A Few Birds, A Bear And Some Hints Of Fall On The Greater Hazleton Rails To Trails
It was a cool Fall morning when I awoke Sunday. I decided to stay close to home and hike on the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails again. Last Saturday I hiked on this trail , but I started at the trail head on W. Broad Street. On Sunday I began my hike on the other end of the trail, near the village of Hazle Brook in Foster Township. It is about a six mile hike on the trail between these two access parking lots.
It was mostly cloudy with a seasonably cool temperature of 48 degrees when I arrived at the trailhead. The trail begins under a thick canopy of leaves of the large trees in a second growth oak, maple and pine woodlands.
Some white birch and sassafras grew under the larger trees and these trees were already showing hints of yellow as the Fall season advance. It has been a very mild and wet September and the seasonal display of Fall colors has been delayed.
and red maple leaves have also already turned color.
As did most of the leaves on the blueberry and blackberry plants.
Along the trail the eastern hat-scented ferns also have begun to turn yellow and filled the cool morning air with their sweet Fall fragrance.
The woodlands in this part of the trail were spared from the destruction of the strip mining that occurred in most of the surrounding areas. They were probably timbered in the late 19th century and these trees are a second growth forest. In the original forest the American chestnut was the dominant tree here and in the eastern United States. A blight at the end of the 19th century destroyed all of these majestic trees. My dad remembers the older trees producing bushels of chestnuts before succumbing to the blight when he was a child in the 1920’s. The blight does not attack the roots of these trees, and a century later, they still produce shoots. These young trees survive a decade or so and may produce a crop of chestnuts before becoming affected and dying from the blight. I mention this because I saw some shoots of one of this ancient trees growing along the trail.
The trail approached some of the strip mined areas which have recently been filled and reclaimed. Here the dominant trees are now birch, aspen, locust and pine.
A small stream flowed along the border between the second growth woodlands and strip mine reclamation area. Amazingly, somehow, this stream has flowed through the area unaffected by the acid mine drainage that has polluted so many of our waterways. Native brook trout continue to thrive in this unpolluted stream.
The trail proceeded through the reclamation area. Here I heard, and saw my first bird of the morning. It was my first sighting of Tennessee warbler.
There was also a small flock of field sparrows fluttering in the trees along the trail.
The trail proceeded uphill and at the top a great view of the surrounding hills could be seen over the reclamation lands.
The open spaces in the reclamation area allowed many wildflowers to grow and bloom. These included a few species of asters, such as Panicled asters,
There were also a few native great blue lobelia flowers,
and another native flower rabbit tobacco was also blooming along the trail. This plant had many medicinal uses among the various Native American tribes.
Two other wildflowers bloomed along the trail although many folks would consider them weeds and not flowers, the common dandelion and
wrinkleleaf goldenrod, one of the many species of goldenrod that grow in our area.
There were very few insects on the trail. At first I thought this was a yellowjacket but on closer inspection I discovered it was some type of beetle.
The trail continued through the reclamation lands until it came to the active railroad tracks.
Here the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails were able to obtain grants to place a bridge over the railroad track. The bridge replaced an old bridge on the abandoned Delaware, Susquehanna and Schuylkill Railroad built by the Coxe brothers to transport coal in the 1890’s. The Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails follows this old railroad right of way.
After crossing the railroad tracks the trail, for a short distance, passes through old strip mines that haven’t been reclaimed.
Here one of the old “strippings” filled with water and provides a scenic small lake for hikers and bikers on the trail.
I continued on the trail until I reached the heath and pines barrens. These now rare barrens were created over thousands of years either my fires caused by lightning or se by Native Americans.
The barrens provided an excellent habitat for bear, deer and other wild game hunted by the Native Americans. After visiting the heath and pine barrens I began my 2 1/2 mile hike to my Jeep.
I had hoped to see more migrating song birds near the barrens, however there wasn’t as much bird activity on my hike as I expected . In addition to the Tennessee warbler and field sparrow I heard a few black-capped chickadee, an eastern towhee, some crows and blue jays. However, I was only able to photograph this golden-crowned kinglet.
A small flock of them scurried in the lower branches of the trees along the trail.
I continued my hike under the now partially sunny skies, and near the five mile marker on the trailer I saw this large bear standing on the trail staring at me.
We stared at each other for a brief moment. I just started taking photos,
when he turned and ran into the woods. I always enjoy seeing these beautiful animals on my hikes. Most years I see over a dozen bears on my hikes in the Spring, Summer and Fall, This was only my third bear sighting this Summer. Hopefully, I’ll see him again before he takes his long Winter nap. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with more photos of the birds, bear and flowers I saw on my hike. Rails to Trail hike October 3 2021.
After seeing the bear I finished my hike on the last portion of the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails. I didn’t see any more wildlife but did observe some more signs of Fall including a large crop of acorns scattered on the floor of the woodlands,
some poison pigskin mushrooms and
maybe one of the last daisies of the season.
Near the end of the trail, a short distance off of the path, there is a small old strip mine that once was used to provide water to the strip mining operations.
It is now overgrown and has become a home for a number of wild critters, including herons, dragonflies and frogs.
I didn’t see as many migratory birds as I hope but seeing a bear on any hike makes for a great experience. I just hope next time it stays put so I can get some better photos. Here is a link to some more photographs from my five mile hike on the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails. Rails to Trails hike October 3 2021.
Leaves descending to the ground,
Orange, magenta, green & brown
The cool crisp breezes in the air,
Autumn season must be here”