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Eagle-Watching in State Game Land 180, Shohola Lake, Pike County


An SGL 180, Shohola Lake, Snapshot

Facilities: Restrooms (seasonal).

Driving Directions: From Interstate 84, take Exit 9, State Route 739. Travel north on 739 for 0.7 miles to Well Road. Turn right on Well Road and travel 3.8 miles to U.S. Route 6. Turn right onto Route 6 and travel east two miles to the Shohola Falls Water-fowl Management Area.

Viewing Directions: Observation tower and boat launch sites.

Property Hours: Sunrise to sunset.

Best Eagle Viewing Season: Spring, summer into fall.

Activities at the site: Hunting and fishing in designated areas, birding, hiking.

Other Wildlife: Waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds, mammals.

Where to go, what to look for

Shohola Lake played a vital role in Pennsylvania's Bald Eagle Restoration Program. It was one of two eagle release sites during the recovery program in the 1980s. With financial support provided by the Federal Endangered Species Fund and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Pennsylvania Game Commission imported young bald eagles from Canada over a period of seven years.

The Game Commission's eagle recovery team captured young eagles in Saskatchewan and transferred them to hack towers on Shohola Lake in Pike County and on Haldeman Island along the Susquehanna River. The birds were fed and protected in the hack towers until they were old enough to fledge — about 12 weeks old. When mature, at about five years, bald eagles often return to nest in the region where they fledged. During the recovery project, 88 young eagles were released into Pennsylvania. Today, descendants of those Canada-hatched birds nest in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

Bald eagles nest at Shohola Lake. An observation tower along Willis Hill Trail provides a panoramic view of Shohola Lake and its wetlands. The tower provides an excellent view of an eagle nest on the opposite shore. Another eagle viewing station is along the Springbrook Road, which can be accessed from Route 6 before crossing Shohola Creek. Nesting activity may begin in late winter as lake ice melts. Each eagle pair adds sticks to the massive nest at the start of the breeding season. Once on eggs, male and female eagles take turns incubating, usually one to three eggs, and foraging for food, mostly fish. Activity increases as the eggs hatch and the nestlings begin to eat. Adults frequently fly to and from the nest bringing back food for the rapidly growing eaglets. As they become larger, the young eagles become more visible in the nest and by early summer are often perched on adjacent branches. Even after fledging, young eagles remain nearby as the adult eagles continue to deliver fish and other prey. The best way to watch activity at the nest is with binoculars or a spotting scope.

When Shohola Creek was dammed and the lake formed, low-lying stands of timber were flooded. The impounded water left standing dead trees, which gave eagles plenty of perching snags over the water. An adult eagle, with its brilliant white head and tail, stands out at a considerable distance on this dead wood.

Many other birds utilize the decaying trees. Cavity nesters, such as the wood duck, hooded merganser, eastern screech-owl, northern (yellow-shafted) flicker, and hairy and downy woodpeckers nest in such trees. Great blue herons, green herons, waterfowl and osprey also perch on snags.

Canada geese, American black ducks, mallards, hooded mergansers, and wood ducks nest on State Game Land 180. Along the lake's edges and throughout its wetlands, duck nest boxes have been set up to promote nesting. During spring and fall migration, many additional species of waterfowl stop at Shohola Lake. Up to 500 mallards and similar numbers of common mergansers migrate through. It also is common to see common loons, pied-billed and horned grebes, northern pintails, buffleheads, common goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks and greater scaup. April is a very good time to find a variety of diving and dabbling ducks. Two boat ramps offer a broad view of the lake and flocks of waterfowl.

Shohola Lake has been designated as Pennsylvania Important Bird Area by Audubon Pennsylvania. Although managed for waterfowl, this game land provides habitat for many wildlife species. A variety of shorebirds stop to forage the marshy areas and shoreline during spring and fall migrations. The wetlands are thick with alders, sedges, rushes and buttonbush, valuable food and cover plants for migrating and nesting birds. Two sections of lake and wetlands are designated propagation areas. These areas are closed to the public to protect nesting waterfowl and other water birds.

At the northern end of the lake, below the dam, Shohola Creek continues its course. The creek descends dramatically through a hemlock-shrouded gorge. It drops 80 feet, falling over nine rock ledges and spraying the surrounding rocks, mosses and ferns with a constant mist. Hiking trails, with wooden steps and a platform overlooking the falls, afford access to this damp ravine. Songbirds like the acadian flycatcher, blue-headed vireo, blackburnian warbler, black-throated green warbler and pine warbler may be found in this forest. The woods along the lake provide habitat for attractive forest songbirds such as the yellow-throated vireo, scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, and northern oriole. Some forest song-birds like the eastern wood-pewee, black-capped chickadee, wood thrush, and veery are fairly wide-spread in the woods at Shohola Falls. Some "northern birds" like dark-eyed juncos and purple finches also are easily found here. The shrubby wetlands and wet meadows are home to willow fly-catchers, yellow warblers and swamp sparrows. In emergent vegetation along water's edge, soras and red-winged blackbirds make themselves known with their loud songs. Shorebirds are represented by killdeer and spotted sandpiper in summer, but these water edges become important stopover habitat for solitary sandpiper, greater and lesser yellowlegs, and many other wading shorebirds during migration. So, the lake and its associated wet habitats support both game and nongame birds very well.

Several hiking trails branch off the Farms Road on the northwest side of Shohola Lake. A circuit of trails traverses this section of State Game Land 180. The habitat ranges from thick lakeside brush, to upland, woodland edges and rolling mixed woodland with interspersed swampy areas and wet meadows. The wild turkey, American woodcock and ruffed grouse are prevalent here as well as a mix of smaller birds at the shrubby woodland edges include the gray catbird, golden-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, American redstart, indigo bunting, eastern towhee and song sparrow. The loud onomatopoeic songs of eastern whip-poor-wills can be heard here at night. Eastern phoebes and barn swallows take advantage of the State Game Land buildings where they can build their nests while tree swallows, house wrens and eastern bluebirds nest in the bluebird boxes around the property.

The golden-winged warbler is a WatchList Species, because it has declined dramatically in recent decades. They nest at the edges of food plots, in overgrown fields, in young forests, in wet meadows and tamarack bogs. They prefer a mosaic of vegetation types and heights, so active management of woody vegetation is required to maintain their population.

For additional information, contact:

Pennsylvania Game Commission, Northeast Region, P.O. Box 220, Dallas, PA 18612. Telephone: 570-675-1143

By Kathy Korber and Doug Gross