Eagle-Watching in Moraine State Park, Butler County
A Moraine State Park Snapshot
Facilities: Restrooms, dining, gasoline.
Driving Directions: Moraine State Park is in western Pennsylvania. It is bisected by State Routes 422 and 528.To access the South Shore Recreation Area, take the South Shore exit off Route 422.To access the North Shore from Route 422 west, take the North Shore Exit.
Viewing Directions: Eagles may be seen throughout the park, particularly in the secluded coves.
Property Hours: Sunrise to sunset.
Best Eagle Viewing Season: Spring, summer into fall.
Activities at the site: Boating (20 hp), sailing, hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, swimming and windsurfing.
Other Wildlife: Waterfowl, songbirds, common mammals, butterflies, wintering owls.
Where to go, what to look for
Spotting a bald eagle at Moraine State Park is a hit or miss opportunity. At least one pair nests in the park and several eagles forage here. But at times, viewing is sporadic. Other times eagle sightings occur daily. The 3,225-acre Lake Arthur stretches into long, branching arms and fingers that narrow into deep coves and marshy runs. It is one of western Pennsylvania's largest bodies of water.
The entire park is 16,725 acres and receives more than one million visitors annually. Much of the recreational use occurs on the highly-developed north shore and the day-use area of the south shore. There are, however, many remote and secluded areas teeming with wildlife, including eagles. Together, Moraine State Park and
Jennings Environmental Education Center, which borders the park on the northeast, are designated as an Important Bird Area by the Pennsylvania Audubon Society.
Moraine State Park not only includes Lake Arthur, but it also has a variety of habitats that host a diversity of birds in all seasons. Some areas are heavily used by people, while others are remote, including a propagation area that is off-limits. The park includes the lake and lakeshore, as well as forestland, thickets, brushy fields, and various wetlands. The nearby Jennings EEC includes a relict prairie. It is known for its annual show of American woodcocks performing their "sky dance" displays in spring. The nearby mature deciduous forest supports a population of cerulean warblers.
The far northwest corner of the lake is a good area to spot an eagle. The coves here are accessible from McDaniel's Boat Launch. Across from the launch, osprey nest on a raised platform constructed as part of an osprey reintroduction project. Osprey sight-ings are common from this vantage point. The cove to the west is part of the scenic and winding Hidden River Canoe Trail. Limestone rock walls line a dark, narrow passage to an inlet called Hidden River. Green herons, great blue herons, belted kingfishers and wood ducks forage along the shoreline. Wood ducks also nest in this area. Hooded mergansers may be spotted here as well. The marshy shallows and shorelines are covered in skunk cabbage, cinnamon fern, spadderdock, water lily and cattails. The North Country National Scenic Trail crosses this creek via a foot bridge. This 4,600-mile trail extends from New York to North Dakota.
Porter's Cove lies in the southwest end of Lake Arthur. Access to the cove is from Badger Hill Road just off of Interstate 79 at Exit 96. Although access is limited to the launch itself or a boat, this branch is an excellent place to encounter a bald eagle fishing from a shoreline tree limb. Also, the marshy cattail pond encompassing the far inlets is a good place to hear sora and Virginia rail and to see other animals associated with cattail marshes.
Just east, at the southernmost tip of the lake, is Big Run, a long branch with several stream inlets. There is a waterfowl observation deck at the far end, accessible from old Route 422. Of the 31 species of waterfowl recorded in the park, many can be observed in this area during migrations. In late winter and early spring, it is common to see buffleheads, common mergansers, ruddy ducks, horned grebes, red-breasted mergansers, greater and lesser scaups, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern pintails and common goldeneyes. The waterfowl observation deck also is a good place to see an eagle passing overhead.
The Moraine State Park area has one of the most significant clusters of osprey nests in the state. Ospreys fit in well on impoundments with good fish populations and artificial structures where they can build their bulky stick nests. There are several nests along the lake's shore and on communication towers near the park. This park was an important hacking site in the state's osprey reintroduction program and they continue to prosper here.
The section of Lake Arthur east of Route 528 is excellent for watching wildlife. There is a boat launch just north of the Route 528 Bridge and another, Church Launch, just south of the bridge. Both provide access to Shannon Run, Swamp Run and Muddy Creek coves. Another launch about one mile north of the bridge provides closer access to the mouth of Muddy Creek. Each cove is framed at its inlet by a marsh community of plants and animals. A portion of Swamp Run cove turns into a propagation area where entry is prohibited for the protection of many nesting species. The marshes hold common and uncommon birds such as marsh and sedge wrens, pied-billed grebes, American coots, green-winged teal, hooded mergansers, American bitterns, and sora and Virginia rail.
Because of its large size, Lake Arthur maintains open water later into the winter season than many lakes and ponds in the area. It is an important waterfowl stopover in western Pennsylvania. The lake also thaws earlier than neighboring waters in late winter which draws migrating waterfowl. During spring and fall migrations, large rafts of waterfowl may be seen on the open water, including ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, lesser scaup, red-head ducks, red-breasted mergansers and American coot. Of the tens of thousands of tundra swans migrating directly over the area in late winter, hundreds descend for a quick rest stop on Lake Arthur. Several hundred swans may stop at a time. The birds may rest for a few hours or a few days depending on weather conditions. Flocks of snow geese also show up in late winter.
The shores of Lake Arthur are a good stopover spot for migrating shorebirds if the lake level allows an adequate shore for foraging birds. In the fall, it is common to see hundreds of killdeer at Moraine. Nineteen species of shorebirds have been recorded here including dowitchers, snipe, sanderlings, sandpipers, dunlins, plovers and yellowlegs. In spring and summer, more than a hundred birds may be seen combing the shoreline mudflats at any given time, especially if the water level is down and the mudflats are extensive.
At the lake's edge and extending north, the park encompasses a large expanse of forest. Twenty-one species of breeding warblers and vireos have been recorded in and around the forestland and its edge habitat. This diversity is possible because of the mix of habitats. The old fields, thickets and wood edges are places to find the white-eyed vireo, brown thrasher, yellow warbler, blue-winged warbler, Lawrence's warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, common yellowthroat and yellow-bellied chat. Cavity-nesting tree swallows and eastern bluebirds also are common. The woods provide habitat for the worm-eating warbler, black-and-white warbler, cerulean warbler, black-throated green warbler and Kentucky warbler. The park also is a good place to view white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, red foxes, gray squirrels, black bears and mink.
For additional information, contact:
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Moraine State Park, 225 Pleasant Valley Road, Portersville, PA 16051. Telephone: 724-368-8811
By Kathy Korber and Doug Gross