquehanna River. The temperature was now 40 degrees.Susquehanna River

Usually it is a few degrees warmer at the wetlands. But, like the day before at the Lehigh River, I found it was much colder than at my home at a much higher elevation. The temperature was 25 degrees when I arrived. The river was mostly ice free  but there were  still over six inches of snow on the ground.snow covered trail

Contrary to the predictions of mild weather, a wintery walk it would be. bare tree branches

The snow and thick cloud cover made it a dreary white and gray  world.  So different from the many colors found in the wetlands in Spring, Summer and Fall. ice and snow covered pond

The drab colors made even the dead dry leaves still clinging to the beech treesbeech leaves

and oak trees stand out. brown oak leaves

The red winter berries  also provided a little color.

As did the bluish  berries remaining on the briars.briar berries

There were a few flocks of birds fluttering in the higher tree branches. It was hard for me to identify them or get good photographs in the dim white sky. I think they were black-capped chickadees and juncos. I was able to get a photograph of this nuthatch. nuthatch on tree

And this golden crowned kinglet. golden crowned kinglet

I also heard the rapping of the woodpeckers in the treetops and saw, in the distance another pileated woodpecker. Like the previous day I could not get a good photograph and it soon flew off in search of food. pileated woodpecker on tree trunk

There was no one else at usually crowded Lake Took-A While. The lake was also frozen and snow covered. snow covered trail along lake

It was peaceful, but difficult,  walking along the trail in the cold and snow. There were  not the almost endless variety of plants, insects, birds and animals found here in the summer.  However  you could find a different kind beauty if you looked  closely.

The dead remains of last years plants stood out in the whiteness of the snow. dead plant in snow

It won’t be long until we see the first sign of life. Next month the lowly skunk cabbage should be making it’s appearance, adding some green to the white wintery landscape. But for now only the browns of last years growth remain. catkins in snow

It was hard walking in the snow so I again decided to  end my hike after about two miles. On my walk back I saw a few more gold crowned kingletsgolden crowned kinglet on branch

a song sparrow ,song sparrow on branch

and this  red squirrel who bravely crawled out on this limb to take a look at me. red squirrel in tree

I found a few  of these holes dug in the snow. They were  made by the squirrels or  chipmunks digging up the nuts, seeds and acorns they buried last Fall. acorn  in snow

I ended my hike along the now swollen banks of the Susquehanna River. The recent heavy rain washed away most of the ice. I was  hoping to see some water fowl on the open water but none were to be found.  I did hear a flock of geese honking in the distance. Susquehanna River

I was disappointed in not seeing any sunshine  on my hike. And even more disappointed in not seeing more wildlife but it was still a great day to be outdoors in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike. PPL Wetlands January 21 2018 dead plant in snow

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.” 
― Sinclair Lewisbird in flight

 

 

 

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Another Winter Walk Along The Lehigh River

The arctic weather continued on Sunday here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I awoke in the  morning to find a temperature of -4 degrees at my house.  The wind had subsided and the clear skies meant we would have some sunshine. I knew it would be cold but I wasn’t staying inside.  I decided  to return to  the Lehigh Canal in Weissport to see if the bitter cold had frozen the Lehigh River. frozen canal reflecting blue skies

The canal, on the outskirts of the town of Weissport,  was frozen solid. And again it was cleared of snow to allow ice-skating for the local residents.railroad tracks along Lehigh River

I decided to first walk to the railroad bridge over to the Lehigh River expecting to find the river  to be frozen. To my surprise it wasn’t. There was some ice build up along the river banks but it was flowing just as swiftly as it was last week. Partially frozen Lehigh River

I enjoyed the view of the  Lehigh River which reflected the deep blues skies and was contrasted by the white snow reflecting the sun.Partially frozen Lehigh River

I returned to the Lehigh Canal trail and found the same to be deserted on this frigid morning. The temperature at the trail was zero. snow covered trail on Lehigh Canal

As I continued my walk I once again encountered some of our familiar winter resident birds including a flock of  juncos or “snow birds” andjunco on branch

a few song sparrows hopping about in the dead grass along the banks of the canal.song sparrow on branch

