dark sky

Stargazing in Cook Forest

guide to stargazing in Cook Forest State Park, PA

Sadly, most Americans can’t see our galaxy due to light pollution, but you can still celebrate the Milky Way beneath the dark skies of Cook Forest State Park – a great site for stargazing.  

The Milky Way, lots of constellations, and several planets are easily visible from open areas in Cook Forest.  You don’t even need a telescope (or astronomy binoculars), just clear skies, a weak moon, and a couple of tips.  Here are some resources for stargazing in and around Cook Forest:

Cook Forest Stargazing Links:

Free & current star chart by SkyMaps.com

Northwestern Pennsylvania Astronomy Resources:

Happy stargazing!

But, before you go, here’s an excellent illustration of the difference darkness makes when stargazing – or, when practicing celestial navigation:  

Light pollution threatens wildlife health, disrupts circadian rhythms, derails pollination, and greatly reduces the quality of stargazing.  Find out how you can help combat it, and keep our skies dark: 

Bats & Moths & Synchronous Fireflies!

Bats Moths & Fireflies CFC 2020

UPDATE:  Please bear with us 🙂 – the event is now limited to 25 attendees, per PA guidelines on COVID-19 – – RSVP is req’d via 814-744-8407 or cookforestsp@pa.gov, & please bring your masks & respect social distancing ** Please DISREGARD Facebook attendance indicators, as we’re not using that system **
Our apologies, but as this is the first event in the park following its reopening, and as several state entities are cooperating in its production, we just got the word that we need to collect registrations for the event. We appreciate your understanding!

Wielding microphones and sheets and wearing headlamps, bat biologist Amber Nolder and entomologist Tim Tomon will survey bats and moths, educating onlookers as they monitor this aspect of forest health. We’ll begin with some presentations, move into the field, and learn about these important Cook Forest residents.  Here’s a recap & gallery from last year’s stellar bat & moth event – but, this year, it’s

Bats & Moths – and then Synchronous Fireflies!

Our annual program has happily added a (hopeful) appearance by the rare and elusive synchronous fireflies!  Once the Photinus carolinus & friends have emerged (probably around 10 pm), we’ll walk up nearby Tom’s Run Road a short distance into the darkness, and enjoy their silent light show. Allegheny National Forest & Cook Forest State Park are among the only places to see these little fellows in America – they’re so famous in the Smoky Mountains there’s a lottery to see them!

Since the primary threats to fireflies are habitat loss and light pollution, the “lightning bug” portion of the program will be pitch black, so they can communicate.  The dirt road is somewhat uneven – if you have a headlamp or flashlight with a red lamp function, please bring it along for the trek in toward the firefly swamp.

Friday, 19 June 2020 – 8:30 pm – 10:30 pm >>
add event to your google calendar

We’ll be at Shelter #2 off Forest Road in Cook Forest, approx. coordinates: 41.346609, -79.218915, and the google maps code is 8QWJ+JC Cooksburg, Pennsylvania.

This event is free – no registration required. Please bring a coronavirus mask, a light (headlamps with a red or green night-vision filter are best) and a refillable water bottle – we’ll have bat & moth eyemasks for the kids to color.  NB re CORONAVIRUS: By attending, participants assume responsibility for any and all risk due to possible exposure to COVID-19. Please DO NOT attend if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 2 weeks.

This annual event is a collaboration of the Cook Forest Conservancy, the PA Game Commission, the PA Bureau of Forestry, and the DCNR of Cook Forest State Park

Betsy the Bat

Betsy is an ambassador for Centre Wildlife Care – she’s non-releasable because she cannot fly, so she educates folks about the wonders and benefits of bats.  Bats, the only mammals capable of continued flight, help us humans by consuming their body weight in insects every night. Unfortunately, the little brown bat, previously Pennsylvania’s most populous, was decimated by white nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease. They’re slowing coming back, but only have one pup per year — so it’s crucial to help every bat you can. Keep neighborhood skies dark, and consider installing a bat house.
Betsy the bat - Centre Wildlife Care

If you find a bat this time of year (late fall to winter), please don’t release them; they will die in this type of weather. They should be hibernating in caves. Those that aren’t in caves hibernating are at risk. Centre Wildlife Care can care for them until spring when it is warm.

If you’re in the State College area, call Centre Wildlife Care at 814-692-0004 – or call Wildlife in Need Emergency Response, which operates a state-wide network of trained wildlife capture and transport volunteers, at 877-239-2097.

Please remember to never touch them with your bare hands; use thick gloves and pick them up gently with a towel. Place the bat in a box with soft cloth or paper towels with a lid, and air holes no bigger than a pencil. Keep them in a warm, quiet, dark room away from pets and people until they can be transported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre.  And, don’t assume that they can’t escape…if you don’t put a lid on the box and weight or tape it down…they will leave. It happens all the time 🙂

Bats & Moths 2019 Recap

Bats & Moths 2019 - Recap

The turnout at Tom’s Run – seventy people and six bats – is a happy increase over last year for both groups, and it’s important to track bat densities to determine whether they’re rebounding following the decimation caused by White Nose Syndrome.  PA Game Commission scientist Amber Nolder said that, “after the devastating losses due to white-nose, there does seem to be some stabilization of affected bat populations. However, it could take over 100 years for complete population recovery (assuming enough bats can continue to survive white-nose and other threats), because of the low reproductive rate of most of these cave hibernating species, which have only one pup per year.

Moths, which, along with butterflies, make up one of the most diverse orders of insects, also are a large proportion of the diet of birds and bats.  Tim Tomon, scientist with the Bureau of Forestry, noted that they can also be useful indicators of plant presence.

You can help bat & moth populations at home:

View the entire photo gallery here – and please join us next year, as we’re planning to make Bats & Moths night an annual event! 

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

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:

http://www.cookforestconservancy.org/dark-sky