Bald Eagle is the name of not just a bird, but also of a mountain, stream, state park, township and valley: Bald Eagle Mountain, Bald Eagle Creek, Bald Eagle State Park, Bald Eagle Township and Bald Eagle Valley. They were all named for Woapalanne, the leader of a band of Native Americans who lived along the Susquehanna River's West Branch; his name has been translated as “Bald Eagle”.
So this walk in early May wasn’t on the bird, stream, or valley, or in the state park – instead it was a walk upon the mountain. Bald Eagle Mountain is the westernmost ridge of Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley Region, extending southwest from near Muncy in the east to Tyrone, a distance of about 60 miles. Some claim the ridge, having acquired different names along the way, actually extends as far as eastern Tennessee.
The walk began on an old logging road that passed just below several old charcoal hearths (see this earlier post) where some remaining charcoal was still to be seen –
The old road didn’t go to the top of the Bald Eagle but a faint narrow trail leads upward to the ridgetop –
The crest of the Bald Eagle averages about 1,700 feet in elevation, roughly 1,000 feet above the floor of the valley to the north. That 1,000 feet is rather steep, sometimes exceeding 70%.
The oak forest on the north-facing slope has a dense understory of mountain laurel –
Just below the crest grows a stand of pitch pine named for the high pitch content of its heartwood that makes the wood extremely decay resistant. It’s so decay resistant that it was once used to make wooden water pipes by boring large diameter holes the length of the logs.
The cones of pitch pine bear small spines on the scales –
Pitch pine usually requires disturbed soil to regenerate successfully and is considered a fire-dependent species.
On top of Bald Eagle Mountain the mountain laurel disappears and the forest opens up –
There the buds of another fire-dependent species, scrub oak – a shrub, not a tree – were opening –
Already open were the flower buds of shadbush (an understory tree) that goes by different names in different places: serviceberry, sarvis, Juneberry, shadblow –
And, on the forest floor, early low blueberry was also in bloom –
Although these ridgetops often seem barren of wildlife there were birds to be seen, mourning doves –
And recently arrived blue-headed vireos –
Most surprising was the female belted kingfisher, here on the top of the Bald Eagle, far from the nearest water –
White-tailed deer use the mountain top, although they spend more time on the lower slopes where food is both more abundant and more nutritious –
Time to head downhill and better habitat for both man and beast.