A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Pennsylvania's Warblers & More: from Cerulean Warbler to Henslow's Sparrow 2022

May 17-22, 2022 with Tom Johnson guiding

We had a great time covering a big triangle across Central Pennsylvania on this short and sweet spring tour. We were focused on songbirds but had plenty of additional distractions along the way. Starting off around Harrisburg, we visited the bottomland hardwood forest along the lower Susquehanna River and found Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Carolina Chickadee, and more. As we moved north, we entered the Ridge-and-valley ripples of the Appalachian Mountains and paused to enjoy a Cerulean Warbler atop Peters Mountain. Nearing State College, we scanned a flock of swallows at Colyer Lake and discovered a rare Barn x Cliff Swallow hybrid (a lifer hybrid for me). Around State College, we visited the Scotia Barrens multiple times to soak up specialties like a "Brewster's" Warbler hybrid, Yellow-breasted Chat, Mourning Warbler, Eastern Whip-poor-will, American Woodcock, and more. A westward extension to our triangular route took us out toward Punxsutawney, and we found Henslow's Sparrows, Upland Sandpiper, Bobolinks, and other grassland birds there on a windy day. Bald Eagle State Park and Bear Meadows helped build our songbird list with Golden-winged Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Winter Wren, and more before we started the drive to Pennsylvania's northern tier. Heading almost all the way to the New York border, we stayed in Mansfield and birded The Muck and the Pine Creek Gorge. On a foggy but magical morning at the Gorge (also called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania), we found Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Bay-breasted Warblers, Philadelphia Vireo, Blackburnian Warblers, Hermit Thrush, and Canada Warbler among mixed flocks of migrants and breeders. Back around Harrisburg, we checked in with a nesting colony of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, watched nesting Peregrine Falcons, and visited the ridgetops north of the city to see Cerulean Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler once more.

Along the way we saw a nice cross-section of Pennsylvania landscapes and enjoyed delicious food and beverage at some fun restaurants along the way (PA has some really great food if you know where to look). Thanks for joining me in the state where I grew up birding!


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)

Common along waterways, with our max count coming from the open areas of The Muck.

WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)

Seen repeatedly, with good views from The Muck and Wildwood Lake.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Common at rivers and lakes.

HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)

One was investigating nesting cavities in big sycamores along the Susquehanna River at Prescot Road; others were at The Muck.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

Six were in a flock at the edge of the woods at Sandy Ridge.

RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]

One strutted and displayed next to the road at Sandy Ridge.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Seen around towns and cities on a few occasions.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Common and widespread.

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)

We saw these odd landbirds nicely on several occasions including at Prescot Road, the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and Peters Mountain.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)

This scarce migrant and breeder showed very well at Bald Eagle State Park and especially at the Pine Creek Rail Trail. We also heard the species singing and calling at other stops along the way.

Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

COMMON NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles minor)

One was distant over Scotia Barrens at dusk; later, we saw five bounding around overhead at The Muck.

EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus vociferus)

Quite an evening chorus at Scotia Barrens! We heard and saw at least 8 birds including a male that sat on a gate for a while and a female that remained in the road in front of us for several minutes.

Apodidae (Swifts)

CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)

The best views were at Wildwood Lake and overhead at the night-heron colony in Harrisburg.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)

Just a few sightings at Pine Creek Gorge and Stony Valley.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)

Brief views and lots of calling from two at The Muck on a rainy evening.

SORA (Porzana carolina) [*]

We heard one calling at The Muck.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

One was in a field next to the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

UPLAND SANDPIPER (Bartramia longicauda)

While looking for Henslow's Sparrows, we heard and saw one of these rare shorebirds in flight on two occasions.

AMERICAN WOODCOCK (Scolopax minor)

Extended views and sounds of displaying birds overhead at the Scotia Barrens. These timberdoodles combined with the whip-poor-will chorus to create a rather memorable evening.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

One was flying around the main pool at The Muck.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

We saw these lanky shorebirds at Colyer Lake and Sandy Ridge.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

These were at Bald Eagle SP and also flying around overhead at the Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Singles along the Juniata River and at Lake Nessmuk.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

AMERICAN BITTERN (Botaurus lentiginosus) [*]

We heard one thunder-pumping from the marsh at The Muck.

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

A few singles, and then we caught a roost flight of six over The Muck in Tioga County.

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

These tall waders were along the Susquehanna River and also at Wildwood Lake.

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

Seen at Colyer Lake and The Muck.

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)

We saw three birds and two occupied nests in trees hanging over a residential street in the city of Harrisburg.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

We saw these southern vultures on at least three occasions along the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers.

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Common; seen at many locations throughout the trip.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Repeated views, including pairs at Prescot Road (nesting) and Lake Nessmuk.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Two were at Colyer Lake; another was flying around over Wildwood Lake.

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)

We saw these Buteo hawks on multiple occasions at Stony Creek and the Pine Creek Gorge.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)

We saw these small, soaring hawks a few times at Stony Creek, Colyer Lake, and the Pine Creek Gorge.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Common; seen frequently during our drives around the state.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

One was rattling and flying around The Muck.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


Our first was at Lake Nessmuk; later, we saw two very cooperative birds at the Pine Creek Gorge.

