Bats & Moths of Cook Forest

Bats & Moths of Cook Forest

Please meet at twilight (8:30) at Shelter #2 to help bat biologist Amber Nolder and insect specialist Tim Tomon during an evening survey of bats and moths along the picturesque Tom’s Run valley. Following an educational presentation, we’ll be catching bats and moths in nets for research purposes.

Bring your flashlights – there will be supplies to make a custom, removable red-light filter, so you can see better at night and disturb wildlife less. We’ll also have bat-mask coloring for the kids. 

This event is FREE and open to all – donations will support the CFC and the installation of bat boxes in Cook Forest State Park.

Much thanks to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and DCNR Bureau of Forestry and their scientists, and to the management and rangers of Cook Forest State Park for their accommodation and support!

>> 8:30 – 10:30 pm, Tuesday, 2 July 2019, at Pavilion #2 in beautiful Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania.  Approx. GPS coordinates = 41°20’50.0″N  79°13’11.2″W — follow Forest Road to near Breezemont – Shelter #2 is across from the Log Cabin

What is Forest Fragmentation & Why is it a Problem?

by Michael Snyder, forester & Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. 
Generously permitted for re-publication by Northern Woodlands magazine – original article here

forest fragmentation photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

Forest fragmentation is the breaking of large, contiguous, forested areas into smaller pieces of forest; typically these pieces are separated by roads, agriculture, utility corridors, subdivisions, or other human development. It usually occurs incrementally, beginning with cleared patches here and there – think Swiss cheese – within an otherwise unbroken expanse of tree cover.

Over time, those non-forest patches tend to multiply and expand until eventually the forest is reduced to scattered, disconnected forest islands. The surrounding non-forest lands and land uses seriously threaten the health, function, and value of the remaining forest.

Any large-scale canopy disturbance affects a forest, but it is important to distinguish between a forest fragmented by human infrastructure development and a forest of mixed ages and varied canopy closure that results from good forest management. The former is typically much more damaging to forest health and habitat quality, usually with permanent negative effects, whereas the latter may cause only temporary change in the forest.

The effects of fragmentation are well documented in all forested regions of the planet. In general, by reducing forest health and degrading habitat, fragmentation leads to loss of biodiversity, increases in invasive plants, pests, and pathogens, and reduction in water quality. These wide-ranging effects all stem from two basic problems: fragmentation increases isolation between forest communities and it increases so-called edge effects.

When a forest becomes isolated, the movement of plants and animals is inhibited. This restricts breeding and gene flow and results in long-term population decline. Fragmentation is a threat to natural resilience, and connectivity of forest habitats may be a key component of forest adaptation and response to climate change.

Edge effects are even more complicated. They alter growing conditions within the interior of forests through drastic changes in temperature, moisture, light, and wind. Put simply, the environment of the adjacent non-forest land determines the environment of the forest fragment, particularly on its edges. This triggers a cascade of ill effects on the health, growth, and survivability of trees, flowers, ferns, and lichens and an array of secondary effects on the animals that depend on them. Ecologists suggest that true interior forest conditions – you know, where it’s hard to hear cars and lawnmowers and it remains cool, shady, and downright damp even during a three-week drought – only occur at least 200-300 feet inside the non-forest edge.

And so a circular forest island in a sea of non-forest would have to be more than 14 acres in size to include just one acre of such interior forest condition. Put differently, reports indicate that the negative habitat effects of each residential building pocket within a forest radiate outward, affecting up to 30 additional acres with increased disturbance, predation, and competition from edge-dwellers. This may not matter to generalist species like deer, raccoons, and blue jays, which may actually benefit from fragmentation, but it is hell on interior-dependent species like salamanders, goshawks, bats, and flying squirrels. The smaller the remnant the greater the influence of external factors and edge effects. A wise person once likened it to ice cubes: the smaller ones melt faster.

