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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Butterflies and Birding

Regal Fritillary
            Sharon and I decided to go to Fort Indiantown Gap (a National Guard training center) on July 3rd to participate in the annual search for the Regal Fritillary butterfly. It is only found in a very limited habitat of disturbed land. Since the land there is used for live ammo practice (grenades) and maneuver practice (tanks) the land is definitely disturbed by the tanks and also by fire caused by the explosives. The successive regrowth of the grasses and forbs make for the habitat that the Regal Butterfly requires. 
            We left the house at 7:30AM and stopped at Memorial Lake State Park just outside the base to search for a few new county birds. We didn't have too much time so we didn't see much. We got to the base and had a 10 minute orientation about the base and than we caravanned to the area where the butterflies live. We were expecting about 15-20 people at this event but there were at least 150.
Just some of the participants
           Once we arrived at the site, the Regal Fritillaries were everywhere. They differ from other fritillaries by having a dark, almost black hindwing. 

Regal Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary for comparison
          We were also treated to other sights besides butterflies. We were shown Spotted and Wood Turtles like the one below.
Wood Turtle - They file a notch in the shell to track the turtle
          Of course a day in the field is not complete without a snake or two.
Ring-necked Snake
          The habitat was also good for field birds and I was told that Chats and Prairie Warblers would be seen. Well, that didn't happen but I did find a male and female Blue Grosbeak.
Male Blue Grosbeak
           The total walk around the fields was about 1.7 miles and lasted about 2 hours. Halfway through the walk we were provided with water. The trip was very well organized and I highly recommend that if you have the chance, sign up. Two more trips are scheduled for July 10th and 11th.
Sharon enjoying the trail

Eastern Tailed-Blue on preferred habitat - a Sneaker

            After the trip we enjoyed a picnic lunch on base and than headed over to Swatara State Park to do some birding. It was only about 10 miles away but the GPS put us on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  We at least expected to find a park office to get a map.  We assumed we were not in the correct place and left but not before getting a Redstart and Hooded Warbler. We headed back towards the base and did a little sightseeing of the equipment on display around the base.  

         Just outside the base we found the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. A very impressive cemetery which reminded us of the ones we saw in Europe for the American soldiers killed during WWII.

          Since we were out this far west we decided to keep going to the Susquehanna River area. While there, we found more state parks to add to our goal of visiting all the state parks in PA. They were Jim Ibberson Conservation Area and Boyd Big Tree Conservation Area where I added five new birds to my Dauphin County list, including E. Meadowlark, Scarlet Tanager and Cooper's Hawk.
          From there we went to Fort Hunter on the Susquehanna River and did a little sightseeing around the mansion, mill areas and covered bridge. It was now getting late in the afternoon so I started heading home, but Sharon said she didn't want to take the Turnpike from Harrisburg so we started to head back in the direction of Indiantown Gap. We made another pass around Memorial Lake and walked across the dam but no new birds were spotted.
          When we stopped at the park office at Memorial Lake, Sharon found a map for Swatara State Park and saw a few pictures from the brochure and decided we had to go back. There was a photo of a bridge that we wanted to find and looking at the map we decided it was on the very road that we were on earlier today but didn't go far enough. This bridge was part of the rail trail.

Bridge over Swatara Creek
           Now it was about 7:15 PM and we once again headed back to Indiantown Gap because that was the only place we saw during the day that had a restaurant.  We went to have dinner at Funck's Restaurant and by the time we were finished eating it was 8:30PM and getting dark. So one last suggestion was to stop at Tomstown Rd on base and wait for dark. We arrived at Tomstown Rd in the middle of the woods and a few birds were still singing in the twilight, but Eastern Wood-Pewee was one of them. I got out of the car to listen for other calling birds because I knew this spot was famous for Chuck-wills-widow. While we were standing around in the dark another call pulled up and asked if I was looking for the Chuck's and I said yes. We introduced ourselves and found out Dave Yeany came all the way from Pittsburgh to find this bird. We waited around until about 9:10PM when finally two Whip-poor-wills started calling and then after another ten minutes the Chuck-wills-widow made his appearance by calling about 100 yards down the road.
            When we started the day leaving the house at 7:30 this morning it was not our intention to stay out for 16 hours but it was such a fun day that we were glad we did.
Chuck-wills-widow (photo from Internet)
           Other butterflies seen were Mourning Cloak, Black Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Clouded Sulpher and another type Sulpher, Silvery Checkerspot, and Silver-Spotted Skipper.

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