guides & resources

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: 

Birdwatching Basics

Birdwatching Resource List - Cook Forest Conservancy - Birding Essentials

Coronavirus cabin fever?  Lots of house-bound folks are getting into birdwatching lately – a fun & easy outdoor springtime activity, even better when you’ve got a couple of guide books and apps, and a pair of decent binoculars.  While we at the CFC are beginning birders ourselves, here’s a list of resources that we find helpful.  Please note, some of these are Amazon affiliate links, so the CFC receives a small commission if they lead to purchases  – at no additional cost to you.  

Birding Apps: 

  • Audubon Bird Guide – amazingly comprehensive.  Download the Eastern data file to access multiple search indexes, high-res images, and bird call audio when you’re offline.  
  • Merlin Bird ID – identify that bird by key, or by photo!  Another great free birdwatching app  
  • eBird – Cornell Lab’s quick & simple app interface for tracking sightings 

Birdwatching Books:

Online Birding Resources:

Items that Help Bring the Birds to You:

  • binoculars – probably the only investment a beginning birder should make.  Audubon has a comprehensive guide to binoculars at various price points here, and from this list I bought the Celestron Nature DX 8×42 and have been really pleased with their brightness and clarity.  I also have the 10×42 model of the Nature DX, and it’s great, too – they magnify a bit more, and are a bit harder to target and hold steady.
  • bird feeder, tube style – this model is also available at Tractor Supply and Wal-Mart, has lasted several years, and attracts chickadees, tufted titmice, goldfinches, sparrows, nuthatches, woodpeckers up to red-bellied size, cardinals, and bluejays.  Grackles are almost too large for it, and they dislike a hood (e.g. a 2′ or so diameter circle slid over the hanger) or roof add-on, if you’re having problems with them.
  • bird feeder, double suet cage – a good sturdy design for attracting woodpeckers and nuthatches, and the flat roof doubles as a platform for feeding oranges, etc. 
  • hummingbird feeder – this model is easier to clean than the bottle types.  Hummingbird feeders should be boiled or washed with a weak bleach solution between fillings, so they don’t harbor mold & bacteria.  Here’s the best recipe for hummingbird nectar – only use plain white sugar and water, in a one to four ratio.

Happy birding!

Plant Propagation Resources

Plant Propagation Resources - Cook Forest Conservancy & DCNR

Save money and multiply your favorite heirloom plants for your yard and to give to friends — hardwood cutting techniques are simple and inexpensive to do at home, once you’re familiar with the procedures.  Ty Ryen, PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry Service Forester and Certified Arborist, compiled a list of recommended resources:

Books (these are Amazon affiliate links, so the CFC receives a small commission if they lead to purchases  – at no additional cost to you):

Online Resources:

Supplies:  You can usually use things you have on hand – just disinfect all potting vessels (pots, nursery flats, etc) with hot water and dish soap, or a 10% bleach solution, to protect cuttings & seedlings from disease.  Make sure your pruners are very sharp, and disinfect these as well between cuttings – the ARS, HP-130DX 7-Inch Ideal Light Pruner is excellent, and should be about $30.  The CFC also uses the 7″ ARS HP-VS7XZ Heavy-Duty Hand Pruner, but this is likely overkill for propagation cutting. Buy or mix a high-quality planting medium, ideally also sterile.  >> Click this link for a PDF listing recipes for recommended soil and soilless mixes for seedlings and cuttings <<

We’re sorry to have had to cancel the March 2020 propagation seminar in Cook Forest, but are hoping to reschedule for the autumn, when conditions are optimal for propagation success.  If you have questions, please contact Ty Ryen, Service Forester for Forest & Venango Counties, at 814-677-8076, or (omit the spaces in the email address): tryen @ pa.gov