Moreover, as forest fragments become ever smaller, practicing forestry in them becomes operationally impractical, economically nonviable, and culturally unacceptable. In turn, we lose the corresponding and important contributions that forestry makes to our economy and culture. The result is a rapid acceleration of further fragmentation and then permanent loss.

Here is the tricky part: when fragmentation occurs in a heavily forested region like ours, at least in the early going we are still left with a largely pleasant condition. We sense that we still have lots of woods where we can work, hunt, ski, and walk the dogs. And to most of us, this seems good enough, even when the perforations expand and those woods are the scattered remains of a fragmented forest.

But is it enough? At some point when the larger forest is highly fragmented, the size, integrity, and connectivity of those wooded remnants deteriorate beyond recovery and they are no longer adequate for native forest plants and wildlife. After all, when the Swiss cheese has more holes than cheese, the whole sandwich suffers.

aerial forest fragmentation - Tom Fisk on Pexels

Apheloria virginiensis millipede

orange & black milipede

Apheloria virginiensis  – a “large” millipede

This fellow was spotted on Camp Trail, Cook Forest State Park, in May of 2019. He’s a member of the Xystodesmidae, a family of millipedes which was named by O. F. Cook (no relation!) in 1895.

They don’t bite, and they don’t sting.  But, according to Wikipedia, this 2-inch-plus orange & black flat-backed millipede has been “reported to secrete cyanide compounds as a defense” – so don’t touch it!  If you have touched it, make sure to wash your hands, since “the toxic compounds it secretes are poisonous and can cause extreme irritation if rubbed in the eyes.”  

Otherwise, these insects are harmless, and beneficial.  They love damp forest floors strewn with rotting wood and host to mosses and fungi.  The millipedes eat these things, and are an important part of the forest life cycle. 

Air rescue: Saving Pennsylvania’s northern flying squirrel

By Kathy Hackleman, Senior Editor/Writer, Penn Lines
Reprinted with permission from Penn Lines / Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association

adult flying squirrel in Texas - photo by akire-tanzt

It is almost impossible to distinguish between a northern flying squirrel and a southern flying squirrel without close observation of the hairs on their chest (if the hairs are white from tip to base, it’s a southern flying squirrel; if they are white at the tip, but darker at the base, it’s a northern flying squirrel). While to the average Pennsylvanian, it appears as if one could easily be substituted for the other, they are very different.

The southern flying squirrel, with its disproportionately large eyes, conspicuous skin flaps and a flattened tail to assist in gliding, is prevalent in much of the state. However, these nocturnal creatures go about their lives seldom noticed — unless they inadvertently end up in a chimney with no way out. When they are seen gliding from treetop to treetop to rooftop in the darkness, they are often mistaken for a bat or a bird. Once found only in the southern United States, they have slowly but steadily crept northward until they have taken over much of Pennsylvania.

The northern flying squirrel, on the other hand, is in trouble despite its almost-identical appearance.


“The northern flying squirrel, which is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania, is a part of the state’s historic population of wildlife,” says William M. Williams, information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). “It is a native Pennsylvania species that was here prior to the European colonization. Because of human behavior in destroying their habitat, the conifer forest, they have been wiped out in Pennsylvania almost entirely.”

However, there is a group of people determined to halt the decline in the northern flying squirrel numbers and, if possible, increase their population in the state through forest management.

Greg Turner, the PGC state mammologist, is one of those people. He has been studying northern flying squirrels since 1995 when he was a part of a study team at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He and his university colleagues wrote a grant to obtain funding specifically to determine the distribution of the northern flying squirrel in Pennsylvania.

“The northern flying squirrel is very rare and very difficult to find,” Turner reports. “It is a mammal that is very secretive and rare, so they get ignored by a lot of people because it takes a lot of time and work to figure them out, but I like the challenge.”

Fewer than 50 northern flying squirrels have been located in Pennsylvania since 1995.

“That gives you a good idea of how rare they are,” Turner says. “I have personally handled around 30 of those. In an effort to locate where they are, we have placed over 700 nest boxes across the state, and we have also done some live-trapping. Live-trapping is a very labor-intensive process as we bait the traps in the evening and check them at first light daily because our primary goal is not to harm any of the species.”

