Little Gems are great local sites for birdwatching. Often overlooked, they can provide unique outdoor opportunities.
Little Gem 2: Polk Wetlands, Venango County
by Gary Edwards
Map: Route 8 and the Polk Cutoff road are shown on any Pennsylvania road-map.
Getting there: From Franklin, go south on Route 8. The Polk Cutoff is about 5 miles from downtown Franklin (Note: Route 62 splits from Route 8 about half way up the hill leading out of Franklin. Stay on Route 8) A Dairy Queen is located on the right side of Route 8 about 0.6 of a mile before the Polk Cutoff. Turn right at Polk Cutoff, immediately past Maurer's Trading Post. Proceed down the hill past a Skeet Club on the left and a cemetery on the right near the bottom of the hill. There is a gravel parking area on the left about 0.5 miles past the cemetery.
Description: Directly in front of the parking area is a large field. A pond can be seen in the distance. The pond is about 0.4 of a mile long and is easily reached via a well worn path that leads to the left side of the pond. Depending on the time of year, the side of the pond nearest the parking area may be wet enough to require rubber boots. The terrain is level but when walking the raised far side of the pond, be careful of groundhog holes. Walking from the parking area to the path leading to the left side of the pond, then around the far side of the pond and back through the field to the parking area is about 1.2 miles.
The nearest restrooms are at the Dairy Queen on Route 8 or one of the restaurants in Polk. The main building of Polk State School can be seen to the west.
Details: Some seasons are better than others. In Spring, Wilson’s Snipe can be flushed from the wet area adjacent to the near side of the pond and migrating waterfowl and a few shorebirds can be seen when walking the raised far side of the pond. In late summer much of the water is gone from the pond and shorebirds frequent the exposed mud flats. Some years there are more mud flats than others. Usually, the more mud flat area, the more shorebirds. The only county record Western Sandpiper was documented here July 15 and 16, 2001. In Fall, a few waterfowl utilize the pond and shorebirds continue to appear. The fields between the parking area and the near side of the pond attract large numbers of migrating sparrows in late September and October. The only county records for LeConte's Sparrow and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow were seen and photographed here between October 15 and October 26, 2001.
South of the far right-hand corner of the pond is another smaller pond with cattail areas between the two ponds. The Marsh Wrens, Sora, and Virginia Rails have been recorded in this area several times.