A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Pennsylvania's Warblers & More I: From Cerulean Warbler to Henslow's Sparrow

May 17-22, 2021 with Tom Johnson guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
We enjoyed several fine views of flame-throated Blackburnian Warblers in PA's north woods. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

This circuit through many of Pennsylvania's habitats takes me back to my teenage days of birding across the Keystone State. In order to find as many birds as possible, we visited the Lower Susquehanna River Valley, successional barrens near State College, hilltops and streams in the ridge-and-valley region, shrubby grasslands, montane wetlands, broadleaf forest, hemlock groves, the lair of a very famous groundhog at Punxsutawney, and even the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

We rounded up an exciting suite of songbirds including warbler superstars like Kentucky, Mourning, Prothonotary, Golden-winged, Cerulean, and Blackburnian. Additional highlights came in the form of up-close Henslow's Sparrows, a daytime Barred Owl, displaying American Woodcock, and chanting, territorial Eastern Whip-poor-wills. Rarities just kept popping up during our week together, too - in addition to more expected species, it was pretty special to find Red Crossbills, Philadelphia Vireo, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Least Bittern.

Thanks for joining me on this short-and-sweet visit to Pennsylvania, and I hope to see you back out in the field soon.


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

Seen on every day of the tour.

WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)

Seen very well at Wildwood Lake, where males and females lounged around near some tiny chicks.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Several sightings.

HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)

Seven of these small divers were at The Muck.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

We found four walking along the edge of Sandy Ridge Rd.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)

Always around people.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)


Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)

Heard a few times in the southern reaches of the route.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)

We saw this uncommon species on our first day during an afternoon search of Colyer Lake. Later, we heard them again several more times.

Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus vociferus)

A male put in a great appearance at dusk at the Scotia Barrens, and we reveled in the loud chorus.

Apodidae (Swifts)

CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)

Fabulous views over several towns. Our best experience was surely over the historic buildings in downtown Punxsutawney.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)

We only saw a few - at Trout Run Park and Stony Creek Valley.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)

A couple of these small, noisy rails showed nicely along the short boardwalk at The Muck.

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

We heard one at The Muck, and later saw one walking along the edge of the marsh at Wildwood Lake. Due to the scarcity of freshwater wetlands in PA, this species is fairly uncommon in the state.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Four at Wildwood Lake with a small diversity of migrant shorebirds on our final day.

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

One at Wildwood Lake.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

UPLAND SANDPIPER (Bartramia longicauda)

One put in a brief flyby appearance in the Sandy Ridge grasslands as we searched for sparrows.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

3 at Wildwood Lake.


One was at Wildwood Lake.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Along the way, we found some picnic tables with excellent birding opportunities. This one was right up the hill from a Least Bittern and underneath a Pileated Woodpecker at Bald Eagle State Park. Photo by group member Holly Kleindienst.

AMERICAN WOODCOCK (Scolopax minor)

At Scotia Barrens, we enjoyed some displaying birds overhead and heard their goofy "peent" calls too.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

One was teetering along the edges of the muddy puddles in the road at Sandy Ridge during our sparrow search.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)

One bobbed along the edge of Wildwood Lake.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

A flock of 7 of these migrant gulls graced the swimming beach at Bald Eagle SP.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

Five were with Bonaparte's Gulls at Bald Eagle SP.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Seen along the lower Susquehanna River.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis)

This tiny heron is a rare species in Pennsylvania, so it was great that our tour overlapped with one hunting the edges of the Frog Pond at Bald Eagle SP.

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

We found these at Falmouth and The Muck.

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

A few were seen along the lower Susquehanna River.

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

Seen at Bald Eagle SP and The Muck.

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea) [N]

We visited the colony in urban Harrisburg and found at least 3 occupied nests over a city street.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

We saw one while driving through a neighborhood in Harrisburg.

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Common/ seen every day.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

On a nest along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Several sightings of these huge raptors.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)

Just one sighting of this small Buteo - at Scotia Barrens.

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These Red Crossbills appeared overhead while we watched a hybrid Golden-winged x Blue-winged Warbler at the Scotia Barrens. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Seen every day.

Strigidae (Owls)

EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (Megascops asio)

A gray morph showed very nicely at dusk in a small park near my childhood home east of Harrisburg. It's always nice to catch up with the neighbors!

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)

We saw one perched up at last light at Scotia Barrens near State College.

BARRED OWL (Strix varia)

One responded to my hooting by flying in to the side of the road at Colton Point SP (in the daytime!).

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


We found about five during our exploration of the Pine Creek Gorge.

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)

Fairly common; seen most days.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

Encountered along the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers on our first day.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

A few sightings of this medium-sized woodpecker.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

We heard several, but none could top the one that showed up at our picnic spot in Bald Eagle SP.

NORTHERN FLICKER (YELLOW-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus auratus)

One showed nicely along Clarks Creek on our final morning.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

One flew over the van as we were driving along Rt. 15 in Tioga County.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus) [N]

On our final evening in Harrisburg, we enjoyed seeing four falcons around their nest on the PA state Department of Environmental Protection building in Harrisburg (the Rachel Carson Building - seriously!).