March in Cook Forest

Last year the Bureau of Forestry, with the CFC and interested landowners, treated a number of the streamside hemlocks to prevent infection by HWA (hemlock woolly adelgid).

This stretch of Tom’s Run is near Shelter #1, off Forest Road. The blow-down is from last year – there has been substantially less wind damage so far in 2019.

HWA Treatment Seminar – 26 Sept 2018

HWA Kills Trees, and it is here, in Northwestern PA

Free HWA Treatment Seminar

Learn more about the threat, and how to treat your own trees.  This event is free to all, but space is limited – RSVP kelly @, or via facebook, to join specialists on invasive insects for information on at-home treatment for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), including:

  • the importance of helmock
  • the reduced cost of treatment (far less than removing dead trees!)
  • different treatment methods, including:
    • overview of available pesticides, chemical and insect;
    • which is best for a given situation; and
    • the best seasons for treatments

followed by an on-site session during which attendees can actually apply the treatment – this single application will protect each target hemlock for seven years!

RSVP reply will include further details – we’ll be at Shelter #1 off Forest Road (the map should get you close enough to see us!  First right past the park office along Forest Road, before Breezemont and the double turn-offs at the Log Cabin Inn & Longfellow/ Forest Cathedral trailheads).

Download a printable copy of the event PDF here.

Twilight of the Hemlocks & Beeches

Brunch with the author, Tim Palmer
16 September 2018 – Cook Forest

cover of Twilight of the Hemlocks and Beeches by Tim Palmer, a new book published by Penn State University Press.


Join the Cook Forest Conservancy for coffee with author Tim Palmer, who’s presenting a slideshow of his lovely photography and research detailing the decline of the Eastern Hemlock and American Beeches, published this month by Penn State University Press — and what we can do to save these stately trees.

This event is free to all who RSVP, though space is limited – please RSVP here:

“Tim Palmer’s breathtaking photography perfectly captures the magic of Pennsylvania’s state tree, whether seen during a walk through an ancient grove or meandering along many streambanks and waterways in the commonwealth.

His images and prose will inspire us all to work on building resilience for adaptation to the impacts of climate change and to do what we can to save these majestic trees.”

—Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary, Pennsylvania DCNR

This beautiful hardcover book will be for sale by the author at the event.  Any donations to the Cook Forest Conservancy will directly benefit efforts to preserve the old-growth stands in Cook Forest from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.

>> 10 – 11:30 am, Sunday, 16 September, at Pavilion #2 in beautiful Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania.  Approx. GPS coordinates = 41°20’50.0″N 79°13’11.2″W

“Cathedral” – documentary screening – 15 Sept

Cathedral: The Fight to Save the Ancient Hemlocks of Cook Forest

Cathedral - Wild Excellence Films - HWA still

Playing at the Sawmill Theatre in Cook Forest State Park at 7 p.m. on Saturday, 15 September.  Tickets are $15, and are available by calling 814-927-6655, or via Eventbrite by following this link.

The documentary tells the story of the hemlock trees of Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania, which are under attack by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), a destructive insect that has already killed thousands of trees in the eastern United States. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid was discovered in Cook Forest in 2013.  The little “Larry” beetles (i.e., beetles of the genus Laricobius), shown in the image above, are one of the methods of combatting the invasive HWA — click on the image to view the film’s trailer.

“These magnificent trees are hundreds of years old, and we have to do everything we can to help save them,” said Melissa Rohm, filmmaker on the project. “We hope that Cathedral will raise awareness about what’s happening in Cook Forest and why the hemlocks are so important. We want to inspire people to help.”

Cathedral includes interviews with park staff and is narrated by Old-Growth Forest Network founder Joan Maloof. The film takes the viewer on a journey through the forest in all seasons and shows the important work being done by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.

