Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area, also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, was officially designated by the Pennsylvania Audubon Society as an important bird area in 2004. Although not as grand as its cousin in Arizona (Pine Creek Gorge is approximately 16 miles long, encompassing 31,790 acres), it is nevertheless spectacular and has two advantages over its western counterpart -- it is more accessible and a whole lot cooler. Ironically, despite the better access, it often seems less crowded. The majority of visitors head for the well-groomed overlooks at Leonard Harrison State Park, where they often see bald eagles, Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, and common ravens. There are a number of short trails through the heavily wooded park where one may run across numerous woodland species, including wood and hermit thrushes, red-eyed vireos, and scarlet tanagers. Keep your ears open.
The more adventurous visitors head for Colton Point State Park on the opposite rim. This park has a much wilder feel to it and is rarely busy. There are some easy trails along the canyon rim here with good views. Many warblers nest in this area, but are difficult to see in the tall trees. Most common are Blackburnian, black-throated blue and black-throated green. hooded, and black-and-white warblers and American redstarts.
Birders may find the accesses to the Pine Creek Bike/Rail Trail, which runs through the bottom of the 16-mile gorge, more productive. There are three of these: Darling Run on the north end, Tiadaghton in the center, and Blackwell at the south end. If you have not tried birding from a bicycle, give it a try here. Contrary to popular opinion, you won't scare the wildlife and you can cover a larger variety of habitats, which will increase your species count greatly within the canyon’s wooded walls .
Leonard Harrison State Park. From Wellsboro, west on PA 660 for 11 miles. The highway makes a sharp left about 3 miles out of town, making several more bizarre turns before running right into the Park.
Colton Point State Park. West on PA 660 for 3 miles; continue straight past the turn to Leonard Harrison State Park for another 5 miles on PA 362 to US 6. Turn left on US 6 for about a half mile and watch for the sign to the park on the left side of the highway. There are some nice views of the canyon as you work your way up the paved forest-service road.
Darling Run. 3 miles west from Wellsboro on PA 660, which turns into PA 362 for another 4 miles. Parking lot is well-marked on the left. Spend some time checking over the grove of very large conifers right across from the parking lot. This area is frequented by a variety of warblers, chickadees, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, thrushes, and pileated woodpeckers.
Red-bellied woodpeckers, which are uncommonly seen in this part of the state, are starting to show up here, too. All along Pine Creek are enormous flocks of cedar waxwings, sharing the mayfly hatches with the trout. Keep your eyes on the telephone wires for flycatchers, especially in the more open areas downstream. A stroll or bike ride either upstream or down should easily net around thirty species in an hour or two. This spring (2006) a pair of bald eagles built a nest across Pine Creek directly opposite the paved section of the parking lot.
Tiadaghton. From Wellsboro, west on Kelsey Street (3007) from Main Street (PA 660). Kelsey Street turns into Stony Fork Road. Continue for for 9.5 miles through the villages of Stony Fork (the country store is worth a short visit) and Draper (bear right) to the intersection of West Branch Road and Dibble Hill Road. Go straight onto Dibble Hill Road (previously named Tiadaghton Hill Road) for another 1.7 miles. When you reach Putnam Road continue straight onto the state forest road for another 1.3 miles. Don't try this without a county map, and stay out if rain is in the forecast. The state-forest road to the Tiadaghton access is uncomfortably steep, narrow, and very rough. It is not maintained and is best attempted only in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Nevertheless, the picnic/camping area in Tiadaghton is a good place to bird and one of the most beautiful sites along Pine Creek. It is not a difficult ride by bicycle from Darling Run or Blackwell and can also be reached by canoe, raft or kayak, which is highly recommended. Good place to eat your lunch.
Blackwell. From US 15 in Liberty take 414W for about 14 miles. There is a parking area by the bridge. Although bald eagles may be seen anywhere along Pine Creek, your chances may be best here, since a pair has nested just north of this access within view of the bike trail for the last several years. The gorge opens up into a wide, but very picturesque valley, providing excellent habitat for the non-woodland species. The bike/rail trail continues south for another 40 miles, all of which is both beautiful and full of birds. Although there are a number of cabins and several small towns along Pine Creek, the entire watershed is only lightly settled. Parking is adequate at Blackwell, and there is an additional large parking area at Rattlesnake Rock, a couple of miles farther south on 414. (GT)