Fine Day for a Walk

The only bad thing about a day like today is knowing how to dress. Highs predicted to be in the upper thirties with the “real feel” the same. When in doubt – go with layers.  I picked well.  The extra layers I carried in my pack were never needed.  Go me.

We had to pick a section of the park north of France Brook Road to avoid the hunters.  The Park used to always be “no hunting” on Sundays.  This year, though, hunting IS allowed on the Quaker side, south of France Brook.

We parked at a new (or at least new to me) marker commemorating the location of the first capture and release program of turkeys in the park.

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According to the plaque, this is the site of the first trap and transfer program.  The sign reads, “Allegany State Park – Founding site for the N.Y.S. Conservation Dept. Wild Turkey Transfer Program. Birds trapped at this site helped reintroduce the Eastern Wild Turkey to the northeastern U.S. & southeastern Canada. 1959.”

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We walked France Brook to the Horse/”Jeep” trail, then headed uphill.  After getting tired of walking roads, we headed toward the sound of a gurgling creek and followed that all the way down to Horse Trail 11 up above Camps 10 and 12, then followed it to Camp 12, and roads back to the truck.

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There was no snow down at France Brook.  But as we climbed, the hills were covered.  Saw lots of colorful fungi, as well as some deer and coyote tracks.  But my favorite was the bear:

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The walk was about 5 and 1/2 miles.  It was a good day.

And my new thermos worked!  Hot soup for lunch.

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(No, the color isn’t off.  It’s vegetarian borscht!)

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P.S.  I love the new GPS I bought myself for my birthday last month.  It’s fun to turn it on and track my hikes.

Elk Field Trip Coming Up at Audubon!

Watch for this article in the Jamestown, Dunkirk, and Warren papers:

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2012 Field Trip participants – viewing Elk

Visit the Elk with Audubon
by Jennifer Schlick

Every Discovery Walk at Audubon includes a visit with Liberty, our non-releasable Bald Eagle.  The children are always fascinated by her and full of questions.  Once I’ve answered their questions, I ask one of my own:  “How many of you have ever seen a Bald Eagle in the wild?”  Several hands go up.  It is now common to see Bald Eagles in our area; it was not when I was the age of these students.  It took habitat restoration, conservation laws, and reintroduction to bring the populations back up to sustainable levels.  With some groups, Liberty becomes the jumping off point for discussion of other species whose populations have fluctuated over the last few centuries.

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It’s hard to believe that male elk shed and regrow a new set of antlers every year!

We talk about the fact that human activity is part of the cause for the fluctuations.  For example, cutting some timber while leaving stands of forest creates “edge habitat” that is ideal for some species such as Eastern Bluebirds, though tough on species that need large expanses of uninterrupted forest, like Scarlet Tanagers.  Cutting all the timber makes life tough on species that love edges and ideal for those that love wide open fields and meadows – like Brown-headed Cowbirds.  Every action has its consequences.

Next I might ask if any of the students have relatives or friends who hunt.  Again, several hands go up.  Do the hunters you know ever have any trouble finding deer?  No!  Most of the students have seen deer – often in their own backyards – even if they live in the city!  I tell them there was a time when that was not the case.  We talk about the kind of work done by conservation offices to make sure there will always be deer and other wildlife for our enjoyment and use, for observation and photography.  We talk about the fact that sometimes, the populations become too large and may cause damage to our crops or forests and that hunting is one way to keep the populations at a level that is good for the overall ecosystem.

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Male elk keep a “harem” during mating season. Here, two females with one bull.

This history of Elk in Pennsylvania is another great example of how human activity led to the extirpation of the species – and how human activity brought Elk back to the area.  An article on the Pennsylvania Game Commission website by wildlife education specialist Joe Kosack begins by noting that “Eastern Elk once ranged… from New York to central Georgia.”  By the late 1870s the species was extirpated.  The Pennsylvania Game Commission was created in 1895 “to replenish and provide protection to many of the state’s low wildlife populations.”  In the beginning the commission concentrated on deer and turkey.  In 1913, attention was turned to Elk and the first shipment of Yellowstone Elk was brought to Pennsylvania.  Additional shipments from the west combined with strict hunting laws and limits have led to a healthy, sustainable population.

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Several females – one sporting a radio collar.

Last year, I was lucky to attend Jamestown Audubon’s first field trip to Elk County to see the new Elk Visitor Center in Benezette.  It is a trip I will never forget.  First of all, the Visitor Center is beautiful and packed with lots of information about Elk and other wildlife of our region.  The highlight, though was driving along the roads at dusk and coming upon a herd.  We were close enough to hear the eerie “bugling” of the bull males as they called to females and announced their dominance over the other males.  It was fascinating to watch the males herd their females, sometimes “stealing” from other groups.  And you could notice different personalities among the males. Most seemed gruff and matter-of-fact, but one earned the name “The Gentleman” for the way he nuzzled the females in his group.  We stayed watching the herd until it was almost too dark to see them before heading back to Audubon.