After about a half mile on the trail I smelled the pleasant odor of a campfire. I soon saw a brave fellow ice fishing on the canal and warming himself next to a fire. He told me the fish weren’t biting, having only caught one. ice fisherman on frozen canal

I walked along the canal which ran along the Lehigh River but at varying distance, sometimes  as far as 100 yards, and at other areas right along the river. I enjoyed listening to the roaring of the waters on this cold day. snow covered trail on Lehigh Canal

I didn’t  see the mallard or goldeneye ducks on the river Sunday but I did spot these hardy Canada geese braving the frigid waters. canada geese on Lehigh River

I also saw a bird scampering up a tree trunk. At first I thought it was a nuthatch but they usually scamper down a tree trunk. I took a few photographs with my zoom lens and discovered, later at home, that it was a brown creeper. This was my first sighting of the bird. I enjoy finding and identifying (with much help from my birder friends) new species of birds. brown creeper on tree trunk

I also saw, for the first time,  this  winter resident. It hopped from tree branch to tree branch across the canal making it almost impossible to photograph. I was delighted when it flew across the canal and landed in a tree near me. It is a golden-crowned kinglet. golden crowned kinglet

It stayed nearby feeding on insects burrowed  in the trees branches Here is a link to some more photographs of this pretty little bird. Golden crowned kinglet. golden crowned kinglet in tree branch

There were also a few woodpeckers active in the frigid cold. woodpecker in tree

As well as the always present black-capped chickadees, black-capped chickadee on tree branch

and tufted titmice.tufted titmouse in tree 

I made it out to the “Bridge to nowhere” again, about two miles out. I stopped to rest a bit on this bench provided by a local church. I decided to head back. I was cold but invigorated by the  brilliant sunshine, the deep blues skies and white snow. I was also  enjoying so many birds on this cold Winter morning. I was hungry and wanted to watch some football or I might have hiked until dark. bench on trail

On the way back I was watching a few titmice in a tree when I saw this squirrel cautiously looking at me. There were again very few chipmunks or squirrels active in the cold.  And when they are they are very secretive.gray squirrel in tree

I believe it is because they are one of the few sources of food for this fellow I spotted high in another treetop. It is some type of hawk and I am sure it was looking for a squirrel or chipmunk to make a sudden, and last, move. Such is survival in the harshness of Winter.hawk in tree

On  my return hike I met  a number of folks who were braving the freezing temperatures to enjoy the Winter scenery and January sunshine. I also saw many of the same birds I saw on my hike out and another beautiful Winter resident, the colorful blue bird. blue bird eating winterberry

I was again very cold when I returned to my car. It was a cold well earned and which provided me with the peace and quiet I so love, the beauty of a frozen nature I so appreciate, and the observation of so many birds I so enjoy. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike along the Lehigh. Lehigh River hike January 7 2018 

blue bird on tree branch

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” 
― Robert Lynd

 

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Crystal Ridge Memories: A Walk In “Baisley’s Strippin”

It was another cold and sunny day the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I  decided to again return to my dad’s birthplace, the tiny patch town of Crystal Ridge. Some of my earliest memories were riding on the this, the only road, into the tiny town to visit my grandmother.   It was bumpy  road and we called it the “rollercoaster” ride.clouds above road to Crystal Ridge

I  parked my jeep alongside the  road  just outside of the town and walked  into the tiny village of Crystal Ridge. 

