What to watch for as seasons transition, and 3 chances to enjoy the outdoors

A scene from last year's Get Outdoors Family Fishing Picnic at Tussey Mountain pond.
A scene from last year's Get Outdoors Family Fishing Picnic at Tussey Mountain pond. Photo provided
Late May marks a time of transition in the natural world. Our calendar might say that there is yet another month of spring, but here in central Pennsylvania, Mother Nature is already making the shift to summer.

After spending the winter in the tropics or in the southern states, more than 100 species birds are migrating north through Pennsylvania. I see a new-for-the-year species almost every day. Thursday, it was a least bittern that flushed from a small wetland in northern Blair County. The day before, I spotted three blackpoll warblers feeding in the trees along Bald Eagle Creek in Port Matilda.

Like the multi-colored candy displays that created a magnetic attraction when I was a youngster, migrating birds present a dazzling display of color. I sample the visual treats while I am out fishing, hiking or birding at this time of year. The orange Baltimore orioles, yellow Wilson's warblers, blue indigo buntings and brilliant red scarlet tanagers — their colors almost glow, even in the dim early-morning light.

The flood of feathered migrants will slow to a trickle and stop altogether in a few weeks. Our newly-arrived summer birds are marking their territories and setting up housekeeping. They will keep me company for the next three months.

Spring gobbler season ends in four days. Hen wild turkeys are incubating their eggs and white-tailed deer are shedding their gray-brown winter coats for a shorter, reddish-brown summer coat. I have yet to see a fawn, but I have watched many very-pregnant does. The tiny deer have been growing in their wombs since November.

Although some fawns are born earlier and some later, the two biggest months for fawning are the last week of May and the first week of June. Having most fawns born at the same time is a survival strategy. Black bears and coyotes — the two biggest fawn predators — can only eat so many per week. Therefore, having most of the fawns born during a short window of time insures that many will survive.

Woodland wildflowers are in full swing — trilliums, lady's-slippers, May-apples, and Jack-in-the-pulpit — all taking advantage of the open canopy. While leaves are a little late emerging this spring, soon the developing tree canopy will greatly diminish the light reaching the forest floor below. This forces yet another natural transformation. By June, the forest wildflower show will end and a new one will debut in the more-open wetlands, edges and meadows.

Anglers are making a transition, as well, although recent rains are delaying the process. Some anglers switch from cold to warm-water species at this time of year. Anglers who targeted stocked trout will take up their bass poles and head for Sayers Lake or maybe the Juniata or Susquehanna rivers.

Even diehard trout fishermen — like me — usually make a change, too. As stream levels drop and water temperatures rise, I usually move from fishing mountain freestone streams to the valley limestoners. Limestone streams, such as Spring Creek and the Logan Branch, usually retain an adequate flow and stay cooler. Their naturally reproduced brown trout can provide pleasurable fishing all summer long.

Greater than average spring rainfall has kept all streams flowing nicely — sometimes even too high to fish. In addition, fly anglers have reported a delay in mayfly hatches due to the rain and cooler weather.

If you are looking for a life change and are interested in trying the popular sport of fishing, the next few weeks present opportunities for young, old and everyone in between.

Fishing requires equipment, and for those over 15, it also means purchasing a fishing license. These are often barriers for someone interested, but unsure if fishing is for them. Three local opportunities remove one or more of those blocks and provide a free activity for the entire family.

May 27 marks the first Pennsylvania Fish-for-Free Day in 2018 — July 4 is the second day. Fish-for-Free Days allow anyone — residents and non-residents — to legally fish in Pennsylvania without a fishing license. From 12:01 a.m., to 11:59 p.m., on both days, no fishing license is needed to fish in Pennsylvania's waterways. All other fishing regulations apply.

On June 3rd the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, in association with Centred Outdoors will host their Get Outdoors Family Fishing Picnic at Tussey Mountain Pond, from 2-6 p.m. This free event offers hot dogs and drinks, fishing, loaner fishing equipment and instruction, knot tying, hiking, and canoes and kayaks, as well as fun and educational activities for kids. Several hundred people attended last year's event.

And on June 9th the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will hold its annual Family Fishing Festival at Bald Eagle State Park (Pavilion 7), from 4-8 p.m. The free event includes fishing equipment, bait, casting and fishing instruction and random prize drawings. You must register in advance for this free PFBC event. Over 125 people participated in last year's festival. Register at www.register-ed.com/events/view/121794 no later than June 5.

No fishing license is needed for any of these events. I will be helping at the Family Fishing Picnic at Tussey pond. In addition, fishing equipment can be signed out all summer at Black Moshannon and Bald Eagle state parks, at the Penns Valley Program Center and at the Bellefonte, State College and Moshannon Valley YMCAs. Contact those providers for details.

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.