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)

Especially common in the southern reaches of our travels.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

Seen at Stony Creek, along the Juniata River, and at Colyer Lake.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

Encountered frequently in broadleaf forests.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

Wow - we had lots of sightings of these large, striking woodpeckers.

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

These beautiful woodpeckers were at the Scotia Barrens and the Pine Creek Gorge.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

One was flying around at the Millerstown park where we had lunch along the Juniata River.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

We saw two juveniles through the scope at the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens)

These vocal flycatchers were conspicuous at many woodland locales.

ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens)

We heard and saw these southerly breeding Empidonax flycatchers at Stony Creek, Bear Meadows, and the Pine Creek Gorge.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

We heard and saw these northern Empidonax flycatchers at several locations, with our best views coming at the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

WILLOW FLYCATCHER (Empidonax traillii)

We heard this widespread flycatcher several times before we saw them on our final morning of birding at Clarks Creek.

LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)

Nice views from the secondary forest at Scotia Barrens.

EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)

These familiar tail-bobbing flycatchers were at many locations, especially sites with bridges over water.


These Myiarchus flycatchers were heard and seen at Prescot Road and Stony Creek.

EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus)

Particularly nice views at Stony Creek, Colyer Lake, and along the Juniata River at Millerstown.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons)

Nice views close overhead in the Stony Creek Valley.

BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)

This northern species was quite common in the forest dotted with hemlocks at the Pine Creek Gorge.

PHILADELPHIA VIREO (Vireo philadelphicus)

Two of these scarce migrants were with mixed flocks in the huge oak trees above Pine Creek Gorge at Colton Point SP. We enjoyed their bright yellow throats and documented them with photos.

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Our most impressive sighting was the bird singing while sitting on its nest along the Pine Creek Rail Trail (a peculiar behavior that vireos seem to be fond of!). Check out the clip in the highlight video above.

RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)

Heard and seen at almost every wooded stop along our route. One of Pennsylvania's most common breeding songbirds.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)

Commonly seen at many sites.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

The most common crow we encountered.

FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)

About five of these crows with the nasal calls were at the Millerstown park along the Juniata River.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Repeated sightings including close overhead in the forest at Colton Point SP.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)

These southern chickadees were at Prescot Road and also north of Harrisburg.

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

In the central and northern parts of the state, this was the chickadee we found. Black-capped and Carolina chickadees come into contact at the southern edge of the Appalachians just north of Harrisburg.

TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)

Heard and seen commonly in forests.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

Our best views were at Colyer Lake and Wildwood Lake.

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

One of the most common swallows we encountered, particularly at Colyer Lake and The Muck.

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

Four were with the big mixed swallow flock at Colyer Lake.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Common and widespread - dozens were at Colyer Lake, Lake Nessmuk, and The Muck. Particularly noteworthy was the Barn x Cliff Swallow hybrid we watched circling over the water at Colyer Lake.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

About ten were at a nesting site under a pavilion roof at Lake Nessmuk. A rare Barn x Cliff Swallow hybrid at Colyer Lake looked sort of like a Barn Swallow with a pale rump.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)

Just a few sightings of this common woodland species - they can be quiet during May when nesting.

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

Common in the more southerly riverine forests that we birded at the beginning and end of the trip.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

These chatty wrens were singing at the Scotia Barrens and at Clarks Creek.

WINTER WREN (Troglodytes hiemalis)

The singing bird along the stream below Bear Meadows was absolutely spectacular; he climbed up onto an open perch and belted his heart out at close range.

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

Three friendly wrens chattered and climbed around in the cattails at the boardwalk at The Muck.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

These loud wrens were fairly common in the Harrisburg area at the southern end of our route.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Common in open areas around people.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)

Common and conspicuously loud at this season.

BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)

These big mimids were at Stony Creek, along the Juniata River, at Scotia Barrens, and at Sandy Ridge.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

These were seen around our hotel in Harrisburg on a few occasions, but were absent for most of our birding route.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)

A few nice looks at these lovely thrushes at Stony Creek, the Scotia Barrens, and Bald Eagle SP.

VEERY (Catharus fuscescens)

We found two at Colton Point SP at Pine Creek Gorge.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

One popped up briefly in the forest at Colton Point SP.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

We saw at least 4 in the forest at Pine Creek Gorge.

WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)

Common in woodlands around Harrisburg and State College, where their beautiful voices rang out splendidly.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Very common and widespread.

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)

We saw flocks at many locations, especially along rivers and lakes.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Seen in towns and cities.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) [I]

Small numbers, especially around towns and as flyovers.


These handsome finches were seen at most locations we birded throughout the trip.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)

A few were singing from exposed perches along Sandy Ridge.

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

A common trilling voice at many stops. We saw these common sparrows on several occasions, too, especially at the Scotia Barrens.

FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla)

These pink-billed sparrows were singing on territory at several locations including Hahn Road, Sandy Ridge, and the Scotia Barrens.

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

These northern forest sparrows were at Bear Meadows and along the Pine Creek Gorge.

