Late May a time of transition in the Pennsylvania outdoors

Late May marks a time of transition in the natural world. Our calendar might say that there is yet another month of spring, but here in central Pennsylvania, Mother Nature is already making the shift to summer.

After spending the winter in the tropics or in the southern states, more than 100 species of birds are migrating north through Pennsylvania. I see a new-for-the-year species almost every day. Thursday, it was a least bittern that flushed from a small wetland. The day before, I spotted three blackpoll warblers feeding in the trees along Bald Eagle Creek.

Like the multi-colored candy displays that created a magnetic attraction when I was a youngster, migrating birds present a dazzling display of color. I sample the visual treats while I am out fishing, hiking or birding this time of year: orange Baltimore orioles, yellow Wilson’s warblers, blue indigo buntings, and brilliant red scarlet tanagers – their colors almost glow, even in the dim early-morning light.

The flood of feathered migrants will slow to a trickle and stop altogether in a few weeks. Our newly-arrived summer birds are marking their territories and setting up housekeeping. They will keep me company for the next three months.

Spring gobbler season ends as May comes to a close. Hen wild turkeys are incubating their eggs and white-tailed deer are shedding their gray-brown winter coats for a shorter, reddish-brown summer coat. I have yet to see a fawn, but I have watched many very-pregnant does feeding in fields.

Although some fawns are born earlier and some later, the two biggest months for fawning are the last week of May and the first week of June. Having most fawns born at the same time is a survival strategy. Black bears and coyotes – the two biggest fawn predators – can only eat so many per week. Therefore, having most of the fawns born during a short window of time insures that more will survive.

Woodland wildflowers are in full swing – trilliums, lady’s-slippers, May-apples, and Jack-in-the-pulpit – all taking advantage of the open canopy. While leaves are a little late emerging this spring, soon the developing tree canopy will greatly diminish the light reaching the forest floor below. This forces yet another natural transformation: By June, the forest wildflower show will end and a new one will debut in the more-open wetlands, edges and meadows.

Anglers are making a transition as well, although recent rains are delaying the process. Some anglers switch from cold to warm-water species this time of year. Anglers who targeted stocked trout will take their bass rods and head for a local lake, or maybe the Juniata or Susquehanna rivers.

Even diehard trout fishermen – like me – usually make a change, too. As stream levels drop and water temperatures rise, I typically move from fishing mountain freestone streams to the valley limestoners.

Limestone streams, such as Spring Creek and the Logan Branch, usually retain an adequate flow and stay cooler. Their naturally-reproduced brown trout can provide pleasurable fishing all summer long.

Greater-than-average spring rainfall has kept all streams flowing nicely – sometimes even too high to fish. In addition, fly anglers have reported a delay in mayfly hatches due to the rain and cooler weather.

Not a problem – the odd weather just extends spring fishing into summer.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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