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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Western Kingbird in Carbon County Oct 2015


          I had to make a trip to Bucks County to drop Sharon off at a friends house and afterwards I had about 3 hours to spare. So I made the drive up to Palmerton near Beltsville State Park in Carbon Co not far off of the PA Turnpike to find the Western Kingbird hanging around the area. I tracked down the location with my trusty Tom Tom GPS and arrived at the intersection of Hemlock St and Dairy Rd and pulled off to the side of the road. I immediately surveyed all the wires in scanning distance but nothing looked like a kingbird.
         So I examined the fields and found several Savannah, Song and Field Sparrows and a few Juncos. American Crow was the most numerous bird in the area but there were also quite a few Eastern Bluebirds. Checking the wires again added a bunch of Starlings and Mourning Doves. 
         Inspecting the area once more I spotted a Northern Harrier canvasing the field. Black-capped Chickadees approached from behind me as did a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Scanning the wires again I suddenly found the Western Kingbird almost directly overhead on the wires closest to my position. How he stealthily veiled his approach flight to the wire, I don't know, but I was glad to see this visitor for the western states. His appearance was quite flashy with his bright yellow breast, belly and undertail coverts and grayish throat. The white outer tail feathers were barely noticeably in the photos but they were present.     
Western Kingbird 
          So after a twenty minute wait I was rewarded with a great bird for Pennsylvania. I headed to Beltzville State Park afterwards and added a few Carbon Co birds and then headed back to meet up with Sharon. So it was worth the trip and it was a nice day to be out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

South Jersey Birding

                                                                     by Gary Becker
Hudsonian Godwit
          Seven days earlier my wife and I spent the weekend at the Jersey shore during the “Northeaster” which the weather experts told us had nothing to do with Hurricane Joaquin.  Still the wind, rain and high surf had all the trappings of a hurricane.  Normally we experience a constant breeze at our home on the mainland outside Wildwood but this was not the usual.  The wind sounded like the soundtrack from some apocalyptic thriller and woke us up throughout the night.   By morning we discovered our house wallpapered with shredded leaves from the surrounding trees but no structural damage fortunately.  The siding and roofing were intact and the neighborhood sustained no permanent damage.  Some of the beaches were not so lucky as beach and dune erosion was evident in Stone Harbor and Avalon and some buildings and boats were washed into the bay.  
Stone Harbor
          At any rate I needed to make up for the ”lost weekend”, so I came down late Friday afternoon.  I figured I would head over to Stone Harbor to survey the extent of damage when I got a text from the bird alert that a Clay-colored Sparrow was seen at the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary.  I was only a mile away and reached the sanctuary within minutes. There was a mini sparrow fallout when I arrived with the aforementioned Clay-colored Sparrow along with Savannah, Swamp, Chipping, White-throated, Field, Song and a single juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow and numerous Cedar Waxwings.  The Clay-colored kept coming and going for at least another hour before the entire flock dispersed.

Clay-colored Sparrow

           It was now after five in the afternoon and I decided to head over to the Avalon Seawatch.  A cold front was moving in and could usher in large numbers of ocean birds.  As luck would have it I arrived in time to witness two hours of great birding. I had never seen so many Forster’s Terns congregating just off the beach at the 8th street jetty.  Large flocks of Black and Surf Scoters were passing by fairly close to the sea wall and beach. At least a dozen Parasitic Jaegers flew by many of them right by the jetty and a few flew over the beach. I debated whether to return to my car and retrieve my camera and chance walking out on the jetty to get some pictures of the Jaegers who were occasionally close enough for my camera to capture some action shots. I was afraid to wander away from the watch site and the counter and miss my chance at some unexpected sightings. Anyway I figured I would stop back at a later date prepared to try my hand at a National Geographic photo shot with my simple camera. With that in mind I returned late Saturday afternoon expecting a repeat performance of the previous night.  This time the wind had picked up and the waves were now crashing over the jetty and the birds were distant.  Still we managed to see more Black and Surf Scoters, Brants and a single Northern Gannet.  I was still able to see Jaegers but they were further out. Turns out scanning the skies for hawks is good training for the ocean watch.  I even picked out a large flock of nondescript brown birds a great distance out.  The counter spent some time studying the flock and said they were “Pintails”.  Another  30 seconds passed when he announced a correction:  “29 Hudsonian  Godwits”.  I am glad I got to see the four Hudsonian Godwits at John Heinz Sanctuary just a few days earlier since there was no way I could have identified this group from such a distance.  Saturday and Sunday  I spent mornings at Higbee’s Beach where a very cooperative Nighthawk slept perched on a branch right off the parking lot. 

