Wildlife at Wildwood Park

View by Season

Winter at Wildwood

Here in south central Pennsylvania we lie in the area between colder, snowier winters to the north and the more moderate rainy, winters to the south. Many birds found at Wildwood in the winter are the same species found here at other times of the year. These specific birds though have traveled from New England and Canada thinking that they have reached the sunny south. What a great season to try out your tracking skills along the trails of Wildwood.

Flora

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

A real treat this time of year is to walk on the North Boardwalks looking for the first sign of the skunk cabbage in the marshy woods. This plant emerges early and develops very quickly. During development it puts out enough energy to melt the surrounding snow and ice. The smell, reminiscent of rotting flesh, attracts insects for pollination.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

The winterberry is a plant for all seasons. From spring when the dense foliage and strong branches create habitat for bird nests to winter when the bright red berries provide a much needed food source, birds find a welcome mat out at the winterberry bushes.

Fauna

Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

What an adaptable little creature is the cottontail. Can you think of a habitat where they’re not found? In the winter follow their footprints in and out of brush piles as they go foraging for food on pleasant winter days.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Red fox is a species that was not found in Pennsylvania until farms, pastures and homesteads broke up the dense forest cover. This omnivore is very adaptable to changing conditions and has made himself at home and survives well in proximity to man.

Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Sure they take a great amount of birdseed but who isn’t entertained by their acrobatics and antics to obtain those seeds. Active during the winter months, gray squirrels can be see digging around in snow for buried nuts. Squirrels will den up in cavities in trees or big, leafy nests in the crook of trees.

Groundhog/woodchuck (Marmota monax)

One of our few true hibernators, the groundhog puts on a layer of fat to sustain itself through winter. He spends the winter in a hibernation chamber in a burrow he dug in the ground. A late winter sighting of the groundhog is a sign of approaching spring -- whether he sees his shadow or not.

Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

In addition to feeding at the suet feeder you’ll also see the downy woodpecker looking for insects in the bark of trees. If the downy is chiseling into the bark with it’s sharp, long bill then you’re watching a male. The female pries up the bark with her shorter bill. A true partnership, they use their individual assets to limit competition for food sources.

Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Northern cardinals occupy their territory throughout the year. They also sing throughout the year, both the male and female, not primarily in the spring like so many birds. Sticks, vines, grasses and leaves make up nests that are normally found in thick shrubbery or hedges.

Cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Cedar waxwings while not rare are not a common sight at Wildwood. That makes the appearance of their large flocks at the winterberry bushes so spectacular in mid winter. Another interesting sight is to see them pass berries or blossoms to each other from mouth to mouth as they sit on a fence line or wire.

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Spring at Wildwood

Perhaps the best thing about nature study is there is no “been there, done that.” At no time of the year is that more obvious than in the spring. Visit Wildwood once a week during March, April and May and you are sure to see something blooming on each visit that wasn’t blooming the week before. Come early, come often and then come again.

Flora

Dutch-man’s breeches

Yellow flag iris

Fauna

Red-wing blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

If we were rewriting the elementary school text that teaches students about the seasons we would never talk of the first robin of spring. No, no, in central Pennsylvania the return of the red-wing blackbird tells us that spring is on the way. Nest of woven plant fibers holding on to tall marsh plants. Very territorial, seen conspicuously defending territory and calling to females from the top of cattails.

Great egret (Ardea alba)

Alba = white. A Pennsylvania endangered species due to its limited roosting within the state. Nest in trees on Susquehanna River islands in large colonies. Need shallow water nearby for fishing

Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis)

Boxes, problems with starlings and sparrows

Honeybees

Honeybees are a non-native species that provides us with so many benefits that no one speaks of trying to rid our native habitats of them. Whether you love honey, flowers, or both, you may take an interest in the fact for bees to produce one pound of honey they must travel 50,000 miles and collect pollen from 5 million flowers. All of this traveling and collecting brings us beautiful flowers, bees wax for a multitude of products and honey to flavor our life. Hurray for honeybees.

Spring peepers

A minute tree frog with a voice as big as all outdoors. Wildwood is perfect for this tiny frog that likes wetlands near forested areas.

Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina)

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Summer

Flora

Butterfly

Jack in the pulpit

Chicory

American lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus palustris)

Swamp milkweed

Nectar flowers for butterflies and moths

In 2013, Girl Scout in Troop 623 created a Pollinator Garden in front of the Olewine Nature Center as a project for their Gold Award. Visit their website »

Fauna

Dragonfly

Migration in August

Lightning bugs

Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)

600 mosquitoes per hour. WOW.

Grasshopper

Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

Olive drab as a winter visitor his lemon yellow plumage is striking as he travels throughout Wildwood in the summer. Nest of woven grasses and plant fibers. Often found in crook of branches in shrubbery.

Monarchs

August, taking off for Mexico.

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Pest control worker

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Fall at Wildwood

Over 150 bird species make up the bird checklist for Wildwood Park. Many of those birds are tourists, flying through each fall and spring on the Atlantic flyway. When considering the future of species of concern, migration is a limiting factor. A bird that migrates has the perils of travel as well as the concern that resting spots along the way as well as habitat at its destination may disappear during the time that has passed since last he was there. Being a stop on a major migratory flyway is a major reason why areas such as Wildwood Park are so important for wildlife protection.

Flora

Witch hazel

Sweet Joe-pye weed

Ink berry/poke weed

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)

The sumac got its name because of the soft velvet texture of the red seed head that appears in fall. To many people it is reminiscent of the velvet on deer antlers. The sumac provides nectar, fruit and cover for insects, birds and mammals.

Fauna

Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Ruby throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Tiny cup nest of carefully woven plant fibers. Found on end of branch or often in light fixtures and hanging baskets.

References

Your Backyard Wildlife Year, Marcus Schneck, Wildlife of Pennsylvania, Charles Fergus, Seasonal Guide to the Natural Year, Scott Weidensaul

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