This area has recently underwent a massive mine reclamation project. . The many  towering culm and slag banks and deep strip  mines along the road when I visited as a child are  gone. Reclamation area near Crystal Ridge

I was soon on the only street in this small former coal   town were all the homes were owned by the mining companies.  There are   maybe a dozen homes remaining here. It was, and still is a close knit community.  high clouds on road to Crystal Ridge

I walked past my dad’s house which was now hidden with overgrown trees.  I remember the many visits here in my early years, including Holy Supper on Christmas Eve. My grandmother had a coal stove and there  was no indoor toilet. Yep, we had to use an out house and it was not pleasant. old mining house in Crystal Ridge

I reflected on my own memories, and the many stories my dad and his six sisters told me about their childhood in Crystal Ridge. They were very poor but very happy.   I continued my walk up the hill that led to the path to the large strip mine behind the homes on the south side of the town.road along stip mine

My dad called it “Baisley’s Strippin” and I heard many tales about his adventures in this huge strip mine. He ice skated, sledded and searched for crystals here. I researched the local newspapers and found no reference to “Baisley’s strippin” so if any of my readers have any information on the name please share with me. I did discover that one of the first strip mine  in the entire Anthracite region began here in 1882, as evidenced by this link to an article I found. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/15777769/the_hazleton_sentinel/strip mine

I descended the steep, slate covered  slope of the strip mine, as I did many years ago when my dad first took me down here to look for quartz crystals. The entire area was noted for the large crystals found here and my dad had some very large and beautiful ones he gathered while living here. steep slope of strip mine

It seems most of the crystals, and large deposits of sulphur have been gathered by geologists and collectors over the years. I did not find any on my recent hike. A quick Google search of  Crystal Ridge found some of the beautiful specimums found here. http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/picshow.php?id=28176Trees and boulders in strip mine

I decided to follow the  remains of the roads that winded there way down to the bottom of the “strippin”.rock formations in strip mine

Along the way I walked by huge boulders and some of the trees that were able to grow on the steep banks of the strip mine.large boulders in strip mine

Over the years the residents of Crystal Ridge disposed of their thrash by throwing over the banks of the deep strip mine.  I found many old items down here and wondered how old they were. Like this old chair. Who last sat on it? When and where was it purchased? How did it get down here?

Or who wore this shoe?old shoe in strip mine

Or who cooked with this this old pot. How many meals were cooked in it? Was it a large or small family? So many question. that I have had finding old “junk” since I was a child. 

I made it to the bottom of the strip mine and imagined my dad and his friends building a large fire here so he and his sisters and the kids in the patch town could warm up as they  ice skated. 

My dad told be his and his friend once took a sled ride down this steep bank. He said sparks flew up from the sled as it hit rocks under the snow. He said it was a  stupid thing to do. I often reminded him of it when scolded  me on some of my adventures, or should I saw misadventures. Here is a link to some more photographs of my hike in “Baisley’s strippin”. Crystal Ridge part one November 26 2017.

I made my way to this large outcrop of rock.

I have learned the enormous pressures of this twisted rock created the many crystal,s for which the town was named, over  millions of years. 

My dad said one of the most remarkable memories of his youth living in Crystal Ridge was being present and seeing and hearing the rock outcrop break off and fall into the strip mine. rock formation in strip mine

I crawled around and atop the huge boulders that fell to the bottom of the strip mine. 

It was a strange coincidence that the week after I took this hike, my aunt Betty, without knowing of my visit to Crystal Ridge, showed me this photograph of my aunt Mary and my cousin Josephine. It looks like my adventurous spirit runs in the family. I believe this photograph was made in the early 1940’s. Not much has changed.   

I continued to explore the large rock formations and  the large veins of crystal that run through some of the rock.

I walked past the outcrop of bedrock and found the source of the water in the strip mine. I was surprised to follow this stream and found that it flowed from under another outcrop of rock. 

I tried to find the source from the banks of the strip mine but was unsuccessful. I will have to look for it in the summer.

From atop the southern side of the strip mines you could look across the deep strip mine pit and see some of the homes in the village of Crystal Ridge. 

I walked along the woodlands on the south side of the stip mine and made my way back to the haul road that led to Grape Run that I hiked a few days earlier. 

Once again I reflected on my childhood memories in this small patch town as I saw the Green Ridge  skyline in the distance. And once again I felt the deep sadness that many  of those memories can no longer be shared. But, like the owners of the shoe, chair and pot I found in the strip mine, I too, will someday only be a memory. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike. Crystal Ridge hike part 2. 

