Wildlife Watching at Pymatuning State Park
Winter can be difficult on wildlife as food may be scarce and there are fewer hours of daylight available to find food. With the leaves gone from the trees, birds are easier to find and fresh snow can be a great place to look for tracks and signs left by animals.
Waterfowl may be easier to spot as they congregate in open water on the frozen lake. Owls, eagles, and woodpeckers begin courtship and nest-building during the winter months.
As the trees begin to leaf out, the warmer, longer days bring life to the world of nature. Bird, frog, and toad songs can be heard throughout the day and night. Spring is the perfect time to catch glimpses of migrating birds in peak breeding plumage. Wild animals become more active while caring for their newborn young.
While it is tempting to get up-close and personal with young wildlife, or assume that young animals alone have been “abandoned,” people should not interfere. Watching wildlife from a distance helps keep both people and wildlife safe.
With the added hours of daylight, there is ample time to explore the trails and shoreline of the park. Since many wildlife species take a break during the heat of the day, the best hours for wildlife observation are nearest sunrise and sunset. This is also the best time for photography.
Visit the wetlands to watch dragonflies and damselflies darting through the air or glimpse a turtle basking on a log. Hummingbirds and butterflies take advantage of nectar-filled native wildflowers at the plant garden located at the Environmental Classroom.
Check out the bat condo near the Jamestown cabins to watch the bats and their acrobatic flights as they chase night-flying insects.
A tree, plant, or shrub that produces fruit, seeds, or nuts is a great place to watch for feeding animals. As the days grow shorter and the food supply changes, the local wildlife also changes. Some birds arrive while others leave on migration.
Year-round residents prepare for the arrival of winter. Late fall marks the mating season for white-tailed deer, so their activity and movement increase. A brisk walk on the trails in the crisp fall air is wonderful exercise and lets you enjoy the color explosion of autumn foliage.
Pymatuning is the only known place in Pennsylvania where bald eagles have nested continuously, even throughout the years of their population decline. Today, park visitors can spot eagles nesting and soaring over the lake throughout the year.
During winter months, eagles can often be seen sitting on the ice near the dam, while in the summer months they tend to favor the northern area of the lake.
The common birds brochure lists the birds most likely to be seen in the park and in which habitat:
Common Birds of Pymatuning State Park (PDF)
The Spillway Area
The Spillway located near Linesville has attracted visitors even before construction was completed. Carp that were in the Shenango River began gathering at the spillway to capture natural food that was being washed over the bowl.
Over time, tourists began feeding bread to the carp and ducks that gathered there. Today, more than 300,000 yearly visitors make this one of their vacation stops.
The tradition of feeding fish at the spillway is a unique exception to DCNR’s “No Feeding Wildlife” policy. Wildlife, including geese, have been attracted to this spillway bowl since it was constructed in 1934. The flow of water over the bowl provides a smorgasbord of plant material, insect larvae, crayfish, and other invertebrates for waterfowl and fish to eat.
During the 1930s, it was common to feed wildlife at parks and the spillway was no exception. Roadside vendors began to provide bread to feed the fish. As word of this unique area spread, it quickly became a popular tourist attraction. DCNR allows fish-feeding at the spillway because of its cultural and historical value.
Feeding wildlife may provide a few minutes of entertainment, but it can lead to serious problems for both humans and wildlife.
Follow posted rules and regulations and remember these important principles:
- Do not feed wildlife anywhere in the park with the unique exception of fish-feeding at the spillway.
- When feeding fish at the spillway, use the traditional bread or pellets, which target fish instead of ducks and geese. Do not feed fish other foods such as chips, popcorn, or pastries.
- Keep areas clean of food and litter.
Directions to the Spillway:
12318 Hartstown Road
Linesville, PA 16424
GPS DD: 41.630897 -80.440189
Natural areas have unique scenic, geologic, or ecological value and are set aside for scientific observation and to protect outstanding examples of natural interest and beauty. Pymatuning has two natural areas in the northern part of the lake:
Black Jack Swamp
Although there are no trails or facilities, visitors are welcome to explore the undeveloped natural areas.
Black Jack Swamp Natural Area encompasses 725 acres comprised of a mature forest of hardwoods and eastern white pines, secluded coves, and narrow, shrub-lined channels. Vast wetlands protected the area from settlement, leaving it mostly untouched. The natural area provides diverse habitats for a variety of plants and animals.
At 161 acres, Clark Island Natural Area is the largest of Pymatuning State Park’s islands. With the construction of Pymatuning Reservoir in 1934, this hilltop was surrounded by water, isolating it from the adjacent land. As a result, the island is an outstanding example of an undisturbed plant community that features a mature forest of hardwoods and eastern white pines. Picturesque coves and a sheltered inland pond add to the beauty and serenity of the area.
Pa. Game Commission Wildlife Learning Center
Closed for renovations.
Pa. Fish and Boat Commission Hatchery
Originally constructed during 1939, the Linesville Fish Culture Station (hatchery) is situated on 97 developed acres of land managed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The facility consists of earthen ponds, exterior concrete raceways, a hatchery building that contains interior stainless steel and concrete raceways, and jar and vertical flow through tray egg incubators.
The hatchery building has a visitor center showing the operation of the hatchery and exploring the fish, reptiles, and amphibians of Pennsylvania including a two-story aquarium featuring live Pymatuning Lake fish.