We set out on this short loop through Penn's Woods to enjoy a diversity of songbirds, and ended up with a bounty of those and some fun bonuses along the way. Our journey took us from the Lower Susquehanna River Valley, across the Ridge-and-Valley region, into the rolling hills of the Allegheny Plateau, and even to the edge of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Songbird action was impressive during the beginning of the breeding season for PA's multitude of neotropical migrant species, with warbler highlights like Mourning, Prothonotary, Golden-winged, Kentucky, Cerulean, Canada, and more... AND we found other excellent landbirds like Black-billed Cuckoo, Henslow's Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Screech-Owl, and Eastern Whip-poor-will, too. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tour came during our last full day when we drove through a chilling rain in Tioga County and stumbled into a roadside flock of hundreds of migrant shorebirds grounded by the storm. Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, Sanderlings, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitchers wheeled around and rested in a stubble field surrounded by mature forest, miles from any significant body of water! This was likely a flock that had taken off in clear conditions the previous evening from Delaware Bay and flew north into the night, eventually encountering heavy rain over northern Pennsylvania. The only solution for these embattled travelers was to drop down and land in whatever open habitat they could find, and we felt fortunate to intersect with them in the middle of their long flight north. Just amazing, and a fun capper to a great tour of Pennsylvania in spring.
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
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
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
Good views of these fancy tree-nesters at Wildwood Lake near Harrisburg.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)
One was with Common Mergansers on Stony Creek on our final morning near Harrisburg.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
We saw these big diving ducks on streams and rivers on a couple of occasions, including near Harrisburg where they are scarce in May.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
A female was sleeping at Colyer Lake near State College.
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)
A few sightings of these magnificent strutters.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
Common near towns.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Common; seen daily.
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)
On our final morning, we ran into a responsive individual along Clarks Creek near Harrisburg.
BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)
The one we found calling at Colyer Lake posed nicely for scope views. We also heard these uncommon cuckoos on a few other occasions.
EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus vociferus)
The chorus at Scotia Barrens was pretty impressive, especially when combined with the flashlight-lit appearance of a territorial male along the road. Wow!
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)
Good numbers seen, especially over Punxsutawney and at Wildwood Lake in Harrisburg. These long distance migrants winter in Amazonia!
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)
A few sightings, including a close male at Scotia Barrens.
VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)
During a rainy evening at The Muck, a few of us glimpsed a sneaky individual that was hiding near the short boardwalk.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. Over 300 of these stocky plovers made up the bulk of the remarkable shorebird flock.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. We also saw one at Wildwood Lake on our first day.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Just a couple of individuals seen this week.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. After we stopped to check out the wheeling flocks of smaller shorebirds, a single Whimbrel came winging in from the southwest and landed in the stubble field with the other shorebirds.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. A handful of these calico beauties were mixed in with the plovers and sandpipers.
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. Rarely detected on the ground in PA in spring, at least 5 of these salmon-colored beauties hid among the masses.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. Mixed in with the large flock of shorebirds.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. In breeding plumage, they sport black bellies and rusty backs.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
At Wildwood Lake and the mostly empty ponds at the Scotia Barrens.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. Some of the smallest birds in the large mixed flock.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
*Part of the shorebird fallout near the airport in Tioga County. A few were present in the large flock.
AMERICAN WOODCOCK (Scolopax minor)
At dusk, we heard and followed the "peent" songs and twittering display flights of these amazing sandpipers at the Scotia Barrens near State College.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
Teetering along at Bald Eagle SP.
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
One was a bit of a surprise at Colyer Lake.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
A few sightings along the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg (where they nest) and also at Bald Eagle SP.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
Several sightings on our first morning along the lower Susquehanna River.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
A few were fishing along the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg.
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
Seen on our first morning at Wildwood Lake.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea) [*]
Nesting at the wonderful urban colony over the streets of Harrisburg, PA's state capital.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
Regular sightings, including a surprising individual that flew in and landed along the western rim of the Pine Creek Gorge at Colton Point SP.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Common and widespread.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus) [N]
Nesting at Prescot Road along the lower Susquehanna River.
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
A few sightings of this forest hawk which has become more common in recent decades once they began nesting in towns and cities.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Seen almost every day, including at the appropriately named Bald Eagle State Park.
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)
Seen soaring at Stony Creek on our final morning.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)
Warm weather on our grasslands expedition created good soaring weather, and we found 5+ over the strip mines of Clearfield County.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Common along roadsides throughout the state.
EASTERN SCREECH-OWL (Megascops asio)
One showed up like a champ for some good views just a few miles away from the house where I grew up.
YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus varius)
Seen in damp conditions as we explored the Pine Creek Gorge.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)
A few sightings of this common, striking woodpecker, which has expanded its range to the north over the last 50 years.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens) [*]
Heard on our first morning near Harrisburg.
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
A few sightings in mature woodlands.
PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)
The one we found at the bridge over Clarks Creek gave us an exciting show on our final morning.
NORTHERN FLICKER (YELLOW-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus auratus)
Several nice sightings of this eastern subspecies.