“The most difficult journey any of us ever take in our adulthood is the return to our parents’ house. A home visit makes us recall all of the childhood events that formed us. Returning home reacquaints us with family members and our former self.” 
― Kilroy J. Oldster

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PPL Wetlands Hike: What A Difference A Week Makes

The snow stopped late Saturday here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  It left  a  accumulation of about three inches of  powdery, fine snow . Sunday brought more frigid arctic  weather with a morning low of 4 degrees. I decided to return to the PPL wetlands in Salem Township. I arrived to find a much different  world than my visit a week ago.snow covered pond

The woodlands were now a Winter wonderland. All of the ponds and canals were frozen and covered in snow.

I was surprised to find I wasn’t the first visitor on this frigid morning.  There was a set of footprints in the newly fallen snow and even more surprising was a set of bicycle tracks. Some folks were up early. I didn’t see who since I did not see a single person  on the 2 1/2 hours I hiked in the wetlands and river lands.

The skies were clear when I left my house but clouds moved in, obscuring the sun,  making for a dim , cold world of grays and whites.

As I began my hike I saw and a few woodpeckers and flickers tapping on the frozen trees trying to find insects that burrowed into the bark for the winter. 

There was little color in the wetlands the wetlands this weeks, The ferns and plants that sprouted during the warm  spell were now covered in snow. The only color was  the bright red winter berries.red winter berries

I saw no  birds on the first mile or so of my hike. It was eerily quiet. The only sounds were squeaking noises I made as I walked on the frigid snow. The first sound of life I heard was the friendly song of the black-capped chickadees. black capped chickadee in tree

It seems the birds that remain in our area in winter, even from different species.  travel together as they search the lifeless woodlands for food. I soon saw a few nuthatches,nuthatch on tree trunk

and a flock of dark eyed juncos

and I think this is one of the many swamp sparrows accompanying the chickadees in their search for food. sparrow in branches

Of course the many reptiles and amphibians that live in the wetlands are burrowed deeply in the ground or mud at the bottom of the ponds and canals. The only mammals I saw were a few chipmunks and squirrels. Unlike during the warmer months, when they would bravely peer from tree covered branches, they quickly scurried to their nests high in the tree tops or underground burrows. . And I believe this is the reason why. red tailed hawk in flight

Once again I saw a few red tailed hawks soaring overhead looking for a squirrel, chipmunk or other small mammal who was not cautious in the snow and leafless woodlands. red tailed hawk in flight

I walked to now frozen Lake Took-A-While and knew that the geese, herons and ducks would have now flown to open waters further south. cooling towers Lake Took-A-While PPL Wetlands

It was extremely cold and windy  so I decided to walk back  near the river trail.  On my return hike  I was able to some more color on  the this cold gray day. This cardinal was fluttering along the canals. I also saw the mockingbird in the same area but it avoided my attempts to get a photograph.cardinal in tree branches

There were also some more woodpeckers in the trees including this red bellied one, red bellied woodpecker on tree branch

And a few tufted titmice tagging along   another flock of black-capped chickadees. 

I walked back to the wetlands and took  trail along the Susquehanna River. Last week the river was ice free but there was already ice forming on the slow moving waters.

As I was watching the ice flow down the river, I spotted a pair of common mergansers  in the cold waters.  As I tried to get closer for a better photograph, they flew off and so did a flock of about 30 of them. These two were in the  rear of the large flock. 

I was glad to make it back to my car which I quickly started and turned up the heat. It was nice to walk in the pretty winter scenery of the wetlands on the last day of the year. . I did get to see some wildlife. But I will readily admit, Winter is not my favorite season. Especially on such a frigid day. But even with the forecast of below zero temperatures, you know I will be back next weekend. I love  the outdoors of Northeastern Pennsylvania even in the coldest weather. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike. PPL Wetland hike. December 31 2017, Happy New Year!!! 

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.      Henry David Thoreau

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Christmas Eve At The PPL Wetlands. A December Thaw.