HENSLOW'S SPARROW (Centronyx henslowii)

We found up to 4 individuals singing in the shrubby grasslands at Sandy Ridge near Punxsutawney. This scarce midwestern sparrow is primarily found on reclaimed strip [coal] mines in Pennsylvania.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

Common at many sites we visited, especially shrubby areas near water.

SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)

Our top sightings were at Bear Meadows and The Muck.

EASTERN TOWHEE (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

We saw these flashy sparrows at many locations, with particularly good views at Scotia Barrens and Peters Mountain.

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)


These odd songbirds were singing away loudly and flight-displaying at the Scotia Barrens and along Clarks Creek. Though it was formerly grouped with the wood-warblers, this species was recently placed into its own monotypic family Icteriidae.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

We saw and heard several striking males flight-displaying over a hay meadow near Punxsutawney.

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

A few were in the grasslands at Sandy Ridge.

ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius)

We heard one singing at Prescot Road along the Susquehanna River.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)

Repeated sightings at many spots (Prescot Road, the Juniata River, Scotia Barrens, and the Pine Creek Rail Trail, among others).

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Common in open habitats including wetlands.


A few sightings at Prescot Road, Stony Creek, and the Scotia Barrens.

COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)

These lawn-walkers were common and widespread.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)

Loud and common in mature forests. We tallied over 20 of these surprised-looking warblers at Colton Point SP alone!

WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum)

Multiple birds on both of our visits to Peters Mountain. We even got to see one "dead-leafing," the common method of foraging employed by this species.

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla)

These elegant streamside warblers showed very nicely at Bear Meadows and Clarks Creek.

GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora chrysoptera)

We enjoyed a mighty fine singing male in shrubby forest at Bald Eagle SP near State College. This species has been declining across the southeastern portion of its breeding range, but we are still able to find them in certain spots in central Pennsylvania.

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera)

We tracked down singing males at Stony Creek and also at Bald Eagle SP. We also found "Brewster's"-phenotype hybrids (Golden-winged x Blue-winged) at Scotia Barrens and Bald Eagle SP.


The zebra creeper! Common in forested habitat, especially in the northern portions of the state. Great views at the Pine Creek Gorge.

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea)

Two were in the swampy bottomland forests along the Susquehanna River at Prescot Road.

MOURNING WARBLER (Geothlypis philadelphia)

A singing male showed for us in shrubby habitat at the Scotia Barrens, where this species is a migrant.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

Common; heard and seen at many shrubby meadow locations.

HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina)

This lovely, striking warbler was a fixture at many forested locations including Stony Creek, Scotia Barrens, and the Pine Creek Gorge, where we had our best views.

AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)

These tail-flashers were particularly common at Stony Creek, Bear Meadows, and the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

CERULEAN WARBLER (Setophaga cerulea)

On our first visit to Peters Mountain, we encountered a female collecting nesting material near the ground! I usually encounter one female for every ten males I see in PA, so this was a real treat. On our return visit at the end of the trip we found a handsome, singing male a few hundred meters away.

MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Setophaga magnolia)

Several sightings of this boreal species, with fantastic views at Bear Meadows and the Pine Creek Gorge.

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER (Setophaga castanea)

Four drab-plumaged females were in a single migrant flock in the tall oaks at Colton Point SP/ Pine Creek Gorge. Real neck-breakers!


This exquisite songbird was very common at the Pine Creek Gorge - what a privilege to see these black, orange, and white stunners up close and personal!

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

Common in shrubby edge habitats across the state.

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica)

The warbler named for Pennsylvania (the scientific name)! They were wall-to-wall in the secondary growth at Scotia Barrens and Bear Meadows.

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

We encountered singing migrants at Prescot Road and along the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens cairnsi)

Most common in forest with an understory of mountain laurel or rhododendron; we saw most of ours at Bear Meadows and along the Pine Creek Gorge.

PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus)

After hearing them singing at several stops, we eventually had a fantastic sighting of two birds in the mixed flocks at the edge of the Pine Creek Gorge.

PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)

The singing male at Hahn Road/ Stony Creek sang and approached us so closely! One of our first warbler sightings of the tour, and a truly spectacular one at that.


These canopy warblers with the high, buzzy songs were common at Bear Meadows and the Pine Creek Gorge.

CANADA WARBLER (Cardellina canadensis)

Two of these necklaced beauties were singing along the edge of the rim at the Pine Creek Gorge.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)

Pennsylvania makes up an important percentage of the breeding range of this neotropical migrant stunner. We saw them on multiple occasions from Scotia Barrens to Bear Meadows and the Pine Creek Gorge.

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Common in forest and shrubby habitats, too.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

The males atop Peters Mountain on our final morning of birding sang and fed in the open for a superb experience.

BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea) [*]

Though we heard it singing multiple times around Hahn Road at Stony Creek, we never laid eyes on this locally scarce grassland bird.

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)

Common in meadows and at the edge of forests across the state; one of PA's most common breeding songbirds.

Totals for the tour: 133 bird taxa and 0 mammal taxa