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


Super! This stout, dark-vested flycatcher was perched up at Scotia Barrens during a star-studded 30-minute period that featured a hybrid "Brewster's" Warbler and a flock of Red Crossbills. This species is a scarce spring migrant in PA.

EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens) [*]

Heard singing at a few places in the southern part of the route; surprisingly, these late migrants hadn't yet filled in across most of the forested sites we visited.

ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens)

Good views in the rail trail parking lot at the end of the road in Stony Creek Valley.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

We scoped a singing bird (Free beer!) in a tree top at the Scotia Barrens.

WILLOW FLYCATCHER (Empidonax traillii)

Singing "Fitz-bew" at the Frog Pond (Bald Eagle SP) and at The Muck.

LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)

Che-bek! These peppy flycatchers were singing at Scotia Barrens and Bear Meadows.

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This Eastern Screech-Owl put in a great appearance near my childhood home east of Harrisburg. Photo by group member Holly Kleindienst.

EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe) [N]

Nesting under bridges and on state park restrooms at several sites.


The big noisy flycatcher with the yellow belly; seen and heard several times in forest habitats.

EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus) [N]

Sky-high views of a nesting pair in Stony Creek Valley plus several other closer sightings throughout the journey.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)

One was singing out in the open near the Blue-winged Warbler in Stony Creek Valley.

YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons)

We had great looks at a responsive, singing bird in Stony Creek Valley on our first day.

BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)

These vireos with the sweet songs were heard and seen a few times in the central and northern woodlands. Around Pine Creek Gorge, it was the most common vireo at a few sites.

PHILADELPHIA VIREO (Vireo philadelphicus)

Despite the name, Philadelphia Vireo is a rare spring migrant in the eastern half of Pennsylvania. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when one joined a flock along the road to Bear Meadows. Photographed to document the occasion.

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Heard and seen at a few different riverine sites (including our lunch spot along the Juniata River).

RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus) [N]

Heard almost everywhere we went in the forest, and we managed to see several, too (including a nest). One of Pennsylvania's most common neotropical migrant nesting species.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)

Common and conspicuous.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Commonly seen and heard throughout the tour.

FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)

Heard and seen along the Susquehanna River at the beginning and end of the tour.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Several sightings between the State College area and the Pine Creek Gorge.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)

These were the plain-looking chickadees that we found along the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg.

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

This was the chickadee that we saw around State College and in the Northern Tier. Chickadees around Harrisburg and Stony Creek Valley were in the Black-capped/ Carolina hybrid zone.

TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)

Common in broadleaf forest.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

Good looks, especially low over the Susquehanna River at Falmouth.

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

Seen frequently.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Common and widespread.

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A Mourning Warbler sang and sashayed around the understory near Pine Creek Gorge. Photo by group member Holly Kleindienst.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

About 40 were gathering nesting mud under a bridge in Clearfield County.

Regulidae (Kinglets)


These tiny songbirds were in a plantation of Norway Spruce near Pine Creek Gorge.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis) [*]

We heard one calling at Bear Meadows.

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)

Seen and heard on most days. This is the Eastern subspecies group.

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

These spunky tail-flippers were at several riverine sites as well as the Scotia Barrens.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

A few were singing at Falmouth and at the Scotia Barrens.

WINTER WREN (Troglodytes hiemalis)

One of these tiny gnomes sang and showed off in a small stream near the Mourning Warbler territory at Pine Creek Gorge.

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

A few were singing and skulking in the cattails of The Muck.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

Just a few encounters, including along Prescot Rd. on our first morning.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)

Common around humans.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)

Abundant in forest and edge habitats.

BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)

Several between Sandy Ridge, Scotia Barrens, and Bald Eagle SP.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Common around people, including in the parking lot of our Harrisburg hotel.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)

A few nice sightings in the southerly stretches of our tour route.

VEERY (Catharus fuscescens) [*]

Heard singing along Pine Creek, though it was reluctant to show itself.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus) [*]

Heard singing at Pine Creek Gorge.

WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina) [N]

The beautiful voice of this stout, spot-breasted thrush accompanied us on most days in the woods. We even found a nest in Stony Creek Valley.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)


Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Plenty, especially along river corridors.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

Behind every gas pump and in each hotel parking lot. Common in towns/ cities.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Common, especially around towns and cities.

RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)

Wow! A flock of 8 of these irruptive finches was a real surprise since the species is quite rare during the warm months in Pennsylvania. From their flight calls, we were able to further identify these as "Type 10" Red Crossbills, the call type that was most common during last winter's mega-irruption of finches. Perhaps this group stuck around to try to breed in Penn's Woods!


A common bird of scrub and edge habitats.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)

Common in the same grassland habitat as the Henslow's Sparrows at Sandy Ridge.

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

Very common; seen every day of the tour.

FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla)

Nice looks in the grasslands at Sandy Ridge and also in Centre County.

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Scotia Barrens revealed some true gems to us during our visits, including this spectacular male Golden-winged Warbler. Photo by group member Holly Kleindienst.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis carolinensis)

Fairly common in mature forest at the Pine Creek Gorge.

