From cutting deer browse in frigid February temperatures to trapping doves in the August heat, we experienced a lot of extremes in the outdoors in 2015.
And a lot of species.
Everything from trout and osprey to bats and bears, 2015 was a busy year in the field offering a firsthand look at the wildlife that roams the region and the work that groups are doing to manage them all.
The hard winter of 2014-15 influenced many of the stories that appeared in the Outdoors section. We joined the members of Whitetails Unlimited as they cut browse for deer on State Game Lands 57 when the temperature was a mere 2 degrees. Stocked trout with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission during a blinding snowstorm in March. The impact of winter even lingered into the summer when we hit Harris Pond with the PFBC to gauge the impact of a fish kill that occurred during the cold months.
Eventually the effects of the hard winter gave way to warmth of spring and summer. Under the welcome heat, we waded the small mountain streams in Bear Creek with Trout Unlimited searching for wild brook trout, searched the night skies for bats, visited osprey hacking towers in the Poconos, banded barn owls in Watsontown and snared bears with the Pennsylvania Game Commission in the mountains of Sullivan County.
Hopefully the winter of 2016 won’t be quite as severe, but no matter what the weather is like, we’ll be back out in the field bringing the outdoors of Pennsylvania to this page every Sunday.
Despite temperatures plunging to zero or below, there was still plenty to do outside. The Nanticoke Conservation club held it’s ice fishing derby on Frances Slocum Lake, attracting 123 anglers.
Meanwhile, in a remote area of SGL 57, members of Whitetails Unlimited heated up their chainsaws to cut red maple trees to provide browse for deer.
The opening day of trout season is a sure sign of spring, but to prepare for it, the PFBC spent the month stocking area lakes and streams. We joined Waterways Conservation Officer Aaron Lupacchini as he worked hard during a heavy snowstorm to stock trout in Lily Lake.
The trout season opener was a welcome change of the season for anglers as they flocked to lakes and streams. Warm temperatures and sunny skies resulted in a high turnout of anglers, many of whom found the bite slow on lakes while there was a bit more action in the streams.
The PGC brought back its canine program and special investigator/canine officer Dave Allen introduced us to Skye, his Labrador Retriever that will be used to help solve cases in the region.
We also visited with Angie Colarusso of the Second Chance Wildlife Center in Tunkhannock to check in on a coyote pup that she rescued and was attempting to nurse back to health.
May is also prime time for gobbler hunting, and Noxen resident Tony Hudak shared his successful hunt in West Virginia which marked the 48th state where he has bagged a gobbler. Hudak is attempting to become one of the few hunters in the world to harvest a gobber in all 49 states where turkeys exist. All that remains on his list is Hawaii. Stay tuned.
PFBC Northeast Region fisheries manager Rob Wnuk took us onto Harris Pond in Sweet Valley as he conducted a night electro-shocking survey. The pond was the site of a severe fish kill resulting from thick winter ice, and Wnuk’s survey revealed that few fish had survived. The pond was scheduled to be re-stocked.
Speaking of electro-shocking, Kathleen Lavelle of Trout Unlimited took us along for her survey work searching for wild brook trout in the small mountain streams of Bear Creek. The work is part of a statewide project with the PFBC to identify which streams in the state hold self-sustaining populations of wild trout.
Later in the month we joined PGC wildlife diversity biologist Rich Fritsky as he drove the backroads of Thornhurst with a special microphone attached to his vehicle to record the ultra-sonic sounds of bats. The work is designed to give the PGC a snapshot of what bat species inhabit a particular area.
It was a hot month, and the busiest one for stories from the field.
August began with a trip to the Poconos with Doug Gross, supervisor for the PGC’s endangered and non-game bird section, to visit several osprey nesting sites to check on the population. We saw plenty of the majestic birds, and Gross believes the population is on the rebound.
Biologist Kevin Wenner took us deep into SGL 13 as he snared bears as part of the PGC’s bear tagging program. The work yields valuable age and reproductive data and Wenner caught and released 13 bears over a two-week period.
Later in the month, we left the mountains for the farmlands of Northumberland County as Fritsky stopped by a barn to check on a barn owl nest. The nest box contained five barn owls, which Fritsky banded and weighed, but other locations failed to turn up any young. It was evidence that while barn owls are still present in the state, challenges remain.
We finished the month with a trip to Wayne County to join PGC biologist Molly Giles to trap and band doves for the National Dove Strategic Harvest Plan, which looks at harvest rates for adults and juveniles, survival rates and recruitment. It was a hot day as we waited for doves to enter the baited traps, and eventually they appeared.
A different type of habitat awaited us this month — a place that was being reclaimed for wildlife in McAdoo. The Northeastern Power Company owns a 450-acre former strip mine in the area that they are working to transform into a wildlife oasis. The company is also partnering with Pheasants Forever and Pheasants Afield to plant acres of grasslands that are stocked with pheasants. It’s hoped that the work will restore a population of wild pheasants to the area.
Staying with pheasants, we joined members of the Huntington Mills United Sportsman’s Camp 271 as they took youth hunters out for the PGC’s junior pheasant hunt. The program partners youth hunters with sportsmen’s organizations – the PGC supplies the pheasants, for a day of hunting that’s set aside just for kids.
Another busy month in the field with the fall turkey and bear seasons underway. PGC wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena told us that Pennsylvania has become one of the top states in the nation for turkey hunting, and mild temperatures this year likely resulted in another strong harvest.
Bear season was equally as busy. During the four-day season 540 bears were harvested in the Northeast Region, topping last year’s number of 443.
December is all about deer hunting, and deer in general. During the second week of the statewide deer season, we stopped by the PGC Northeast Region Office in Dallas as officials with the PGC and the state and federal Department of Agriculture removed lymph nodes and brain stems from deer heads to be tested for chronic wasting disease. In the region alone, more than 500 deer heads – which were collected from processors, were sampled. So far the disease has yet to turn up in the area.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky