Arctic Air Arrives In Northeastern Pennsylvania: A Frigid Hike in the Susquehanna Wetlands
After a frigid Saturday, the Arctic air settled in and it got even colder here in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Sunday. It was -2 degrees when I awoke in my home in Hazle Township, Luzerne County. As usual I decided to hike in the Susquehanna Wetlands. So, after a cup of coffee I was driving in the morning twilight to my favorite nature preserve in Salem Township, about 25 miles from my home.
It was -1 degrees when I arrived at the wetlands. There was a light wind which made it feel colder. The sun had risen but it was hidden behind the Council Cup mountain to the south. I was cold as I stood on the banks of the Susquehanna River. A cold mist rose from the river. Large patches of ice floated on the river. It was now almost impossible for flock of ducks or geese to remain on the river. And it would be very hard for the great blue herons and kingfishers to fish in the frigid waters. These birds have probably migrated south were the river would be warmer and ice free.
I was cold as I walked along the trails in the wetlands. The sub zero temperature penetrated my gloves and shoes freezing my finger and toes. It also affected the ponds and canals in the wetlands. They were now completely frozen over. The only areas of open waters were near the water culverts. It was here I thought I had a slim chance of seeing an otter or muskrat but there were there was none to be seen.
In fact there was nothing stirring in the frigid Arctic air. I walked to the water fowls ponds hoping maybe a bald eagle or hawk may be perched in a treetop. They would be looking for a squirrel or rabbit. Their other source of food, the fish that live in the ponds and canals, was now unavailable to them. No luck seeing these critters either.
To be honest, I was so cold I was kind of glad I didn’t see any wildlife as I walked along the frozen waters of the wetlands. I didn’t want to take my gloves off to photograph them.
After leaving the water fowl pond I headed toward the river lands area of the nature preserve but first walked back down to the river. I hoped to maybe see a bald eagle still trying to fish in the partially frozen river but once again found none. The frigid arctic air was continuing to penetrate my arctic gear. It was not a pleasant hike.
Thankfully , as I left the river, the sun appeared about the hilltops.
It illuminated the trees in the wetlands. It is amazing how, even at it’s low angle on the horizon in January, it’s rays immediately warmed up my freezing body.
The sunshine was exhilarating.
Before entering the river lands I walked back down to the river a third time. Again I saw no wildlife. The river had even more ice on it’s surface here. I was now sure the ducks, geese and other water fowl had to have migrated south since there was little open water on the river, and there was more cold weather in the forecast.
After observing the river again I walked into the river lands and found the canal,
and Lake Took-A- While completely covered in ice. The ice reflected the clear blue skies.
There was still almost no wildlife activity as a walked along the lake. Finally I saw a bird scampering up a tree trunk near the lake. It was a bird I don’t often see in the river lands, a brown creeper. Nearby was the tree where I have been seeing the friendly ruby crowned kinglet but it wasn’t there on this frigid morning.
As usual I hiked to the end of the lake and then began my return hike to my Jeep in the wetlands. The rays of the sun now warmed me as I walked.
And it must have also warmed the woodlands. As I approached the wetlands I noticed a lot more birds activity. A small flock of white-throated sparrows scurried in the undergrowth along the trail.
Northern cardinals were flying above in the treetops, this is the brightly colored male,
Small flocks of dark-eyed juncos were scampering on the ground and in the lower branches of the trees along the trail.
And of course there were black-capped chickadees enjoying the sunshine too.
The reason for the appearance of the birds in this area was two-fold, I think, this was an area of open fields and the early morning sun was able to quickly warm up the frigid air that blanketed the wetlands overnight, and there was a lot of poison ivy vines in the area, providing the birds with one of their favorite winter treats. I have learned if you find poison ivy berries you will usually find birds in the winter months. Here is a white-throated sparrow enjoying a poison ivy berry and seed.
After watching the birds enjoy their breakfast I walked back into the wetlands under the bright morning sun.
Although the sun only warmed it up a little, it was probably still only around 7 degrees, the warm sun rays were absorbed by my dark gloves, shoes, hat and coat making me feel a lot warmer. I was now warm enough to observe and enjoy the winter scenery. As I said I was to frozen take photos when I arrived before the sun appeared an warmed it up. Unfortunately I saw no wildlife but, as always the bright red common winterberries stood out and caught my attention.
If you looked, you could also find some greens in the white snow covered wetlands, including the frozen fronds of these Christmas ferns,
these holly leaves illuminated in the morning sun and,
the ground or princess pine thriving in the snow. They look like miniature Christmas trees. Although I was cold for most of my five mile hike, and I didn’t see a lot of wildlife I was still glad to get out in the bright sunshine and experience the harsh winters we get here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. But, of course, I am counting the days until Spring. Here is a link to a gallery with more photographs from my frigid hike in the Arctic air. Susquehanna Wetlands hike January 16 2022,
it is now winter, dead winter. Desolation and silence reign in the fields. No singing of birds is heard, no humming of insects. The streams murmur no longer, they are locked up with frost. J. M.Usher