Christmas Eve is not a day for last minute shopping for me. I dislike shopping most days and wasn’t going near a store on Christmas Eve. Instead, I decided, of course,  to spend my day outdoors.  After a cold snap two weeks ago, we had some rain and warmer weather here in  Northeastern Pennsylvania.  I decided to see how it affected  the PPL Wetlands. tree lined pond

I knew the warm weather would have melted the earlier snowfall but I was surprised to find this pond and some of the canals were  completely ice free. tree lined path along canal

I did find some duck weed that is still  struggling  to live for a few more days  under some remaining ice.duck weed under ice

Th e warmer temperatures and  rain even brought some life back to a few  species of ferns,green fern at wetlands

and these plants, green plant growth in wetlands

which I can’t identify, also came back to life. . It is not the lush growth found here in the wetlands in the Summer  but it already had  me thinking of and longing for Spring.sunlit green plant growth

And there certainly wasn’t the abundance of wildlife that is found in the warmer months but I did see a few species of birds including my first sighting of this yellow bellied sap sucker. yellow bellied sap sucker on tree trunk

I often heard jokes about this bird on cartoons and sitcoms when I was  a child and now I can say I finally have seen  one. 

I also encountered this beautiful bird. One that reminds me of my dad, a mockingbird. . It landed on a branch near me and seemed to be watching me. I love their singing and have never seen one in the Winter before. mockingbird on branch

I continued on my hike and found  some ponds still covered in a thin layer of ice.   There were no water fowl in the wetlands on my Christmas Eve hike, not even the usual Canada geese. And with colder weather on the way they may be gone until Spring.ice on pond

In addition to the unusual birds above I did see a few flocks of “snow birds” or dark eyed juncos. They were again enjoying the white berries of the poison ivy vines. junco on branch

There were also a few tufted  titmice fluttering in the bare underbrush.tufted titmouse on branch

And some nuthatches scampering  on the tree trunks. 

All of the birds, and the few squirrels and chipmunks I saw were very cautious and secretive. Probably because of the lack of leaf cover, the smaller number of other wildlife in the cold and the red tailed hawks soaring overhead looking for a Christmas Eve snack. Here is a link to some more photographs of the birds I saw at the wetlands. PPL Wetlands birds 12/24/2017red tailed hawk in flight

I was surprised when I got to Lake Took-A-While and found it still had some ice on it’s waters. Another reason that the Canada geese were not to be found. lake and trees

I walked down to the Susquehanna River and found that it was  ice free. Last week there was already ice sheets forming on the waters of the river. 

Not on Christmas Eve.No ice on the river on Sunday.  It was a pleasant and mild December with temperatures in the mid 30’s.  Mild weather was not going to last long.  The forecast for a white Christmas came true. We had a two inch snowfall later that evening. And temperatures plummeted on Christmas Day. It is four degrees  as I finish this post Friday  morning. And colder weather on the way.

I am not sure if I will find any wildlife at the PPL Wetlands this weekend, but I am sure of one thing, there will be a lot more ice on the river, ponds and canals. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike on Christmas Eve. PPL Wetlands 11/24/2017.

God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, 
but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars. 
~ Martin Luther ~mushroom on log

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Green Ridge: A Reflective Walk On The Railroad Tracks.

It was a cloudy, but somewhat mild morning, here in the Green Ridge section of Hazle Township in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Sunday.  A “balmy” 29 degrees it was. snow covered path in woods

It warmed up into the mid 30’s when I decided to hike on  the railroad tracks near my house in  Green Ridge. Although next to  West Hazleton, it really was a “patch town” when I grew up here. .   I walked down what is left of the old “black road” and through some very old strip mines we called  “doggie dams”.snow covered "doggie dams" in Green Ridge

I spent many a winter day out here as a child. My friends and I played  hockey in the cold with sticks and cans on the frozen surface of the old strip mines. frozen and snow covered pond

It seems some critter was also playing on the ice. Well probably not playing but looking for some food.   Here is a closer look at the tracks. I am guessing maybe a coyote but not real  sure. Feel free to send a comment if you can identify them.possibly coyote tracks in the snow