Common Nighthawk

          Saturday was slow but Sunday turned out to be a good morning.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were numerous but there were some surprises including a very cooperative Golden-winged Warbler and a Bell’s Vireo. 

Bell's Vireo


         Parula, Prairie, Blackpoll, Redstart, Yellowthroat, Nashville, Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers, a Warbling Vireo,  Marsh Wren and numerous Brown Thrashers were also seen.  The Bell’s Vireo(which was a lifer for me and a lot of the folks who responded to the text alert) provided everyone with good looks.  The bird was very active (by vireo standards) with lots of tail flicking.  The bird continued to put in an appearance in the same field for the next few days so there was no excuse for not adding this bird to your list.  Late mornings and afternoons I headed to either Cape May Point and Wildlife area or the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor.  The hawk watch site in Cape May was very busy but there was no need to bump elbows with the masses on the platform since the hawks could be viewed from anywhere in the area.  

               Usually Eurasian Widgeons put in an  appearance and this year was no different along with a Black Swan which has been hanging around for at least a month or more.  Large numbers of Tree Swallows competed for space with all the tourists. 
A couple of Tree Swallows

Male Eurasian Wigeon and female American Wigeon

Black Swan

            The Wetlands Institute was relatively quiet as compared to several weeks  ago when there were large numbers of Yellowlegs,  Dowitchers, Red Knots, Willets, Night Herons(both Black and Yellow-crowned), Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons. On the Sunday visit I photographed a very willing Tricolored Heron and a white phase Little Blue Heron but was not quick enough with the camera to capture a surprise juvenile Common Moorhen. 

Little Blue Heron or Reddish Egret (leave your comments)

Tri-colored Heron
           I also walked the beaches at Stone Harbor and Stone Harbor Point and added a single Piping Plover, enormous numbers of Sanderlings along with lesser counts of Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins and Ruddy Turnstones.

Piping Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Ruddy Turnstones
           Among the terns, the Foster’s and Royal were the most numerous with only a few Common and Caspians.  Routinely I find small flocks of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I ended up with count of 114 species including a lifer.  I’m glad to report the weekend made up for the storm drenched picture a week earlier.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Elk Viewing in Western PA - Sept 23 - 28, 2015

Sharon and Al at Elk Country Visitor Center
           Sharon and I have always wanted to visit Elk County to watch the Elk do their thing during the autumn rut. Well this was the year. We also have a plan to visit all the state parks in Pennsylvania. On the way to Elk County we stopped at six new state parks, mostly in Centre Co. During our visits we managed to do a little birding. Some of our favorites were Wild Turkey and Ruffed Grouse.
Ruffed Grouse in Poe Paddy State Park

Penn-Roosevelt State Park provided a flock of Wild Turkey
      After visiting the parks and having lunch we stopped at the Creamery on the Penn State campus for some delicious ice cream. At Black Moshannon St Pk we added a Barred Owl calling about two hours before dusk. The visits to the parks took more time then we figured so we had to spend the night in Clearfield Co. 
      From all of our research we knew that the elk were best viewed a little before dusk. Since we were only about an hour away we had to find other things to do until dusk. SO we started driving the dirt roads throughout the county. We came across Shagger's Inn Lake early in the morning and there was still a mist hanging over the lake. It made for a great photo opp.
Shagger's Inn Lake