HENSLOW'S SPARROW (Centronyx henslowii)

A primary target of our journey to the grasslands of Sandy Ridge on the Clearfield/ Jefferson County line. These large-headed sparrows with the simple "t-slick" songs were quite cooperative and gave us some memorable looks.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

Very common throughout our travels.

SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)

Good views in the cattail marsh at The Muck.

EASTERN TOWHEE (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

Especially common at Scotia Barrens.

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)


One showed nicely along the powerline cut at Stony Creek Valley. Formerly considered a warbler for reasons unclear to me, this one is now recognized as the sole member of the family Icteriidae!

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

A few well-appointed males sang and chased females around hayfields near Punxsutawney.

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

This was one of the grassland species that we found at Sandy Ridge.

ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius)

A few good views of these small orioles along the Juniata River and at Bald Eagle SP.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)

Seen every day, especially in tall trees next to rivers.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Common and widespread.


Fairly common, with males chasing females around the treetops.

COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)

Common; seen every day.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)

Common and LOUD throughout PA's forests.

WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum)

One showed up overhead while we were watching the Mourning Warbler near Pine Creek Gorge. This southern species is less common in the Northern Tier of PA, so it was a nice surprise here.

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla)

Though we heard one early in the tour at Stony Creek, we had to wait until the final day for a great look from the bridge over Clarks Creek.

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis) [*]

Heard singing at Bear Meadows.

GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora chrysoptera)

A male gave us a fantastic performance in second growth habitat at Scotia Barrens; we also found at least two different male Golden-winged x Blue-winged hybrids in the same area. Both of those hybrids generally fit the "Brewster's" Warbler phenotype.

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In addition to seeing pure-looking versions of Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers, we also found two singing hybrid males that generally fit the "Brewster's" phenotype. This one was at Scotia Barrens, quite near to the Golden-winged pictured above. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera)

A singing male was along the powerline cut at Stony Creek Valley.


Especially nice views of this stripey tree-creeper in the forest of the Pine Creek Gorge.

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea)

One of the first warblers of the tour. This southern species was hanging out on a breeding territory along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County.

TENNESSEE WARBLER (Leiothlypis peregrina)

A few migrants sang from the woods at Scotia Barrens.

NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla) [*]

We heard one singing its two-parted song at Bear Meadows.

MOURNING WARBLER (Geothlypis philadelphia)

A showy male was singing along a small stream through the woods at the Pine Creek Gorge - fantastic!

KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa)

A declining species in PA; we were fortunate to find a singing male on our first morning out in Stony Creek Valley north of Harrisburg, and he was kind enough to sit still for scope views while singing!

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

Very common; seen each day.

HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina)

A few males showed off at the Scotia Barrens in Centre County.

AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)

One of the common species of warblers that we encountered each day of the trip.

CERULEAN WARBLER (Setophaga cerulea)

Super views of this long-winged beauty at the top of Peters Mountain on our first day in the field. We were standing on the Appalachian Trail while watching and listening to this bird.

NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)

A singing male showed off nicely in the tall sycamores along the Susquehanna River at Prescot Rd. on our first morning.

MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Setophaga magnolia)

We found one singing from a spruce at Bear Meadows.


Numerous sightings of this stunning black, orange, and white warbler - they were particularly common in areas with Eastern Hemlock at the Pine Creek Gorge.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

Fairly common in open and edge habitats (such as the Frog Pond at Bald Eagle SP).

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica)

Wonderfully common in central and northern PA, with some great sightings in the Scotia Barrens and elsewhere.

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An Olive-sided Flycatcher posed atop a snag for us in Centre County. This species is a scarce spring migrant in Pennsylvania. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata) [*]

We heard singing migrants a few times, but they proved devilishly tough to spot this time.

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens cairnsi)

Nice views of males and females in the understory of the forest along the west side of Pine Creek Gorge.

PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)

Nice views along the side of the road through the Scotia Barrens. In pines, believe it or not!

PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)

One was tail-bobbing and singing occasionally in the powerline cut in the Stony Creek Valley.


A fairly common species in the mixed woodlands in the northern tier of PA.

CANADA WARBLER (Cardellina canadensis)

We found a singing migrant in Stony Creek Valley, and then later saw a territorial bird at Bear Meadows.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)

Heard singing most days, with a couple of nice sightings of red and black males.

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Very common; seen every day.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

A few encounters with handsome, singing males.

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)

Seen and heard on most days; quite common in many open habitats.


EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)

Just a few sightings - the common bunny in PA.


Commonly seen and heard in woodlands.

WOODCHUCK (Marmota monax)

Several roadside sightings of this "Pennsylvania Marmot."

EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)

Common and widespread in broadleaf forest.

RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Just a couple of sightings of this conifer-dwelling species.

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

Seen swimming and diving at The Muck.

MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)

Seen at The Muck.

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We spotted a Porcupine snoozing in a roadside tree near State College. Photo by group member Holly Kleindienst.


We found a sleepy porcupine up in a tree in the second growth forest at Scotia Barrens.

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)

Common in PA's woodlands and fields.

Totals for the tour: 142 bird taxa and 9 mammal taxa