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Sunday, June 10, 2012

A walk around Bucktoe Preserve

     This Sunday morning I decided to go to Bucktoe Preserve in Chester County. Holly Merker was leading a walk there and since I was in need of a Blue Grosbeak for the year, and I knew that one was reported from the preserve, I headed on down. All photos in this blog were taken by Hank Davis a frequent visitor to the preserve. It was going to be a hot one today so we quickly crossed the open field headed for the shade of the woods. On the way we came across a family of three Kestels feeding over the grasslands. 
     Once in the woods we found Veery, Warbling Vireo and Red-eyed Vireos. At one point along the stream we encountered a group of about four Baltimore Orioles and a large family of Orchard Orioles. In one sycamore tree there was an oriole nest, a Kingbird nest and a Gnatcatcher nest. Hank managed to get a photo of a  female Baltimore Oriole feeding the young in the nest.
Baltimore Oriole
     Further along the creek Holly and I both heard a warbler singing and both of us recognized the song but just couldn't place the songster. After a little searching we were thrilled to discover that we had found Bucktoe's first Cerulean Warbler.
Our surprise find for the day - Cerulean Warbler
      Everyone was able to get great looks at this very cooperative bird. Usually a treetop warbler this guy was only about 20 feet off the ground and constantly singing. 
      We managed a few other birds such as Belted Kingfisher and Wood Thrush with nesting material but then headed out of the woods again as we were finishing the walk. In a large field with a lot of saplings Holly heard a strange sound coming from the brushy area. We chased it down and discovered it was another rare bird at Bucktoe, a Yellow-breasted Chat. Once again Hank managed to get a nice picture of the big warbler.
Yellow-breasted Chat - A discussion ensued rather this bird is really a warbler or should be in another Genus
     As we got back to the parking lot, I still hadn't found my target bird. Hank mentioned that the grosbeak was seen in an area behind the lot so we all walked over to the berm area and I climbed up on the berm and to my surprise there was a Blue Grosbeak sitting on the split rail fence. Success at last.
     For a hot June day this bird walk was definitely worth the trip. Thanks to Holly and Hank for all their knowledge.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Arctic Terns in Elk County

    My wife Sharon and I have been trying to visit all the counties in Pennsylvania for some years now. So we decided to visit Armstrong and Forest Counties which would be two new counties for our list. After we completed that task we started driving around the area visiting state parks. While visiting Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean Co. during a thunderstorm (not recommended by the way) we picked up a brochure for Elk State Park. So we determined that we should head south to Elk State Park just across the border in northern Elk County.
    Upon our arrival and not having a map of the park, it looked as if there was only one way in, so we proceeded down the only road toward the lake. We arrived at a nice size parking area adjacent to the lake. While still in the car I immediately saw two white birds flying over the lake. I informed Sharon that they gave the impression of being terns but were very distant and hard to distinguish. I stepped out of the car and got the binoculars on them and indeed they were terns.  I figured they would be Forster’s Terns but I wanted to check them out just in case it was something unusual.
    The terns were still too far to identify, so I setup up the scope. By the time I had the scope setup the birds were approaching for a closer view. I could see the stiff wing beats and the very uniform gray color on the upper wings. The upper wing had no black on the primaries that I could see and after looking at photos that I procured, they didn’t reveal any black markings either. As the birds passed in profile I noticed the thin black trailing edge on the under wing primaries. The outer primaries only had a trace of black on the tips of the feathers. Good field marks for Arctic Tern. So I was psyched.
Arctic Tern at Elk State Park
     The birds had very dark, red bills which to me appeared short. The birds were bullnecked in flight; that is, the neck was short but thick. The breast looked to be gray and not white as in Forster’s Tern. The tail on both birds was deeply forked, but one bird showed a very long tail while the second bird appeared to have a shortened tail. I’m not sure if this was the angle of view or maybe a bird not yet in full alternate plumage.
    We observed the terns for approximately a half an hour to make sure of the identification and than made a call to put the word out on the PA listserv. This was only the third sighting of Arctic Tern for me in Pennsylvania, the other two being in Delaware County along the Delaware River. I assume that this would be a first record for Elk County but have not checked into that matter. About this same time there was also an Arctic Tern spotted at Beltzville State Park in Carbon Co. As far as I could tell there was no significant weather factors in the area at the time. I have also submitted a report to the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee.
     So in the end, we added two new counties and eight new state parks to our list and had a great opportunity to study a rarely seen bird in Pennsylvania.