Good Life

Low-impact walking trails offer prime spots for birding in Centre County

The American goldfinch is one of them many birds that can be observed along Centre County trails.
The American goldfinch is one of them many birds that can be observed along Centre County trails. Photo provided

Editor’s note: This column is part of the CDT’s Active Life special section.

We all know that physical exercise invigorates our bodies. Along that same vein, mental exercise invigorates our minds. There are many ways to get that exercise, but my favorite is a good old-fashioned walk.

While a walk around the block is better than nothing, following a winding path through a wooded park gets your muscles moving and your heart pumping. It can also refresh your soul.

Fortunately, Centre County residents have a multitude of good places to enjoy a low-impact hike in natural or semi-natural settings. If you combine the walk with bird-watching, every hike becomes a new adventure. This is true even if you walk the same trail over and over again.

Bird-watching — or birding — adds a new dimension to any walk, and if you get hooked on birding, you will find yourself wanting to take more walks. At this time of year, new species of birds are arriving from their winter homes each week. Wondering what bird might be perched around the next bend builds anticipation and adds enjoyment. The more fun you have, the more exercise you will get. Birding and walking make a win-win combo.

Thank goodness, spandex is not required attire for this pleasant type of low-key exercise. All you need are comfortable shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather. Dressing in layers helps, because once you start walking, your body will naturally heat up.

If you want to include birding along with your walk, then a brimmed hat to shade your eyes from bright light could be helpful. Although you can identify birds with the naked eye, a decent pair of 8X or 10X binoculars will enhance your outing and allow you to identify birds more easily. If you are a “list-maker” or a “counter,” like me, recording what you see in a small notepad will add even more to the experience.

Ten years ago, birding meant carrying an avian field guide during your walk. Although many people still do this, if you are tech-savvy, you can add a bird identification app to your cellphone. Merlin, an excellent free app, is available for iPhones and Android cellphones from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app includes a description and photos, as well as bird calls and songs for more than 500 species.

If you are wearing binoculars around your neck and looking for birds, you will discover that you have new friends everywhere. Bird watchers are social people and love to share their observations.

Local trails

Here are a few recommended local trails for both easy walking and seeing many bird species. All of these places are considered birding “hotspots” — checking eBird hotspots (www.eBird.org) will let you know what species others are seeing. If this is new to you, select one of the shorter trails and take your time. Use park maps or online sources to help you locate the trails.

Bald Eagle State Park, 149 Main Park Road, Howard: At 5,900 acres, it is the largest and most ecologically diverse park in Centre County. The Butterfly Trail is a 1.5-mile grassy path through herbaceous openings, past Frog Pond and areas of early-successional forest. It has a few muddy areas during wet periods. The trail begins west of the beach area near Pavilion 6. Skyline Trail — 2 miles long — meanders through a small forested ridge of mixed hardwood trees between Skyline Drive and Warbler Way. Woapalanne Path — 1.7 miles — follows the northwestern side of the lake between pavilion 6 and where F. J. Sayers Road sinks under the lake at Hunters Islet.

Black Moshannon State Park, 4216 Beaver Road, Philipsburg: This higher altitude park houses the 1.1-mile Star Mill Trail that begins at boat launch 4 and winds through the forest along the lake. The Bog Trail includes a boardwalk that takes you through a sphagnum moss bog where you can see rare insectivorous plants. The Bog Trail begins at boat launch 3 and is only .3-mile long. Indian Trail — 1 mile — is gently sloped and takes you through oak woods, pines and clearings.

Tom Tudek Memorial Park, 400 Herman Drive State College: This Ferguson Township park has a 1.3-mile perimeter walking path through fields, woodlots and old wooded fencerows.

Millbrook Marsh, 548 Puddintown Road, State College: Elevated boardwalks and grass-lined paths crisscross the 62-acre preserve. Habitat includes marsh, forest and grassy areas.

Bernel Road Park, 2501 Bernel Road, State College, near University Park Airport: Trails totaling 1 mile can be walked as a single loop, a figure eight or two smaller loops. Birds abound in the forest edges, herbaceous openings and shrubby areas.

State Game Lands 176 at Toftrees, 821 Cricklewood Drive, State College: A network of gated, relatively level, gravel roads crisscross here through forest and fields, with a small game lands parking lot. This is the home of the Living Filter project — watch out for active sprinklers. Avoid this area during spring turkey season — April 29 to May 31.

Circleville Park, 3225 Circleville Road or 200 Little Lion Drive, from Valley Vista Drive: Located in Patton Township, a mile long paved perimeter path takes you along forested areas and through open areas.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.

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