I drove past Quakertown Swamp, a local wetland area with an active Great Blue Heron rookery (birds were on at least eight nests this evening), with my two kids this evening. At about 6pm, I saw what I thought were two Great Blue Herons flying over the swamp--but one had its neck extended. I thought it might be doing some kind of display to the other bird, but my five year old said it didn't look right for a Great Blue Heron--too light. Sure enough, in binoculars I could see it was a Sandhill Crane--a rare migrant through these parts. I watched it circle down towards the swamp, then circle higher, and moving off to the east. After a few minutes I turned around and parked, but by then the bird was gone. I'm used to seeing these guys in huge flocks in Texas--or in pairs on their mating ground. I don't know if I've ever just seen one lone crane by itself. A surprise all around! (photo: kentuckyawake.org)
This morning in the rain before work I walked up Haycock Mountain (don't get too excited, its only a couple hundred feet high) on Pennsylvania State Game Land 157, in search of warblers and other migrants. Not a whole lot around, and heard more than I saw, but did have 6 Black-and-white Warblers, 1 Palm Warbler, 1 Ovenbird, 1 Wood Thrush, 1 Hermit Thrush, 1 Eastern Towhee, and 1 Brown Trasher--all First of Season birds for me. Nice to finally bird somewhere in Bucks County where you can't see any houses or really hear any traffic!
This is a very cool mystery story brought to you by our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Can you identify the parents of this bird--"Junkin's Warbler"--a hybrid between two warbler species? Learn all about it here.
OK, not the band, but a Green Heron--the only bird of note (my first one of the Spring) during a quick stop at Peace Valley this morning. Still not finding warblers, and getting a bit frustrated since everyone else in PA seems to be having lots of birds.
Despite two days of searching in the woods near my office, no migrant warblers appear to be here yet, despite numerous warbler sightings all over the county and surrounding areas. But this morning I did find two Rusty Blackbirds in a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds--including a singing male. These birds should all be north of here by now, so it was a treat to see one, and hear it sing.
This afternoon I heard and then spotted my first Chimney Swifts of the Spring circling over the spires of a church in Sellersville. I love to hear the chatter of these aerial insectivores--a sure sign that Spring is in the air!
It's 85 degrees today in SE Pennsylvania. Leaves are starting to pop out on the trees, and people are starting to report migratory songbirds. On my morning walk this morning a Yellow-rumped Warbler was singing, a Northern Flicker was calling and drumming loudly, and Song Sparrows were singing from their song posts. I didn't see any northbound migrants, but a little exploring tomorrow should show me some new arrivals. Its Spring, when every day can bring new surprises!
Finally, after over 25 years of scoping out hundreds of thousands of yellowlegs, I finally got my first North American sighting of a Ruff. This morning I joined two other PA at 9:45am just across the border in NJ to look for a blonde Ruff found last weekend in the marsh/mutflats off the railroad tracks at High Hill Rd. Within half an hour, we had the bird in the scope, but it was over 100 yards out. We watched it for over 20 minutes before the birds flew and we lost it. About 11:15 we saw it again, a bit farther out. After a few minutes it disappeared again. Finally, about 11:30 I briefly saw it land and immediately take off again with a flock of yellowlegs, and all the shorebirds in the marsh took off heading east and landing over a mile away, way out of sight.
Most birders have a jinx bird or two, birds that they should have seen long ago, but for some inexplicable reason, they just haven't run into. Growing up in Oregon, I'd missed Ruff a couple times by a few hours. Living in Texas, no Ruffs showed up at Hornsby Bend in all my years birding there, though three had been seen there during the previous ten years, and I never managed to chase one on the Texas coast.
The Mid Atlantic states used to be Ruff central for the Lower 48, though in recent years, there don't seem to have been as many reported as in decades past. At any rate, at long last, I've connected with a Ruff on this side of the Atlantic. Below is a picture of the bird we saw today, taken by the bird's original finder, Dave Magpiong. Check out his great website, Fledgingbirders.org dedicated to getting new folks interested in birds and birding. Take a moment to check out Winged Wonders, his birding and nature blog at the Courier Post Online, including a post about finding the Ruff.
