Wildlife Watching at Locust Lake State Park
There are many opportunities to see wildlife, but please observe from a safe distance and do not feed wildlife.
More than 100 species of birds have been identified at Locust Lake, including 16 species of birds of prey. Because of its location in the Appalachian Mountain section of the Ridge and Valley Province, Locust Valley is positioned along the migration route used by many species of birds of prey, including:
Screech owls and great-horned owls are year-round residents.
Natural Resources of the Locust Valley
Tuscarora and Locust Lake state parks are six miles from each other in the Locust Valley. Locust Lake is in the western side of the valley near the headwaters of Locust Creek. After meandering east six miles along Locust Mountain, Locust Creek flows into Tuscarora Lake and eventually to the Schuylkill River.
Surrounded by lands that were strip-mined for coal, Locust Valley is a green oasis of forests and wetlands abounding in wildlife.
A Striking Difference
In contrast to the strip-mined lands surrounding the Locust Valley, Tuscarora and Locust Lake state parks are lush forests, fields, and wetlands.
Although extensively logged in the 1800s, the land is reforested with second and third growth timber. The mixed oak forest contains scattered patches of eastern hemlock, and white pine, but is dominated by northern red oak, chestnut oak, white oak, and other trees like sycamore, yellow birch, red maple, white ash, and tulip poplar.
The diversity of trees supplies food for squirrel, chipmunk, bear, deer, turkey, and grouse, and provides nesting sites and cover for wildlife.
To slow soil erosion, over 110 acres of fields in Tuscarora State Park were planted with Austrian, eastern white, red and pitch pines, Japanese and European larches, Norway and white spruces, and eastern hemlocks.
In 1966, about 50,000 trees of each species were planted. Look for areas where the trees are all in rows and are the same species to find these tree plantations.
A variety of smaller trees and shrubs grow under the large trees and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Ironwood and spicebush are good browse for deer.
Black locust, flowering and silky dogwood, mountain laurel, rhododendron, blueberry, and serviceberry have beautiful flowers and edible fruit and seeds for wildlife.
Ferns, wildflowers, herbs, and grasses on the forest floor provide shelter and runways for smaller animals like mice, chipmunks, snakes, salamanders, and insects. Locust Lake State Park boasts 15 species of ferns and over 240 species of wildflowers.
Both state parks manage several fields for wildlife food and habitat. These meadows support a complex food web of plants, insects, and animals. There are about 134 acres of open fields by the entrance of Tuscarora State Park.
These old fields and upland meadows contain natural herbaceous vegetation and are managed for plant diversity by periodic mowing. Small “islands” in each area are not mowed and allowed to grow. Also, permanent brush fields are maintained for wildlife. These 96 acres are planted with cover or food for wildlife. Some of the shrubs are blueberry, huckleberry, and scrub oak.
Thirty-eight acres of Locust Lake by the dam are periodically mowed to prevent natural succession by trees. Wildflowers, tall grasses, and other herbaceous plants provide roots, leaves, nectar, and pollen for a host of meadow-dwelling creatures.
Some species of wildlife inhabiting this area are shrews, moles, meadow voles, meadow mice, butterflies, and moths, and hundreds of other insect species. These insects and small animals attract the carnivores that prey on them like hawks, owls, and foxes.
The edges of Locust Creek and Tuscarora and Locust lakes are riparian areas, a type of wetland. The often-wet soil is inhospitable to many plants, but sphagnum moss, rushes, burreed, skunk cabbage, and cattails can only live in wetlands.
This vegetation is important to the ecosystem of the lake. Plants provide food for fish and wildlife, hiding places for smaller organisms, spawning and nursery areas for fish, and contribute to the dissolved oxygen supply. Aquatic vegetation in the lakes like milifoil, coontail, cattail, and curlyleaf pondweed are homes to insect larvae like dragonflies and mayflies.
Many unique animals depend on wetlands. In and around water at Tuscarora and Locust Lake state parks, you can see pickerel frogs, bullfrogs, red-spotted newts, great blue herons, painted turtles, crayfish, water snakes, and many fish and waterfowl.
Wetlands are not only important to plants and animals, but provide a great service to people. Wetlands slow floods and clean water and are one reason that the water in the Locust Valley is so clean.