Shagger's Inn Lake in Clearfield County
        The birds in the area were hard to see but we could hear a lot and see a few. We found Kingfisher, Blue-headed Vireo, three species of woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Black-throated Green and Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows.
           After traveling the back roads we explored the town of Ridgway and St Mary's in Elk County.  About 4PM we arrived at the Elk Country Visitor Center. Sharon went in and watched the fifteen minute movie while I walked around the center searching for bird life. It was quite active here. I found loads of Killdeer, four woodpeckers including Pileated, Pewee and Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, Blackpolls, Pine, Black-throated Green and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
            We then walked about a quarter of a mile and tried to pick a good area to view the elk. Around 5:30PM we could hear the bull elks bugling in the woods
 across the field. Pretty soon the females started exiting the woods and started feeding in the fields. A bull elk finally showed itself and started collecting a harem. But apparently it wasn't his harem. An older, more dominant bull decided it was his harem and starting walking over to the other bull elk. We thought there was going to be an encounter but the first bull just walked away very quickly after the old bull trotted over.
The dominant bull elk bugling

  After watching for about two hours we finally saw a battle between a couple of elk. Once again the old bull was defending his harem against another want-to-be dominant bull. We also got to see why the old bull wanted to guard his harem, if you get my drift. 

Yearling Spike Male Elk

Saying good night to the elk

         We stayed until dark and then drove to St Mary's where we spent the evening. For the next four days we did a loop around Pennsylvania adding about twenty more state parks and also spent one day in southern New York where we visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and the Lucy and Desi Museum in Jamestown. It was a fun filled week and something that I would recommend to others. 
          Below are some misc photos of trip.
Set of the "I Love Lucy" Show

Sharon doing a commercial for Vitameatavegamin

Roger Tory Peterson Institute

Peterson's Paintings
Lighthouse at Presque Isle

Kinzua Dam

Eclipse of moon while we were in Franklin County

Pitcher Plant in Pennsylvania bog

Sharon standing atop Waggoner's Gap in Cumberland Co

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hudsonian Godwits at JohnHeinz Refuge

Hudsonian Godwits
             I was birding in Bucks County at Pine Run Reservoir when I received a text message from Denise Hardtmann that there were Hudsonian Godwits at John Heinz Refuge in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I couldn't race down there to see them since earlier in the day I had driven Sharon to a friend's house nearby and I had to wait to take her home. So it was around 2:30PM that I finally arrived at Tinicum and as I was walking from the parking lot I met up with Denise and she told me that the godwits were still present. She also saw the Anhinga soaring around about half an hour before. I headed down the trail to the platform and on the way met up with Todd Fellenbaum who pointed out the birds standing in the marsh. There were actually 4 Hudsonians and they were foraging quite closely so I was able to get some decent photos of the birds. I stayed for several hours waiting for the birds to take off and possibly fly into Delaware County but no luck. I left just before nightfall and it appeared that the birds were going to spend the night at the refuge so they might still be there tomorrow morning (Tuesday). It was a great find by Denise and they were nice to see again in Philadelphia Co. The last one that I saw there was in September 1986. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Anhinga at Tinicum

Anhinga Soaring over John Heinz Refuge
          In case you have been living in a world without the internet you should know that an Anhinga has settled in and is earning a living at John Heinz in the Delaware County section of the refuge. The Anhinga was first seen on August 24 and has probably been present since then. However, it has been more conspicuous for the last a week and appears to be roosting at the tank farms across the Darby Creek from the refuge HQ. It can usually be seen between 9AM and 11AM when for some reason it seems to appear above the treeline and circles around for about 10-20 minutes and than glides back down out of sight. I recently visited the refuge and spent about three hours on the main boardwalk in search of the Anhinga with Dirk Robinson and Armus Hill who were both looking for the bird. At 11AM I told them that I was giving up the search and was walking back to the car. On the way back I stopped at the boat launch to see if I could get a view of the area where we think the Anhinga is roosting, but no luck. I turned back towards the parking lot and some guy was jogging by and asked if I saw anything unusual today and I told him nothing but the usual herons and egrets. As soon as he walked away I looked up and there was the Anhinga circling directly over my head. I watched for about five minutes and got one decent photo with my little camera which appears above. I called Dirk to tell those guys about the sighting but they were already watching the bird from the boardwalk. So it wasn't a waste of time in my opinion and I got to see the bird in both Philadelphia and Delaware Counties. Pretty cool bird for Pennsylvania.