Log In

Reset Password

It’s in Your Nature: Moving north

It was September 1978 when I was one of the official counters at Bake Oven Knob when a bird, I had never seen in Pennsylvania passed by the ridge top. It was a black vulture.

While at East Stroudsburg State College, I took a course on Florida birds with my college adviser and saw many of them throughout the state. They were quite numerous in the south and southeastern states. From March through October, you can see some every day in the Times News region. They are now breeding in Carbon, Lehigh, and Schuylkill counties. They keep expanding their range northward. In Lehigh County, they can be seen year-round and in winter may be as common there as our native turkey vultures.

It may have been that same fall season when sitting on that ridge top, I heard an unfamiliar bird singing on the south slope. Fritz, a Lehigh Valley resident and great birder, reminded me that it was a Carolina wren singing on that warm September morning. A few years later I saw my first one in Carbon County. Now these wrens are rather common, and in fact often remain in our region all winter. A pair fed on my suet blocks throughout the winter last year.

Another resident bird of our area that wasn’t here 70 or 80 years ago is the mockingbird. They too are now year-round residents. Their arrival here seemed to coincide with the increase of fruit and berry bearing shrubs planted by many homeowners. Today’s warmer climate fueled it as well.

Maybe the woodpecker of which you may be most familiar is the red-bellied woodpecker. The “red belly” is a relative newcomer to the Times News region. I saw my first one in Carbon County in about 1975. While in college we made a field trip to northern Northampton County and our professor was quite surprised to see one there. Less severe winters and rapidly increasing bird feeding has allowed it to colonize even as far north as southern Maine. They and the northern cardinal both took range expansion opportunities with the gradually warming climate - cardinals arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1900s.

The past two years I, and a few other avid birders, have recorded two other southern bird species in Carbon County. They are the yellow-throated warbler and prothonotary warbler. Though I don’t think they are breeding here yet, I suspect that we may see that in the next 10 years or so. I’m sure we can agree that our winter season is shorter and generally less severe.

Birds aren’t the only organisms expanding their range northward. This past June I found poison hemlock growing along the Lehigh Canal towpath south of Weissport. Poison hemlock has slowly made inroads to the traditionally colder areas it had not been successful surviving in previously. I’ve included a photo of this plant and see if you’ve encountered it before. Poison hemlock was once restricted to our southern states.

Another “invader” from the south is the aquatic reed, Phragmites. If you’ve traveled to the “shore” the marshy areas around the bays and backwaters are often choked by dense stands of this plant. In the tidal areas it is important as food and hiding areas for invertebrates and the rising and ebbing tide keeps washing nutrients from these dense patches of these plants. My guess, like the terrible Japanese knotweed, it too will outcompete plants like cattails and arrow weed, etc. growing locally.

Our younger readers I’m sure will find different birds, plants, and maybe even mammals or amphibians living here that were once at home in much warmer climes before.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Knowing its southern origin, what bird is the official state bird of these southern states: Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi? A. Blue jay. B. Mockingbird. C. Northern flicker. D. Song sparrow.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The woodpecker on the left of the suet was a female downy woodpecker. Male “downies” have the red patch of feathers on the back of their heads.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

Now maybe the most seen and common woodpecker, the red-bellied woodpecker has gradually expanded its range northward from our southern states. Warmer winters and many more people feeding birds with suet like this, help them do so well. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Arriving in our region in the last 50 or 60 years, the Carolina wren now remains here through the winter months. This one was feeding on our deck with a few inches of snow covering the landscape.
Even the cardinal was not a breeding bird here near the beginning of the 20th century. They are now resident birds here and into New England.
Northward expansion is not limited to animals. I found my first poison hemlock plants growing along the Lehigh Canal this summer.
The most dominant reed in marshes to our south, phragmites, are now “popping up” in damp areas and road sides in our region. Look for 6 foot tall, feathery topped plants this summer.