Rick Rupprecht was our host last year.  A former resident of Elk country in PA, he now lives and works in Chautauqua County and volunteers for Audubon.  He’ll be leading the trip again this year on Wednesday, September 18, 2013.  Because Elk are most active at dusk, participants will leave Audubon at noon and return at approximately 10:30pm.  The cost to ride in the Audubon van is $35, or $30 if you are a Friend of the Nature Center.  Reservations are required by September 13 and you can register either by phone or online. Space is limited so call promptly.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Jamestown Audubon.

Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania.  For more information call (716) 569‑2345 or visit http://jamestownaudubon.org. The Center is open daily from 10:00am until 4:30pm except Sundays when we open at 1:00pm. Trails are currently open from 9:00am until 6:00pm to avoid peak mosquito activity. Please use insect repellent.

ASP – Day Two

On my second day at the Park I decided to try a more challenging chunk of trail.  After all my troubles with my back and knees this winter, I was a little worried, but I managed OK!  I started at ASP 3 and hiked north along the North Country / Finger Lakes Trail.  This section of trail is very rocky at the beginning and very steep.  My heart was pumping hard!  Toward the crest the snow became deeper and covered the trail making my footing a bit unstable, so I turned back.  Still, I was on the trail for three and a half hours, taking loads of pictures – many of which I’m not ready to show… yet!

If hikes have themes, this hike was all about macros, scat, and butterflies.

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Honey Mushroom rhizomorphs (Armillaria mellea)

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A fallen log, covered with sapsucker holes that were beginning to be covered with moss.

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I’m pretty sure this was fox scat.

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And this is probably from a coyote.

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I have no idea what this is, but there were at least a couple of piles of it and Lolli felt obliged to roll in it.  Very odoriferous!

There was also plenty of deer and turkey scat, which I didn’t photograph…

As the sun warmed up the air, the Mourning Cloaks began their bouncy flight all around me. Most of them teased and would not allow a photo. This poor tattered thing rested long enough for me to close.

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Elk

Last week, long time friend and dedicated Audubon volunteer Rick led a fieldtrip to Elk County, Pennsylvania.  Rick grew up in St. Mary’s where we stopped to meet his parents and take a pit stop!  Then it was on to the (relatively) new Elk County Visitor Center in Benezette, PA, designed by Jamestown architects at Habiterra.  (Click a photo for a larger view.)

We were at the visitor center for only about an hour and a half – not nearly enough time to see everything there.  I never got into the Discovery Room, nor the gift store.  I didn’t have time to read all the amazing interpretation, or take the green building tour.  Rick treated us to the 20-minute movie about Elk in the object theatre – a little bit corny, but worth every penny and every minute.  It is a multi-sensory experience.  If you go, be sure to include it in your plans.  I’d love to say more – but no spoilers here!

After the movie, we headed down to the Benezette Hotel for a fine dinner and conversation.  We also met Eric there.  Eric is employed as a wildlife technician who tags calves and puts radio collars on adult elk.  He had secured permission from his supervisor to take us on some of the back roads where the public is not generally allowed, so that we could get a close look at some elk.

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It was a day I will not soon forget! Many thanks to Rick, Eric, and to all the participants who filled the Audubon van and made the day so special!

Watts Flats Wildlife Management Area

Watts Flats WMA SignOne of the bird walks for Audubon’s spring birding series will be at the Watts Flats Wildlife Mangement Area. I decided to check it out today. I’m frankly kind of suprised I’ve never run upon it before this. It is so close, and so accessible.

We parked at a lot at the corner of Swede Road and Green Flats Road.

Before getting to the parking lot, we saw a mink bound over Swede Road in front of us. Later we would also see a muskrat, and plenty of evidence of beaver activity:

Beaver Activity

We parked close to Swede Road and walked Green Flats Road to the second parking lot. It looked as Green Flats Road is supposed to continue as a grassy trail.

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But the bridge and much of the trail was under water!

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We turned left instead and into the woods. The trail was wet – even covered with water in some places. But I could see it would be a very nice trail when the water goes down a bit. We hiked out until we got to a spot where the trail was covered with two feet of water, then turned around and back out to the car.

Along the way, we saw plenty of wildlife.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake

Canada Goose
Canada Goose

We also saw robins and crows, a red-tailed hawk, a pair of frisky kingfishers, and a very large bird that we could not identify. I swear it was shaped like a cormorant, but it was a light brown color. I heard red-winged blackbirds, but never saw one. Dozens of frogs jumped into the water before we could see what they were. And we even saw dragonflies – one was definitely a Common Green Darner. I suspect the other one was, too, but I couldn’t get a good look.

Plants were also plentiful, though not many in bloom yet.

Pussy Willows
Pussy Willow

Colt's Foot
Colt’s Foot

Ground Pine
Ground Pine

It was a very pleasant afternoon walk. I look forward to going back early in the morning in a few weeks as part of the birding classes. Hopefully the water will be down and we can hike around that pond.

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Walking back to the car…