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 over seven hundred 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, bears, 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 eastern towhees as they move about in the brush.
As evening approaches, enjoy the flute-like calls of veeries and wood thrushes. Listen for the whippoorwills in the mid-summer evenings. These very active nocturnal birds can be heard calling their name whip-poor-will hundreds of times each night.
Warm summer evenings bring out the bats to feast on night-flying insects. Watch the park’s bat boxes for the evening emergence, and then enjoy the bats as they dance in the night air catching insects and swooping low over the lake to drink.
At the lake, the jug-o-rum call of bullfrogs and twanging call of the green frogs can be heard.
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 as they use the updrafts of the mountainsides to conserve energy on their long migration journey.
Watch for squirrels, chipmunks, and turkeys as they compete with the deer and bears for acorns.
As you sit around a warm evening campfire, take time to listen for the far-off calls of swans and geese in their V-shaped formations high in the dark sky.
Winter is a great time to view the ruggedness of the mountains with their steep, rock-strewn slopes interspersed with the evergreen mountain laurels and rhododendrons.
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 spring wildflowers, such as spring beauties and sweet white violets, bloom in the warm spring 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. Before the trees get their leaves is a great time to observe warblers as they migrate through or set up their breeding territories.
In the mornings, listen for the courtship songs of birds. Listen in the evenings for the courtship calls of frogs and toads along the lakeshore and wetlands.
The Geology of Cowans Gap
Cowans Gap State Park is in Allens Valley, a narrow highland valley between Tuscarora Mountain to the east and Cove Mountain to the west. Allens Valley runs from south of Cowans Gap State Park north to the town of Burnt Cabins.
A gap is a notch or pass in a mountain. Cowans Gap is an east-west pass in the north-south oriented Tuscarora Mountain, connecting Allens and Path valleys. The gap can be seen from the west side of Cowans Lake, looking east, or from PA 75, looking west.
Millions of years ago, the Allens Valley area likely had two small valleys. In the south, a stream flowed north through the park area, then turned east and flowed out through Cowans Gap. In the north, the ancestral South Branch Little Aughwick Creek drained north toward Burnt Cabins.
The Cowans Gap stream slowly eroded the hard sandstone bedrock of the gap. The ancestral South Branch Little Aughwick Creek more easily eroded the softer shale bedrock of the north valley. Through headward erosion, the stream’s head (its beginning) advanced south, lengthening the north valley. In a process called stream piracy, the headwaters of the ancestral South Branch Little Aughwick Creek breached the stream that flowed through Cowans Gap, rerouting it north into its own bed. This created one long stream and valley the length of Allens Valley, bypassing Cowans Gap.
Today, South Branch Little Aughwick Creek continues to carve Allens Valley deeper, leaving behind the wind gap called Cowans Gap.