Looking For Mountain Laurel In The State Game Lands In Carbon County

Looking For Mountain Laurel In The State Game Lands In Carbon County

Tank HOllow (23 of 38)
Previous Post
Next Post

I was disappointed last Friday when I found very few of the mountain laurel shrubs blooming  along the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails near my home in Luzerne County. Last year’s display of our State Flower was spectacular there.  However, I remembered two  years ago  there wasn’t a great display of the mountain laurel flowers  on the trail to the Tank Hollow Overlook  in State Game Lands 141 in Carbon County. Some years the display here is so colorful it is almost magical. So I decided to head to the Tank Hollow Overlook early Saturday morning and, hopefully, find the mountain laurel in bloom  And, of course,  look for bears, birds and any other critters that live there.

It was a cool but beautiful June morning. The brilliant sun was shining in deep blue cloudless skies.  I was the only car at the trailhead parking lot on Behrens Road in Penn Forest Township. It is about a 1 1/2 mile hike to the rock outcrop overlooking the Lehigh River. The first mile of the trail is on the access road to the State Game Lands which is open during hunting season.  It is a wide dirt and stone road that that takes one through a second growth forest  hardwood oak/maple woodland with some pine and hemlock trees.

 There was a prescribed burning of the underbrush along the trail a few years ago. These burnings are done to encourage the growth of native plants and improve wildlife habitat.  And it worked, the underbrush under the large trees that were untouched by the fire were lush and green

.  The burned area is the home of  many song birds and it is a great place to photograph them in the now open woodlands. I am sure deer, bear, and other wildlife also benefited from the many berries and new plants growing in the areas that were burned.

Soon after I began my hike  I saw this black and white warbler.  One of our long distance travelers who leave their  Winter homes from Florida to the jungles of northern South America to breed  in our area and in northern North America. I have seen them in the jungles of Costa Rica and on the shores of the Hudson Bay.

The woodlands along the trail were filled with the song of this  colorful and cheerful bird, a chestnut sided warbler. . I think they were the most common bird in the burned areas.  They thrive in the new vegetation and are also long distance migrants spending their Winters in Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands.

The distinctive buzzing song of the prairie warblers were also common along the trail. These colorful birds are also travelers but only to Florida and the northern Caribbean islands. I see many of them on my travels in Florida in the Winter. It is good to see them here in Pennsylvania.

I slowly continued along the trail/access road, I usually walk at a one mile an hour pace on my hikes. I enjoyed  seeing, and trying to photograph the birds ( I take many photos and miss as many as I see)  and the beautiful blue June skies.

I also enjoyed the seeing the plants and flowers growing along the road.  It is June and the Spring profusion of blooming flowers is over. However a few flowers still bloomed. Ox-eye daisies have always been on of my favorite flowers, but they are not native to our area and are probably one of the species of plants the prescribed burning was truing to eliminate. They still are pretty.

There were also daisy fleabane flowers blooming along the trail, they are a native species,

as is the Indian hemp flowers beginning to bloom.

Red clover also bloomed along the trail but it, too , is a pretty but invasive species.

There was a lush growth of ferns in the burned area including bracken ferns,

hay-scented ferns, and

ostrich or fiddlehead ferns.

As I continued my hike I heard the unmistakable song of the eastern towhees. these birds were very common in the woodlands near my home and we would see them while picking blue berries ( we called them huckleberries). These birds are migrants too, but only to the southern United States, this is a male,

and this a female.

Another common migrant in the woods along the trail and throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania is the masked common yellowthroat. This tiny warbler is very common and spends it’s Winter in Florida, Mexico and Central America.

As I continued my hike under the clear blue skies,

I saw another beautiful migrant bird that breeds here in our area, a rose-breasted grosbeak perched on a branch singing loudly under the blue skies. These birds also travel to Central and South America and the Caribbean in the Winter.

There were also a few  chipping sparrow singing along the trail,  they are a short distance  migratory bird  and travel to the Southern United States

 Field sparrows were also singing along the trail, they too are short distance migrants.

