Wildlife Watching at Cowans Gap State Park
Cowans Gap State Park is in Allens Valley, a narrow, highland valley between Tuscarora and Cove mountains. The valley floor is more than 700 feet lower than Tuscarora and Cove mountains, yet Allens Valley is still several hundred feet higher than the surrounding valleys.
The highland nature of Cowans Gap State Park makes the park an interesting place to see wildlife in all seasons.
Lush vegetation and warm days are hallmarks of summer. Early June is the best time to see the grand displays of mountain laurel along the trails and forestry roads.
Watch for deer, bear, and even box turtles raiding berry patches. While walking, listen for the ovenbird’s “teacher-teacher-teacher” call and the “drink-your-tea” call of the eastern towhee as they move about in the brush.
As evening approaches, enjoy the flute-like calls of the veery and wood thrush.
Warm summer evenings bring out the bats of Cowans Gap to feast on night-flying insects. Watch the park’s bat boxes for the evening emergence then enjoy their antics while catching insects and swooping low over the lake to drink.
This is a good time of the year to listen to the bullfrogs as they call into the night “jug-o-rum” and the twanging call of the green frog.
Fall offers warm, breezy days with tree leaves turning to shades of red, golden yellows, and orange.
Many species of woodland birds make their return visits as they migrate southward. This is a great time to view migrating raptors riding the updrafts of the mountainsides to conserve energy on their long migration journey.
Watch for squirrel, chipmunk, and turkey as they compete with the deer and bear for acorns. As you sit around an evening campfire, listen for the far off calls of swans and geese as their V-shaped formations negotiate the dark sky.
Winter reveals the ruggedness of the mountains with their steep, rock-strewn slopes interspersed with evergreen mountain laurel and rhododendron.
Look for deer and winter birds, like chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers as they spend their waking hours hunting for food.
Spring brings renewal to the natural environment as early wildflowers, such as spring beauty and sweet white violets, bloom in the sunlight before the tree canopy blocks the sun from striking the forest floor.
Animals come out of hibernation and many species of migrating birds return or stop at the park on their northward journey. It is a great time to observe warblers as they migrate through or set up their breeding territories.
During the mornings, listen for the courtship songs of birds, while during the evenings, the courtship calls of frogs and toads fill the air along the lakeshore and wetlands.
The Geology of Cowans Gap
Cowans Gap State Park is in Allens Valley, a narrow highland valley between Tuscarora and Cove mountains. Allens Valley runs from south of Cowans Gap Sate Park north to the town of Burnt Cabins. Cowans Gap crosses Tuscarora Mountain, connecting Allens and Path valleys.
A gap is a notch or pass in a mountain. Cowans Gap is an east and west pass through the north and south running Tuscarora Mountain. The gap can be seen from the west side of Cowans Lake, looking east, or from PA 75, looking west.
Most gaps are water gaps, which have a stream or river flowing through them. Cowans Gap is a wind gap and has no stream or river anymore. Millions of years ago, Allens Valley was not very deep. A stream flowed from the southern end of Allens Valley down through the park and out over the hard rocks of Cowans Gap down to Path Valley.
A different stream flowed in the softer rock of the north part of Allens Valley by Burnt Cabins. In a process called stream capture, the two separate streams became one. The Burnt Cabins stream quickly eroded the soft rock, deepening and lengthening Allens Valley. The stream’s head (its beginning) slowly moved south until the Burnt Cabins stream’s head met the southern stream flowing out of Cowans Gap. The Burnt Cabins stream eroded Allens Valley faster and deeper than the other stream, until the southern stream eventually flowed into the Burnt Cabins stream, making one long stream that flowed the length of Allens Valley to Burnt Cabins, but did not flow through Cowans Gap.
The stream continued to erode the soft rock until the Allens Valley was much lower than Cowans Gap.
Today, South Branch Little Aughwick Creek continues to carve the valley deeper and deeper.