Snakes: Not Awful at All

happy snake day 2018Though often feared and vilified, snakes are essential for a balanced ecosystem, and generally are beneficial to have around.  Snakes eat mice and other rodents, keeping their populations in check and limiting the bugs and pathogens these critters can carry — snakes provide chemical-free, hands-off pest control for us.  On the other side of the food chain, birds eat snakes, and snakes eat snakes.

Snakes are threatened by habitat destruction and encroaching development, competition from invasive species, and  – persecution.  So please, put down your shovels, and learn more about the value of these much-maligned reptiles:


Happy World Snake Day 2018!

Fallen Giants of Cook Forest

Courtesy of Dale Luthringer, Cook Forest State Park Naturalist: 

It is with great regret that I inform you that both the Longfellow Pine & the Seneca Pine succumbed to a microburst on 4 May 2018.

A fast moving microburst came through the area early Friday evening with winds reported near 70 mph.  Firsthand accounts state the duration of severe heavy wind in the park was likely a mere 5 minutes.  I was in Erie at the time [and] spoke to a park patron on the trails on Monday, who was from Toronto where his high rise work building experienced winds in the 120km/hr range resulting in several windows being blown out.

Many tall pines are down, and to conduct a complete assessment will take time, but a preliminary brief cruise of trails in the heart of the Cathedral note mostly all recently felled trees suffered trunk failures, with most trunk failures being at the 40-60 ft height range.  There are still two tall upper 160 ft class pines standing near where the Longfellow was that I haven’t measured in close to 10 years.  Maybe one of them might make 170.  The Burl King (~11 x ~160), located a stone’s throw NW of the Longfellow appears to have come down in either one of last year’s May 2017 microburst events.

The Cornstalk Pine (~14 x ~135) adjacent to the Seneca Pine is still standing, but appears to have lost some of its crown.  I’m hoping the Cook Pine (~12 x ~165) is still standing.

So as it stands, the current tallest pine in Cook Forest and PA is one between the Seneca & Mohawk Trail last measured at 9.6 x 170.5 several years ago.  The current statistics I have for the PA state champ would have to reside at Heart’s Content, ANF, with the Heart’s Content Pine, last measured at 12.9ft CBH x 160.5ft high.  I will be measuring the Heart’s Content Pine in a couple weeks due to programming being held their soon.  It’ll take me some time to see the Cook Pine to check on its current status.

We are looking at getting cross sections for both the Longfellow and Seneca Pine.  The Longfellow’s cross section will have to be taken at over 60ft up from its base, but the Seneca’s should prove more fruitful with a cross section that should come from the 20-25ft height range.

At their greatest dimensions, the best I’ve been able to do for both trees were:

  • Longfellow Pine = 11.2ft CBH x 184.7ft high (previous tallest tree known north of the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Seneca Pine = 12.6ft CBH x 174.1ft high (previous Pennsylvania State Champ)

Both the Longfellow and Seneca have been in decline for years.  The Longfellow was still putting on height, but close to 20% of its bark circumference had rotted near the base.  The Seneca Pine was in much worse shape, with thinning crown and near 50% of its bark circumference rotted near the base.  

Even in death these massive trees tell a story and serve a purpose.  Still, it is sad to see these monarchs pass into the next stage of the forest cycle.  Nothing or no one lives forever.  Something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

The mantel for tallest tree in the Northeast now passes to Cook Forest’s sister, the Mohawk Trail State Forest [in NW Massachusetts].

Interview with Wild Excellence Films by Allegheny Front

Listen to “Filmmakers Highlight Plight of Cook Forest’s Iconic Hemlocks,” an interview with Dave & Melissa Rohm, the team behind Wild Excellence Films‘ documentary on Cook Forest, Cathedral: The Fight to Save the Ancient Hemlocks of Cook Forest. Here’s an excerpt:

Interviewer Kara Holsopple: What would it mean to lose the hemlocks in Cook Forest, to the ecosystem there and also to people?