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
Only a couple of these small falcons (which have declined dramatically as a breeding species in PA).
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Nesting on the Rachel Carson Building in downtown Harrisburg (and visible from the Appalachian Brewing Company where we enjoyed food and brews).
EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens)
We only heard this species during the first tour (the week before this one), but these migrants clearly filled in and we found these slim, long-winged flycatchers almost every day.
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens)
Good views of these birds in the hemlock understory of the grand forest of the Stony Creek Valley.
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)
We found one singing at Bear Meadows and later heard a migrant in the Stony Creek Valley.
WILLOW FLYCATCHER (Empidonax traillii)
A few individuals interacted along the edge of the Frog Pond at Bald Eagle SP.
LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)
A couple of individuals in the wet thicket near the bridge at Bear Meadows. It was a lovely experience to hear their "che-bek" songs in the midst of a chorus that included Northern Waterthrush, Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Swamp Sparrow.
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
Seen almost every day; nesting under bridges and on structures in the forested parks we visited (composting toilets always seem to have a nesting pair of phoebes!).
GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus) [*]
Heard on our final morning at Clarks Creek.
EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus)
Fairly common in open and shrubby habitats throughout the route.
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
Heard singing at Stony Creek Valley, and later seen well in the misty forest of the Pine Creek Gorge.
WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)
They stayed up high, but we found a few individuals above the picnic tables along the Juniata River in Millerstown.
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)
An extremely common voice in PA's forests ("Where are you? Here I am!" ad infinitum); we heard and saw them every day.
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
Commonly encountered throughout the trip.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Seen throughout our route.
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)
In PA, these pioneers are most common in the southeastern part of the state, though they have spread north and west along the state's major river valleys. We found them along the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
These big corvids appeared on several occasions in the northern stretches of our route.
CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)
These chickadees were in the Carolinian broadleaf forest along the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg.
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
We passed through the Carolina/ Black-capped hybrid zone north of Harrisburg, and then spent most of the tour within the range of Black-capped Chickadee (which we saw several times).
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)
A common voice and flock member in PA's woodlands.
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Nice views along the Lower Susquehanna River on our first morning.
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
Seen throughout the journey. Cool, rainy conditions concentrated them over water - we saw lots at Lake Nessmuk in Tioga County, for example.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Common; seen every day.
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) [N]
During a heavy rain, we checked Lake Nessmuk near Wellsboro. In order to get a decent view of the lake, we took refuge under a picnic pavilion that happened to host a small nesting colony of these long-distance migrants.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa)
We found this tiny sprite in the CCC-era Norway Spruces of Tioga County.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)
A few sightings in broadleaf forest in PA's northern tier.
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
Found by its wheezy calls on our first morning along the Lower Susquehanna River.
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon) [*]
Heard most days, though amazingly, we didn't manage to lay eyes on one.
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) [*]
The rain hampered our viewing possibilities at The Muck, but we still managed to hear these wrens chattering away.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Our best look was on our final morning north of Harrisburg.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common around farms, towns, and cities.
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)
Omnipresent in PA's forests and shrublands during the breeding season. The loud songs of these birds sometimes drown out the dawn chorus, making it tough to hear smaller, quieter songbirds!
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)
We saw these big, foxy thrashers a few times in the shrubby grasslands of Sandy Ridge and surrounding areas.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Found around the Harrisburg area on our first day.
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
We found these cavity-nesting thrushes a few times, including twice at the Scotia Barrens.
VEERY (Catharus fuscescens)
The thrush with the spiral song that we heard at Bear Meadows.
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
A few individuals were in the road at Colton Point SP.
WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)
Heard and seen several times in the woods of central and northern PA, including at Scotia Barrens and Bear Meadows.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
Common and widespread.
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)
A common feature of most of our birding stops; often in small flocks.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)
Mostly in city/ town habitats.
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
A few were perched up on the power substation in the Stony Creek Valley.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
Common; seen at most stops, with the largest numbers at the Scotia Barrens.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)
We found half a dozen at Sandy Ridge where we were able to compare them with Henslow's Sparrows.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
A common triller of edge habitats across PA.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida)
This singing bird on a regenerating strip mine in Clearfield County was a nice surprise. This midwestern species is a rare breeder in PA, so getting to hear the buzzy song and see the well-marked face of this sparrow was a treat (and a first for the tour).
FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla)
Fairly common in shrubby grasslands, especially at our stops in Clearfield County.
DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis carolinensis)
Our only sightings were in the north woods at the Pine Creek Gorge/ Colton Point SP.
HENSLOW'S SPARROW (Centronyx henslowii)
This midwestern species is a highly localized breeder in PA, with most birds found on regenerating coal "strip" mines. We found four of these handsome, big-headed sparrows proclaiming their simple, sibilant songs from the Sandy Ridge grasslands.
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
Seen or heard at many locations.
SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)
We found several of these rust-capped beauties at Bear Meadows and the Muck.
EASTERN TOWHEE (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Fairly common at Scotia Barrens.