The “dams”  are now privately owned and the owners are kind enough to allow me to hike out here. I walked past the  “doggie dams” and through the reclamation area that was once a  playground for the kids living  in  Green Ridge.snow covered path in mine reclamation area

We played in the deep strip mines and the coal silt we called the “black sands”. We looked for fossils, played army, camped  and just explored every part of this vast strip mined area.  They were good days. I have written about my experiences in a few  other blog posts that can be found in the archives.mine reclamation area

As I walked through the new growth of the reclamation area I stopped to watch a large flock of some winter residents in our area, the northern junco or “snow bird”. northern juncos in tree

Large numbers of these birds migrate to our warmer winters from their summer homes in northern Canada.northern junco in flight

I soon made my way to the railroad tracks. So much of the woods and strip mines of my youth have been altered over the years. I find great comfort walking on these tracks which remain a real reminder   of the wonderful memories I had growing up in Green Ridge. snow covered railroad tracks

As I had done so many times in my lifetime, I began walking west on the railroad tracks. The large slate and culm bank know as “flat top” and which my friends called  “killer” is gone.snow covered railroad tracks

But not the memories. I would hike up that large hill every New Years Day and take in the view of the homes in my beloved Green Ridge and the City of Hazleton in the distance. I would reflect on the past year of my life and what the new year would bring.  It was a sad year when “killer” was leveled as part of the reclamation project about 10 years ago. bramble thorn

Some familiar items still remain along the tracks, like this old telegraph booth that once stood here. ruins of old telegraph booth on railroad tracks

I walked west and soon came to the “tower lines”.  So many memories out here. Many a cool summer morning  found us out here picking “huckleberries”. We made our way, throughout  the day, over the ridge, past “Kress’s junkyard”, and finishing at the cold waters of “Shiny Creek”. We stopped for a cool drink and searched for crayfish in the fresh waters. Good days they were. pole lines in woods

The old “tower lines”were recently replaced with new pole lines again removing another treasured part  of my youth. pole lines on ridge

I continued my walk on the railroad tracks , crossing the bridge over the Cranberry Creek, or as we called it the “s–t” creek. It’s waters have not flowed for many year now. snow covered railroad tracks

I have been researching the origins of these tracks and it seems they were laid sometime in the early 1880’s. Here is a link to an article I found.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/15778476/the_hazleton_sentinel/snow covered railroad tracks

I hope to do more research and post an article about the history of the Green Ridge railroads tracks.   On Sunday I continued my hike on the tracks as they curved northward around the ridge. Huge glacial boulders can be seen along the ridge. I explored every one of them over the years. snow covered boulders

I came to the location of where Shiny Creek once flowed under the tracks. I spent many days resting here. However, in the mid 1980’s the creek was  diverted and a beautiful wetland destroyed to build a factory. How those permits were issued still puzzles  me. snow covered railroad tracks

I was now near the Valmont Industrial Park. At the first railroad crossing I decided to  take a shortcut through the park since I wanted to be back to watch the  Philadelphia Eagles football team. railroad crossing in industrial park

I would often walk to the “mile high” bridges that span the Black Creek about a half mile further north. On Sunday I walked a short distance through the industrial park. crow in flight

It was here I observed some of the only wildlife I encountered on my hike,  few crows flying overhead,blue jay perched on tree top

and this blue jay singing from high atop a tree top. blue jay perched on tree top

I walked along the right of way of  a pole line as it crossed through a portion of the  Valmont Sanctuary Bog. This valuable wetlands is  now owned, and protected, by the North Branch Land Trust. Rare orchids and other plants thrive here. It is a shame folks still ride their all terrain vehicles or quads through these precious wetlands. Here is a link to some more information about the bog. http://www.nblt.org/lands-we-own/valmont-bog

I now walked on the old right of way of the “third rail” It was an electric trolley line that ran to Wilkes-Barre and built in the 1890’s.  It later became  an active branch of the Lehigh Valley road. I remember watching many a train on these tracks.  The line was abandoned and the tracks removed about twenty years ago. The right of way is now the northern border of my property.trees and trail in snow