David Rohm: Cook Forest would be a much different place. If you’ve been to Cook Forest, there’s a sheltering ability that these hemlock trees provide. 120-foot trees, you take away even half of them, and you’re going to see a huge difference. There’s a lot of wildlife. Migrating birds love the forest –way up in the canopies, they’re safe there. They reintroduced fishers there not too long ago. It’s like a mink but a little bigger. To people, Cook Forest means a tremendous amount. They get 500,000 visitors a year who aren’t going to visit if it’s not the same forest.

Please visit the Allegheny Front, via this link, for the full interview and audio.

Black-capped Chickadee sings Cheese-burger

All spring, three or four of these little black-capped chickadee birds have been frequenting the suet cake feeders and singing in the forest.  They have a number of calls and songs, but their “cheese-burger” song is by far the most charming.  This rendition was recorded near the Clarion River in early April:

To hear the black-capped chickadee sing cheeseburger next spring, head to Tom’s Run Road in Cook Forest State Park in mid-April.  For more information on the birds, and additional sound recordings, visit these pages on Audubon & the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which provides this fact:

Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons…

Want to attract black-capped chickadees?

black-capped chickadee by Alain Yvan Séguin

To bring black-capped chickadees to your own yard, follow a few simple tips that will also help other local wildlife.  If you know the CFC, you know that we love birds, and creating good habitat for all the creatures of western Pennsylvania.  Here’s a quick overview:

  • provide habitat – plant natives, and leave dead trees and bramble patches
  • provide attractive feeding, watering, & nesting sites
  • minimize predators – especially housecats (any cats, whether yours or feral), which injure all sort of critters when let outdoors

For further details on the habits and habitats of black-capped chickadees, and how to attract them to your yard (and improve your little piece of the area’s ecosystem generally), see this post: 

Our thanks to Alain Yvan Séguin, Member of the Wild Birds Unlimited group, for the stunning black-capped chickadee photo, and to for reaching out about expanding this article 🙂

International Dark Sky Week

During Dark Sky Week, spend a few hours outside in the darkness, admiring the stars and listening for sounds of the night creatures. Or, considering tonight’s Cook Forest forecast, you’d more likely be in the darkness, in the rain.

Even if the night of the new moon is rained out, you can help spread the word about light pollution and the importance of dark skies. Notice how dark your yard is – or isn’t – and talk with friends, family, neighbors, or government representatives about why an unspoiled night environment is crucial for the health of humans and creatures alike. Visit the IDA for more information and resources, or the CFC’s page on dark skies:

Cook Forest Soundscape: River Road in the Rain

This recording was taken 3 April, a rainy Tuesday when River Road was about as quiet as it ever is, in the daytime.  On the recording are: a dozen or so robins, a pair of warblers, a red squirrel or two [long chatter sound].  Automobile sounds, near the end of the clip, come from people getting into a car and preparing to leave, and another car driving east on River Road toward Clarington.  No alterations were made except for volume normalization and trimming of the ends of the clip.

This is the first in a series of recordings to be taken in and around Cook Forest.  Please add our channel on SoundCloud:

How Birds Live

How Birds Live, Claude R HillHow Birds Live, by Claude R. Hill, 1940 revised printing by American Education Press Inc., is a charming 36-page overview on the workings of the bird world, with pen-and-ink illustrations.

Mr. Hill reprints an interesting technique for sketching birdsong with dashes and curves, the results akin to an avian morse code.  Hill attributes the idea to wildlife artist R. Bruce Horsfall, but, sadly, little can be found online regarding his contributions to song sketching.


How Birds Live - CR Hill How Birds Live - CR Hill

How Birds Live is an endearing and succinct introduction to bird biology and behaviour, and should engage any young naturalist.  Hill illustrates some of the ways birds benefit people, e.g by eating mosquitoes and crop-damaging insects and rodents – one pair of barn owls ate more than 2,000 mice in a summer.  He also explains how birds evolve to suit their métier: by having webbed feet or hunting talons, and downy feathers for warmth and stealth or strong, sleek feathers for flight.

How Birds Live - CR Hill