By the time I got back to Nockamixon with my youngest kids to show them the oystercatcher, everyone was still standing around, but the bird was gone. Apparently fifteen minutes before I arrived, the bird started calling, then flew off circling and gaining altitude before heading out.
I did get to see two Horned Grebes, a Pied-billed Grebe, and an Iceland Gull that had been hanging around this week--so all in all another good stop at the lake.
After work I picked up my fourth grader from school and we cruised back up to Lake Nockamixon to see the American Oystercatcher. There were still half a dozen birders standing around, and we got good looks at it standing on the bank of the lake with some Canada Geese. At one point it dropped down and stood belly-deep in the water, splashing and bathing itself for a few minutes. It has flown about two miles from where I initially found it, to another boat launch area. This is apparently the 5th Pennsylvania record of this species. It seems to be a young bird, as it still has some black on about half of the bill, and dark reddish eyes.
Today it was my turn to start a rare bird chase. Driving back from errands in Quakertown, I stopped by Lake Nockamixon to see if there were any birds blown in from the recent storms. When I got to the end of the fishing pier, there was a stunning American Oystercatcher sitting on a rock just off the pier. This is a bird of the seashore, considered Accidental here in PA, and only the second county record. I was so excited I didn't watch it for more than 30 or 40 seconds since all I could think of was that I needed to get to a phone to let others know about the bird. I managed to get another birder on my cell phone, and get the word out, and within an hour at least four others had seen the bird. Very cool.
Elsewhere I saw five Wild Turkeys in Pennsburg, another five at Peace Valley where the Bonaparte's Gulls seen the last few days have apparently moved on, leaving behind hundreds of Tree Swallows and an Osprey.
Howling winds, sleet, and snow all night--but only a small change in birds at Peace Valley on my way into work this morning. The Snow Goose that has been there for months was at the flooded boat ramp (water is very high right now). Other than that, seven Common Loons, three Double-crested Cormorants, two Common Mergansers, and one Ruddy Duck were all that I could see out on the lake from the south side. Lots of Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows flying low over the lake.
Always a treat to see inland away from their off-shore haunts, six White-winged Scoters were floating in the middle of the lake at Peace Valley park this morning when I stopped by in the rain on the way to work. Always worth checking out lakes and ponds when it rains, as you never know what the weather will bring down (Photo Dave Menke/USFWS)
On the way to work this morning, I stopped by Peace Valley, as usual. Most of the waterfowl have moved through, but there was a nice breeding plumage Common Loon near the south shore of the lake.
At work, eight Wild Turkeys wandered up to the feeder right outside my window. Very cool to be within a couple feet of these birds.
Took a walk down to the creek during my lunch break. A male Wood Duck flushed off the creek, then I saw another male swim out from behind a downed tree--followed by two female Green-winged Teal--the first of this species I've ever seen on the property. A bit downstream were two more teal, a male and female.
So some nice birds I don't get to see every day, and a yard bird for the office. Not too bad for a day at work.
Yesterday while I was on the phone, my first Osprey of the year circled over the creek outside my window at work. This morning on my way to a meeting in Princeton, the neighborhood flock of over a dozen Wild Turkeys was working through an old corn field on the neighbor's property.
A single Red-necked Grebe, a rare migrant here in SE Pennsylvania, was found at Peace Valley last week and was still present this morning when I stopped by on my way to work, floating in the middle of the lake with three Ruddy Duck and two Bufflehead. There are so many white-tailed deer in the park that they have really hammered the understory of the forest--making it easy for me to see three Wild Turkeys running through the woods as I drove out of the park this morning. I love to see turkeys run--its a wild spectacle that sends a chill down my spine!