And, of course there were the  America robins, I saw a few on my hike, this one singing perched high atop a pine tree. These birds are short distance migrants and some remain in our area during our mild Winters. They are common along the Susquehanna River during many of our milder Winters.

The only year long resident I saw   in the prescribed burn areas along the trail  was this downy woodpecker. They brave our frigid Winters and remain here year long.

After about a mile the more open woodland ends at a parking lot and gate. Here the road continues down a steep ridge into a more dense woodland.

I enjoyed walking under the shade of the trees as some of the morning sun filtered through the canopy of leaves.

It was about another 1/2 mile walk to the trailhead for the Tank Overlook Trail. I only heard ovenbirds and red-eyed vireos singing in the trees but didn’t stop to take photos, there would plenty of chances on my hike, they are very common in the deeper woods.

The trail was narrower as it took me toward the overlook .

On the way I heard and saw some of the birds of the deeper woods, including the  ovenbirds, this  small  warbler is either scurrying on the forest floor or singing loudly in the treetops. These migratory birds spend their Winters in southern Florida, the Caribbean and Central and northern South America. 

The red-eyed vireos, were also  singing continually in the treetops.

And I saw a beautiful scarlet tanager singing in the canopy of leaves above the trail. Both of these birds are long distance travelers. spending their Winter in the jungles and mountains of South America.

I also heard the melodic song of a hermit thrush that echoed through the woodlands. We are on the edge of the year round range of these birds of the deeps woods.

I continued on the trail and came to the area with with the thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron plants. I was disappointed again. Only a few of the many mountain laurel  had flowers and they were already beginning to fade. As I noted above one year walking this trail there were so many mountain laurel in bloom is was like entering a magical world. Not this year, the mountain laurel  bloom are affected by many factors including the  heat, cold or amount of  precipitation.

I continued on the trail which became rocky and overgrown as it descended to the rocky outcrop  at Tank Hollow.   

Once again I was inspired by the beauty at the overlook.  The deep blue sky contrasted the lush green mountains in the distance.  The roaring of the Lehigh River far below reached up to the rocks far above. It was a wonderful place to appreciate this spectacular June morning.  I wish June could last all year. I also wished I could hike all day until the sunset but I had to begin my hike back.

As I was leaving I met this black throated green warbler in the rhododendron thicket along the trail.  I have seen these birds here for about five years now. I am not sure if it is the same birds or one of the offspring of the birds of the previous years.

As I made my way back to the main trail I saw two more birds of the deep woods, this black throated blue warbler,  and

a pretty  hooded warbler. This is the first hooded warbler I saw this year. Both of these birds are migratory spending their Winters in Central America and the Caribbean. This would be the last new species of bird I would see on this hike. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the birds I saw on my five mile hike. Tank Hollow birds June 15 2024.

I made my way to the main trail and followed it out for about another  1/2 mile.

I saw many of the same birds I had seen earlier and also a few other critters that some folks may not like as much as the birds I saw this, I believe,  orchard spider, 

this eastern garter snake,

and this timber rattlesnake.

The timber rattlesnake was a smaller one, and it slithered away,

without shaking it’s rattle as I approached. They are not aggressive and will one bite if startled or provoked. They are beautiful and misunderstood creatures. 

It was near noon as I made my way back up the steep ridge,

and fair weather cumulus clouds now formed in the deep blue sky. As usual I now encountered a steady stream of hikers making their way to the Tank Hollow Overlook and enjoying this gorgeous June day. 

The strong June sun warmed up the chilly morning air and a lot of insects were now active including these spicebush swallow tail,

and red spotted purple butterflies.

I finished my 5 1/2 mile hike (I had walked 2 miles near my home earlier). I wish I could have spent more time exploring these trails, and in my younger years I would have. Many a day I left at dawn and didn’t return until evening when I was in my teens and twenties. Not anymore, but I was grateful to be able to still hike and enjoy the many trails in the woodlands near my home here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and to share some of my experiences here on my blog. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos from  my five mile hike on this beautiful June morning. Tank Hollow  June 15 2024.

“And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.”– James Russell Lowell



This is my first post