A Cold And Windy Hike In The Butler Preserve And The Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails

A Cold And Windy Hike In The Butler Preserve And The Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails

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The coldest weather of the season arrived last weekend here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Temperatures dropped into the upper teens accompanied by a strong westerly wind.  It was  blustery and cold.  I decided to hike close to home and explore the Butler Preserve adjacent to the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails  in southern  Luzerne County.

I began my hike on the main parking lot  of the trail, located about  a mile south of the City of Hazleton on Route 93.

I was surprised to see some  cars in the lot on this blustery day but was glad some other folks were enjoying the trail despite the cold and wind. I soon encountered two of them on their  way back from walking their dogs. The dogs did not look like  they were enjoying the walk the cold. 

There was still a little snow  on the trail but not enough to make walking difficult. I walked past the book stations , a co-operative effort between the  local library and the Civic Partnership which oversees the trail. I am proud to serve as a director on both  the boards of these great organizations. This  was a great addition to the trail and attracts many young readers and their families. 

After about a quarter of a mile the trail turns south and a walked into the sun and got a reprieve from the strong and biting westerly wind. It was gusting up to 20 miles per hour. 

There was more snow on this portion of the trail because of the trees blocking the weak November sun. 

I walked about another quarter of a mile and came to a path that led up to a  118 tract of land adjacent to the trail  owned by the North Branch Land Trust. 

This tract is known as the Butler Preserve. The preserve contains endangered scrub oak barrens  and some wetlands. The wetlands are further along the trail. I hiked up a ridge where the  the scrub oak barrens are located. 

The path took me up a ridge and  I walked on a trail that took me through the scrub oaks  pitch pines that also grow in the scrub oak barrens. 

 There were many pitch pines growing  in the woodlands on the ridge where I grew up. I love these trees which are often contorted into strange shapes from the winds they are exposed to on the ridge they usually grow here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The trees are resistant to fires and a fire may actually cause their cones to release their seeds.

In addition to the scrub oaks and pitch pines their were some white birch ,

and a few larger oak trees in the barrens. 

The ground under the trees in the barrens were covered with large area of sheep laurel.

Like their cousins the mountain laurel and rhododendrons their evergreen leaves curl in the cold. There were also many  blueberry and chokeberries growing in the barrens but  their branches are now bare and indistinguishable. 

There were large areas of teaberries growing in the barrens but I didn’t see any of their bright red  berries. 

Bracken fern also grow in the barrens but only  the withered  fronds remain. 

I hiked to the top of the ridge. It was cold up there with the strong wind blowing across the ridgetop. 

There was little bird activity in the barrens.  I hiked here in the  Spring and would see many migratory song birds in the scrub oak trees, ( you can research my blog post with the search tool in my blog) The only birds I saw on this cold and blustery day were a small flock of dark-eyed juncos who flew away as I approached and a few black-capped chickadees, 

who were much friendlier and allowed me to get some photos. 

I followed a trail  and it ended at a road used to haul mining equipment over the ridge.

I turned around and followed the path back the the Rails to Trails  walking under the scraggly pitch pines  and

through the scrub oak. There is not much to see in the scrub oak barrens in the cold months. However,  in the Spring the blueberry flowers, which bloom early will attract insect, which will attract the migrating song birds to visit. These  barrens play a crucial role in the ecology of our area and the North Branch Land Trust must be thanked for acquiring and protecting the Butler Preserve.  They are protecting many parts of our shrinking wilderness which would be lost to development. We need more nature preserves not warehouses. 

 I continued my hike on the Rails to Trails meeting a couple of young ladies running in the frigid weather. 

 The trail descends a ridge and then crosses over to the other side of the Stockton road. 

This is were the wetlands area of the Butler Preserve is located along the trail. 

I hiked out about another half mile. I heard and saw a few  white breasted nuthatches, a few downy woodpeckers, some sparrow and blue jays. I didn’t get any photos because, to take photos of birds you need patience and I don’t have a lot of patience on a frigid and windy day. I was able to photograph this tufted titmouse that was in a tree above the trail. 

I turned around and now had to walk back about 1 1/2 miles into the howling wind. It was the first real cold day of the season and I didn’t like. I am a warm weather person. 

I walked back up the ridge,

seeing some colorful berries I missed on my hike out, including some common winterberries, 

and these nightshade berries. They will not last long. They will provide food to some critters as the cold weather continues in or area. 

It was a cold hike, and I didn’t see any wildflower or much wildlife but it is always nice to enjoy the quiet of nature even on the coldest of days. But I am already counting down the days until Spring.  Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from my hike.  Rails to Trails November 20 2022. 

Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans. – Evo Morales

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