Mountain Laurel And Warblers In The Penrose Swamp Barrens In Carbon County

Mountain Laurel And Warblers In The Penrose Swamp Barrens In Carbon County

Penrose Preserve (8 of 44)
Previous Post
Next Post

It’s mid June,  and here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, this is when the blooming of our State Flower, the mountain laurel,   is usually at, or near,  it’s peak. I decided to hike in the Penrose Swamp Barrens in Carbon County. This   2700 acre tract of wetlands and forests is the newest addition to the Weiser State Forest.  I have hiked it a few times but not when the mountain laurel were in bloom. In addition to looking for mountain laurel I hoped to see some song birds and maybe even a black bear. I have seen both here in the past. 

I arrived at the entrance on the Buck Mountain road and began my hike into the preserve by  following  the access trail through a wetlands beneath a dense woodland of oak/maple and hemlock trees. 

I soon saw the mountain laurel blooming along the trail and in the woodlands. 

The delicate flowers range in color from white to pink. 

And it didn’t take long for me to hear, and see some song birds.  The first was the elusive black throated  blue warbler. I have seen these birds in the dense hemlock forests here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. However, they are difficult to photograph since they don’t sit still and like to stay high in the dim branches of the trees. I was lucky and was able to get some good photos of this one. although it took about a half hour. 

There was also a few chestnut sided warblers in the dense woodlands and I was able to get a photo of this one displaying it’s chestnut colored sides. 

It is a beautiful bird. 

I also saw a hooded warbler here too, and spent a lot of time trying to get a photo, but it wouldn’t co-operate and this was the best I could do. 

 After about a 1/4 mile the trail comes to a  utility pole line. and follows the pole line into the preserve. Here I found what I was looking for, mountain laurel, in full bloom. 

It was growing all along the pole line right of way and looked beautiful in the June sunshine. 

I am not sure why bu t the mountain laurel in the denser woods was white, while the flowers blooming in the open along the pole line where more pinkish. I am not sure if there was a reason for this or if it were just a coincidence. 

As I walked along the pole line I saw a ew more song birds including this beautiful male scarlet tanager, 

a common yellowthroat warbler, 

a gray catbird, 

and this field sparrow. 

There were also some other wildflowers blooming along the trail, including  meadow salsify,

self heal flowers,

and, one of my favorite, oxeye daisies. 

And where there are flowers there are bees and butterflies. i saw my first Canadian tiger swallowtail butterfly on the trail. 

As the trail continued down the ridge there was less  mountain laurel. 

At  one point  along the trail the mountain laurel was replaced by a related species, the rhododendron.

These showy flowers usually bloom a few weeks after the mountain laurel but I found this  early one already in bloom. 

There was also another,  less showy species of laurel, the sheep laurel blooming all along the trails on  my five mile hike. The sheep laurel blooms for a much longer time then the mountain and I often see sheep laurel flowers blooming  while picking  “swampers”,  high bush blueberries,  in late July. 

After about a mile I left the pole line and followed the ol Buck Mountain railroad right of way into a denser and darker hemlock/oak forest  and wetland. I had seen bear in these woods before and I was hoping to see one on Saturday. 

In these wetlands, and throughout the Penrose Swamp Barrens I saw the American climbing fern or Hartford fern. This fern was once considered endangered until large areas of it were discovered out there in the Penrose Swamp Barrens. It is now protected in this new State Forest. 

In these deeper woods I also saw and heard a lot of ovenbirds, red eyed vireos and this beautiful bird , a black throated green warbler. Unlike the black throated blue warbler I find them much easier to photograph since they like to perch on a branch and sing. 

There is a small pond along the old railroad right of way, and I think there was a campground here many years ago.

The trail  continues through the dense woodland

and becomes flooded when  it approaches the active railroad track at the Black Creek Bridge. 

This bridge, known  as the  Hazle Junction on the old maps,  is where the Beaver Meadows, the Hazleton and the Buck Mountain railroads  intersected in the past.  It was a busy place over a 150 years ago. 

I  followed the railroad tracks about another 1/2 mile,

to the Penrose Reservoir. I have seen otter, beaver, heron and bitterns  on this small pond. But not on Saturday there was no critters around, not even a bird. 

It was approaching middy now, and I started my hike back  On the way I saw a few black and white warblers on the railroad  right of way, 

and these  whitetail deer crossing the tracks ahead of me.

I walked back through the dense woods along the old Buck Mountain railroad right of way, and I didn’t see anymore birds or bears,

but I did see some signs that there was some recent beaver activity in the area. 

Clouds moved in when I got back  on the utility pole line trail,

and I saw a few more birds as I walked  up the pole line including this pine warbler, 

this eastern towhee , These would be the last birds I would see on my five mile hike. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the birds I saw on my hike. Penrose Swamp Barrens birds June 17 2023 

However, I now saw a lot more Canadian tiger swallowtail visiting the mountain laurel flowers, they were more active as the  June sun  warmed the cool morning air. 

this tiny spider on a  mountain laurel petal. 

AS I was finishing my five mile hike I saw tis friendly water snake along the trail near my Jeep. It didn’t seem to mind me getting up close to get some photos.

I didn’t see bears on my hike but I saw a lot of song birds and other critters, And,  I enjoyed the beautiful mountain laurel flowers. They only bloom fo a short time in June and I think I will ne enjoying them for many years in the Penrose Swamp Barrens. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from my five mile hike. Penrose Swamp Barrens June 17 2023. 



“My bonnie flower, with truest joy
Thy welcome face I see,
The world grows brighter to my eyes,
And summer comes with thee.
My solitude now finds a friend,
And after each hard day,
I in my mountain garden walk,
To rest, or sing, or pray.

All down the rocky slope is spread
Thy veil of rosy snow,
And in the valley by the brook,
Thy deeper blossoms grow.
The barren wilderness grows fair,
Such beauty dost thou give;
And human eyes and Nature’s heart
Rejoice that thou dost live.

Each year I wait thy coming, dear,
Each year I love thee more,
For life grows hard, and much I need
Thy honey for my store.
So, like a hungry bee, I sip
Sweet lessons from thy cup,
And sitting at a flower’s feet,
My soul learns to look up.

No laurels shall I ever win,
No splendid blossoms bear,
But gratefully receive and use
God’s blessed sun and air;
And, blooming where my lot is cast,
Grow happy and content,
Making some barren spot more fair,
For a humble life well spent. ” 

A poem by Louisa May Alcott












This is my first post