SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — On February 7, the Tweetspeak crew traveled to Jennings Environmental Education Center in Slippery Rock to see and learn more about the birds in our area! Jennings is about thirty minutes away from Westminster College which provides the Tweetspeak team an opportunity to explore beyond campus.
The park is named after Otto Emery Jennings who discovered the park in 1905. According to the park website, “Thanks to a generous donation from the Butler Garden Club, [Dr. Jennings] initiated the purchase and protection of the area by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a private conservation group.
The Conservancy was instrumental in establishing environmental education at Jennings.
EEC is one of 121 Pennsylvania State Parks and is located very close to Moraine State Park. Jennings covers over 20 acres of property which are primarily forests and prairies. In addition, the center provides educational resources to people of all ages to help understand the outdoors. Jennings Environmental Education Center is not just a place to bird, but is also a place for people to hike, picnic, snowshoe, and even cross-country ski,
Indoors at Jennings
Jennings provides an educational staff to help visitors better understand the animals and habitat on the site. The Jennings Environmental Education Specialist, Becky Lubold, discussed some of the things that make each bird unique from the others: size and shape, color and pattern, behavior and posture, habitat and distribution.
It was a cloudy day and sporadically raining throughout the morning, so the team collected into the center. Jennings has a large open room filled with windows that go from the floor all the way up to the ceiling where people can sit right along the windows and watch the habitat right outside. The team collected along the windows to conduct a stationary bird watch. A stationary bird watch is when you stay in one spot and count any birds that you see. On the other side of the windows were a handful of bird feeders and suet cakes attached to some trees.
This kind of habitat is crucial for birds in the western Pennsylvania area because a lot of the species that stay during the winter need the energy from the suet cakes and seeds that Jennings provides. In addition, the feeders and cakes are extremely close to the windows which allows for the team to practice the newly developed skills to identify birds. At first there was very little life but soon enough the birds flocked to the feeders and the team got busy!
The team took out their binoculars and quickly started identifying the creatures outside. The crew identified the following birds:
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Tufted Titmouse
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Dark-eyed Junco
The staff at Jennings, Dr. Duerr (Biology of Birds Professor), and Mr. Bradley Weaver (Broadcast Communication Professor) all helped students describe, identify, and film the birds as they came in and out of sight. Although the weather was not ideal for birding that day, Jennings Environmental Education Center provides many trees that tower above to provide some protection for the birds from the rain.
Outdoors at Jennings
In addition to the indoor observation area, the Tweetspeak crew snatched their gear to go outside. Jennings has three outdoor habitats: Prairie, Forest, and Wetlands. The crew followed Becky Lubold into the prairie ecosystem to see if any other species of birds were soaring through the skies over the meadow. One of the main focuses of the prairie is to provide a sufficient habitat for the endangered Massasauga Rattlesnake. Prairies have been declining in Pennsylvania for decades so Jennings providing a prairie is crucial for bringing back species that have been declining in population.
The habitats are very close together which provides a number of ecotones. An ecotone is the transition zone between two different habitats. The forest is right next to the prairie, so it could cause some issues with forest predators crossing habitats and attacking the prairie birds.
In the forest area, we observed bare trees with no bark. After further investigation, we discovered that these bare trees are a result to the woodpeckers in the area pecking at the trees.
According to Ornithology The Science of Birds , woodpeckers peck at wood for three reasons:
- Food: uncover the bark to find and eat insects and other small creatures.
- Nesting: drill holes in dead/dying trees to help nest their young
- Communication: declare their territory based on their “drumming” sound
Although the team could not travel to the wetlands habitat, the habitat can be crucial for local birds. Birds such as: Pied-billed Grebe, King Rail, Sora, and many others thrive in wetlands. These birds have recently been in decline, but the habitat could be a great place for these birds, thus creating a more diverse environmental center.
Jennings is a great location for birders so they can see the different species of birds in the number of different habitats that Jennings provides. The rain started to pick up but the team successfully identified a Black-capped Chickadee and two Golden-crowned Kinglets! The Black-capped Chickadee was a small sparrow sized bird, with a fat head. It has a black cap and bib, white cheeks, and gray back/wings/tail. The chickadee spends a lot of its time bouncing from branch to birdfeeder while staying low to the ground.
Conservation at Jennings
Due to the number of different kinds of habitats, JEEC could be a great place for certain species, like the Cerulean Warbler, to regrow its population. The Cerulean Warbler lives in the forest habitat and resides in Pennsylvania during the summer. The range of the bird is quickly declining so JEEC is a great place for the bird to make a comeback. Jennings is focused on conservation of nature and birds so the warbler is more than qualified to make an appearance to the site.
The team traveled through a muddy trail to quickly be stopped by a flooded path. After discovering the flooded path, it was time to travel back to Westminster College. The crew was very thankful for the opportunity to bird in a location off campus and cannot wait to go back!
This story was produced by Connor White and Brandon Rossier.