Hughesville area’s hidden gem of a park

The Lime Bluff Recreation Area situated in Wolf Township just south of Hughesville is a beautiful 65 acre community park owned and managed by the East Lycoming Recreation Authority (ELRA). Originally configured as a large open space with picnic pavilions, athletic fields, bocce courts, horseshoe pits, a children’s play area, expansive walking paths and a disc golf course, the facility required lots of mowing to maintain all of the acreage in a lawn/park like appearance. Despite the limited natural cover across much of the park, it has always been a pretty “birdy” place. One of the paths traverses a section of wet woodland, the perimeter of the entire park is either mature woodland or brushy tree lines and there is a small pond surrounded by brush at the northern end of the golf course. All of this provides good habitat for a variety of resident and migratory bird species.

Lycoming Audubon (LAS) first got involved with the Authority 5 or 6 years ago when we approached them about installing Eastern Bluebird nest boxes around the park. They were enthusiastic about the project and Dan Alters and I installed eight boxes, which Dan and his wife Patti monitored and serviced until they moved from the area two years ago. Many a young bluebird and Tree Swallow have been fledged from these original boxes, including 28 bluebirds and 15 swallows just this past season. In addition to providing “extra” beautiful birds for visitors to the park, this conservation project has helped provide badly needed nesting “cavities” for these species which can only nest in such spaces.

Perhaps two years ago in May or June, I received a call from Jeff Bower, an old college buddy and now the Chairman of the ELRA, relating that some of his sturdy volunteer mowers were flushing a bunch of unusual birds, perhaps meadowlarks. He was wondering what they should do. So began a two year cooperative effort between the ELRA and LAS to try and modify some of the short grass habitat in the park to accommodate birds that require undisturbed, longer grassy/weedy fields to successfully nest and raise their young. The beautiful and melodious Eastern Meadowlark is a prime example of one of these “grassland bird” species whose population across the state and nation have declined dramatically due to the loss of suitable nesting habitat.

Today, perhaps 10 – 15 acres of the park are managed for tall grass to accommodate grassland birds, wildflowers and the bees, butterflies and other pollinators they attract and, hopefully, also cold season birds of prey that feed on the rodents such habitat also produces. Interpretive signs have been installed to describe the new conservation features. The first seasonal mowing of this acreage is done mid-August after the meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds and other grassland birds have finished nesting. That first mowing spares areas thick with various species of wild milkweed that endangered Monarch butterflies require to feed their caterpillars and to complete their life cycles. The final seasonal mowing (8 – 10 inches high, similar to the August mowing) is done in mid-October, giving the very last generation of Monarchs time to emerge from their chrysalises and begin their incredible migration to their wintering ground in Mexico.

On my last visit to Lime Bluff a week ago it appeared that this conservation project is already paying dividends. A couple of American Kestrels were checking out the recently mowed fields, hopefully to see if the hunting would be good this winter. A flock of a half dozen meadowlarks flushed ahead of me and settled back into the high grass on down the field. I know that they’ll be back, with plenty of friends, in the spring ready for another successful nesting season. Beyond the benefits to the birds themselves, the Authority saves some fuel costs and valuable volunteer time and effort with the reduced mowing schedule and park visitors have more critters to watch as they enjoy this beautiful recreation area!

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Gary Metzger is vice-president of the Lycoming Audubon Society and an enthusiastic bird watcher and advocate for the natural world.

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