I walked the right of way about a quarter of a mile east and came to “Lipper’s Grove”   where we would camp and have cookouts when I was growing up.  I used to sit here for hours enjoying the peace and quiet of these woods. I am so proud and fortunate to now own this land. As I had so many times in the past,  I decided to build a fire on Sunday.campfire in snow

There is nothing as peaceful, comforting and reflective as a wood fire outdoors on a cold day. This year there was no way to avoid thinking about the recent tragedy in my life and how it has affected me. close up of flames in fire

As I watched the blazing fire slowly turn to smouldering ashes I reflected on the loss of my sibling,  and her husband. Such good human beings.  I miss them both. And so many  wonderful memories my sister and I  had of  growing up in Green Ridge that can never be shared together. But sharing them with my family, friends and followers of this blog does provide me with some comfort. burning embers in campfire

I walked the right of way back to West Hazleton.  As I climbed the hill from I came the Babe Ruth field, the Little League field and my alma mata West Hazleton High School. So many memories but that will be for another post. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike. Green Ridge railroad hike December 17 2017.sun obscured by clouds and fields

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?” 
― Sarah Addison Allen

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It’s Still Fall; But More Like Winter At the PPL Wetlands.

The sun, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is still four days away from it’s  farthest position south  on the  horizon.  Which, of course, means the beginning of Winter. Here in Northeastern Pennsylvania   11:28 a.m Thursday December 21 to be exact. snow and ice covered pond

The past few years our  weather has been unusually mild in December. This year, however, it has been colder with temperatures plummeting into the single digits this past week and we had  a few inches of snow. Which made for an early  Winter walk at the PPL Wetlands yesterday. snow covered evergreen plant

The waters of the canals and ponds in the wetlands are no longer covered in green  duckweed . They are now completely covered in ice and snow. snow covered pond

Last week, despite the cold, I was able to see a variety of bird species on my hike. But not a single mammal. This time I was greeted by this female white tailed deer just as I began my walk. white tailed deer in weeds

And it was one of the last mammals I saw on my hike. As I walked through my usual paths along the canals and ponds there was not much wildlife activity. snow covered path

I did come across a few downy or hairy woodpeckers feeding on the berries of the poison ivy vines. It is remarkable how a plant that is so harmful and useless to  humans provides food for the wildlife in Winter. downy or hairy woodpecker eating poison ivy berries

I also saw this male cardinal, another year long resident here at the wetlands.male cardinal in tree

As I walked toward the river lands area of the park I did not see any of the usually plentiful chipmunks. And the few squirrels I saw were very secretive and scurried quickly through the trees. I did start to see some of our birds that remain for the winter such as this bluejay,blue jay in tree

and I believe this was a black-capped chickadee. black capped chickadee in flight

I walked into the riverlands and found that Lake Took-A-While  was also  now frozen over  and snow covered. And a source of food for  blue herons, ducks, geese, cormorants and kingfishers that live here in the summer was gone. frozen snow covered lake

Most of these birds had migrated south but I still saw a few flocks of geese flying overhead, probably from the open waters of the nearby Susquehanna River. Canada geese in flight

But this too may soon be frozen,  as I saw ice already forming on the river. 

I walked back to the wetlands and saw a few more birds on the ways, including a flock of titmice,tufted titmouse on branch

 a red bellied woodpecker,red bellied woodpecker

and this flicker. Here is a link to some more photographs of the birds I saw on my walk. PPL Wetlands birds December 16 2017.flicker on branch

I didn’t find anything interesting or unusual on this hike, as I often do in the Spring and Summer, but it was still nice to get out and see the Winter wonderland of the PPL wetlands and riverlands. Here is a link to some more photographs from my hike PPL Wetlands December 16 2017.black-capped chickadee in flight

“Silence can always be broken by the sound

Of footsteps walking over frozen ground
In winter when the melancholy trees
Stand abject and let their branches freeze
” 
― Merrill Mooresnow covered berries

 

 

 

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