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (Icteria virens)
Well-represented on this tour - we found two different individuals singing on adjoining territories at Scotia Barrens, and also found them in Stony Valley and Clarks Valley.
BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
A few individuals gurgled and fluttered over a hayfield east of Punxsutawney.
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)
We found several in the grasslands at Sandy Ridge.
ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius)
One chattered in the treetops near the Frog Pond at Bald Eagle SP.
BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)
Seen and heard at several locations including Wildwood Lake, Millerstown Community Park, and Bald Eagle SP.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Common in grassland and wetland habitats.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
Seen widely as they courted and prospected for other birds' nests.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)
These big blackbirds with the keeled tails were seen at many scattered locations.
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)
This thrush-like warbler belts out a chanting song that resounds through a huge chunk of PA's forests. We had a few nice looks along the way.
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla)
Nice views of this migrant along the stream below Bear Meadows and also on our final morning at Clarks Creek. The loud, whistled cascade of a song easily rings out over the sound of rushing water.
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
Super views of the singing bird near the bridge at Bear Meadows—right up the road from the Louisiana Waterthrush, but in fairly different breeding habitats (Northern in a tangly swamp, Louisiana along a rushing stream).
GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora chrysoptera)
We found singing males at both Scotia Barrens and Bald Eagle SP - this species is declining near the eastern edge of its range here in Pennsylvania, and it's a big relief to find some still holding on. We also found a male hybrid of the "Brewster's" Warbler phenotype nearby at Scotia Barrens.
BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera)
A male sang "bee-bzz" in the powerline cut in the Stony Creek Valley on our final morning.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
Frequently heard, with good looks in the mixed flocks we found around the Pine Creek Gorge.
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea)
A few singing males were radiant in bottomland forest along the Susquehanna River on our first morning.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla) [*]
One sang from the forest at Bear Meadows.
MOURNING WARBLER (Geothlypis philadelphia)
After enjoying a male on territory near the Pine Creek Gorge, we found a migrant singing a truly bizarre song along Clarks Creek on our final morning.
KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa)
A male found on the first tour in Stony Creek Valley was still present on territory and offered us some nice views. This species has declined in PA in recent years.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
A very common warbler of field and edge habitats.
HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina)
Seen on a few occasions, including at least two males at Scotia Barrens. Heard frequently from broadleaf forests.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
A very common warbler in PA's forests, with plenty encountered at Scotia Barrens and the Pine Creek Gorge area.
CERULEAN WARBLER (Setophaga cerulea)
Yowza! We found a singing male above the Appalachian Trail on a ridgetop north of Harrisburg.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
Our first was along the lower Susquehanna River; later, we found a pair feeding near the parking lot at Clarks Creek.
BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (Setophaga fusca)
Top views were at Bear Meadows and at Colton Point SP; these are truly standout marvels of the bird world, even among the spectacular wood-warblers.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
A regular sight and sound in shrubby fields and edge habitats; good views at Sandy Ridge and Bald Eagle SP.
CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica)
"Pennsylvania" is right there in the Latin name, and sure enough, they are here! The second growth habitats at Scotia Barrens are primo for the species, and we saw plenty.
BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens cairnsi)
Buzzy-singing males and subtle females showed off at Bear Meadows and Colton Point SP.
PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)
Our best view of a singing male was along the road through a stretch of pines at Scotia Barrens.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)
One was at the spot with the Clay-colored Sparrow in Clearfield County; another was in Stony Creek Valley near Harrisburg. This tail-pumping warbler really likes shrubby, early successional habitats.
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (Setophaga virens)
The thin, buzzy song gives away the presence of this common north woods warbler. Especially good views at Bear Meadows.
CANADA WARBLER (Cardellina canadensis)
A female danced around in the thick understory at Bear Meadows; later, a sharply dressed male appeared in front of us at an overlook of the Pine Creek Gorge.
SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)
Snazzy red-and-black males appeared for us at Peters Mountain and Scotia Barrens, and we heard their raspy songs frequently throughout the forests we visited.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Common in many habitats.
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
One posed briefly at Scotia Barrens.
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)
A pleasingly common bird of edge and field habitats. The softly iridescent blue/ purple of the males is spectacular.
VIRGINIA OPOSSUM (Didelphis virginianus)
One crossed the road at Scotia Barrens.
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
The bunny we found repeatedly.
PLAIN EASTERN CHIPMUNK (Tamias striatus)
Just one or two crossing the roads, though we heard them chipping frequently from the woods.
WOODCHUCK (Marmota monax)
Several roadside sightings - often in agricultural fields and lawns. For bonus points, we also visited Gobbler's Knob (home of Groundhog Day) while in Punxsutawney.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
AKA Pennsylvania Nut Monkey. Seen every day.
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
The one we saw along a roadside near Lewisburg (while searching for larks) was a bit of a surprise near the northeastern edge of the range of this large, bushy-tailed squirrel.
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
Seen on most days. PA's population is quite robust!
Totals for the tour: 136 bird taxa and 7 mammal taxa