Little Gems are great local sites for birdwatching. Often overlooked, they can provide unique outdoor opportunities.
Little Gem 3: Tionesta Creek, Forest County
by Flo McGuire
Map: Begin at Tionesta, which can be found on any Pennsylvania road map. All of the roads in this Little Gem can be found in the DeLorme PA Atlas & Gazetteer. Tionesta is on the top of page 44, and the route goes up into pages 30 and 31.
Getting There: From I-80 exit 78, proceed North on PA 36 for about 38 miles to Tionesta. Watch for German Hill on your right at the south end of town.
From the west, take I-80 exit 29 and proceed North on US Rt. 8 for 17 miles into Franklin, then US Rt. 62 for about 27 miles to Tionesta. After crossing the bridge into town, turn right onto PA 36 south for a few blocks and watch for German Hill on your left.
Description: This is a drive through the Tionesta Creek valley, mostly through undisturbed Allegheny National Forest and Army Corps of Engineers property. There are several places to hike. Many warblers breed here, and even more can be found during spring and fall migration.
From the south end of Tionesta, take German Hill Road for about 4 miles – watch for a right-hand turn onto Jughandle Road, which will go down a steep hill to meet Tionesta Creek. This is prime habitat for about 8 miles, where the road meets PA 666 at Kellettville. There is very little traffic. There will be a wooded hillside on your left, and Tionesta Creek on your right, sometimes bordered by woods or brushy areas. There are a few seasonal cabins, but most of the area is undeveloped; there are several places where you may park to walk along the road or access the creek.
Details: After about ¼ mile along Jughandle Road, start listening for warblers. Watch for a gated logging road on the left – this can be a productive hike along the ridge-top where Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Winter Wrens, Black-throated Blue Warblers and Canada Warblers breed. (Sappies and Blues can be abundant in spring). Going down the hill you might find Swainson’s Thrushes and Northern Parulas. As you drive along Tionesta Creek, Alder Flycatcher, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush are possibilities in summer. Black-throated Green Warblers are abundant. The first road to the left is Ross Run Road; you might want to diverge and drive through this ravine, along Ross Run for a mile or so, for it is very good for warblers, Acadian Flycatcher and Winter Wren. (Ross Run Road will take you back up to German Hill Road if you wish to make a short loop). Continue up the creek road – you will come to some different habitat on your right: an abandoned farm with access to the creek includes feed plots, some tall evergreens, and an Osprey platform. Nashville Warblers are probable breeders along the hillside here. About ¼ mile past this open area, another hiking option into the hardwood forest can be found opposite the old bridge piers, where a road once went up the hill. Another place worth stopping is a pull-off near where Hazelton Run Road (from the Flying W Ranch) meets the creek road; from here you can observe an island, have a good view upstream, including an Osprey platform, and the vegetation is good for spring and fall warblers. Common Mergansers, Green Heron, Bank Swallows, and Black-and-white Warblers may be found here. At Kellettville, you may cross the bridge and bird the Kellettville Campground, which is a good spot for Least Flycatcher and a warbler magnet in spring and fall.
To return to Tionesta, take PA 666 about 2 miles west to Whig Hill, turn left on German Hill Road and proceed 12 miles to Tionesta.
Facilities: The area is primitive; restrooms are available at the Kellettville Campground. Cougar Bob's Kellettville Tavern (814.463.7351) is just east of Kellettville on PA 666. It can provide lunch and an experience in itself. A small restaurant at the Flying W Ranch (814.463.7663) is open on a limited basis. The newly remodeled and re-opened Whig Hill Store (814.463.7422) is on the left on PA 666 west before meeting German Hill Road. This general store/gas station is open daily until 6, until 8 on weekends, and until 2 on Sundays, and offers fresh subs and soft drinks. There are also restaurants in Tionesta.
Birds that might be seen: A variety of ducks, also swans, loons, and grebes may be seen during migration; Wood Duck and Common Mergansers breed here. Both Osprey platforms have attracted some attention, but no nesting pairs to date. A Bald Eagle is a possibility in this valley any time of year. Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks as well as Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can be found from spring through fall. In summer, while the woods on one side of the road may harbor Acadian and Least Flycatchers, Alders can be found in the brushy areas on the creek side. Bank Swallows nest along Tionesta Creek, and Cliff Swallows nest at the Kellettville Bridge. Red-breasted Nuthatches may be found, particularly near Ross Run. Winter Wrens as well as Swainson’s Thrushes are possible in summer. Breeding Warblers include Blue-winged, Nashville, Northern Parula, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Black-and-white, American Redstart, Ovenbird, possibly Mourning, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, and Canada. Other warblers may be seen in migration.