A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Pennsylvania's Warblers & More: from Cerulean Warbler to Henslow's Sparrow 2023

May 16-21, 2023 with Tom Johnson guiding

We enjoyed a bounty of breeding birds and migrants during this compact triangle road trip across Central Pennsylvania, my childhood home. From Harrisburg in the South, we birded the bottomlands of the Susquehanna River and the ridgetops and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains. Farther northwest around State College, we made repeat visits to the fantastic and songbird-rich sites of Scotia Barrens and Bear Meadows, with a westward extension to Punxsutawney to look for Henslow's Sparrows. At the northern extent of the tour around Wellsboro, we plied the marshlands of The Muck and surveyed the large forest tracts of the Pine Creek Gorge. Then it was back to Harrisburg for the chance to look for a few final birds before the end of the trip. We had a few unusually chilly mornings including sub-freezing temperatures in the "frost pocket" of the Scotia Barrens, but it didn't deter us from having a grand time.

Bird highlights included Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Black-billed Cuckoo, Alder Flycatcher, Golden-winged Warbler, Canada Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Henslow's and Grasshopper sparrows, among many others. On the mammal front, we were quite fortunate to see a Bobcat cross a trail in front of us near Wellsboro!

Thanks for joining me to bird around my old haunts in the Keystone State. I hope the annotated list and the photos bring back some great memories.

Good 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)

Family groups were conspicuous at lakes and rivers.

WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)

We saw females with tiny chicks at Bear Meadows and The Muck, and a handsome male at Wildwood Lake.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Small numbers at lakes and marshes.

HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)

We saw hens with chicks at The Muck and on the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg (where the species is uncommon in summer).

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

Two females were flying circuits far below us as we gazed out over the Pine Creek Gorge.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

One was along the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and we saw a few other roadside birds along the way, too.

RUFFED GROUSE (Bonasa umbellus)

A few of us could hear (feel, actually!) the drumming bird in the woods at Colton Point SP. No sightings of this sharply declining species.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)

Common in towns and cities.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Just about everywhere outside of mature forest.

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)

This cuckoo was seen at Scotia Barrens and heard a few other times at Bald Eagle SP and Stony Creek.

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)

Our first sighting was a close bird perched out low on a very cold morning at Scotia Barrens; the next day, we saw a warmer individual feeding on caterpillars during lunch at Bald Eagle SP.

Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

COMMON NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles minor)

Roughly six individuals bounded around the airspace over The Muck at dusk.

EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus vociferus)

We enjoyed close views of a singing male at dusk at the Scotia Barrens and heard a chorus of several others ringing out in the distance.

Apodidae (Swifts)

CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica)

The finest views were at Wildwood Lake where we saw several of these aerialists dipping down to drink water from the surface of the lake.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)

Wow! We heard a few calling and then watched one just walking in the open up the narrow boardwalk at The Muck.

SORA (Porzana carolina)

Heard three at The Muck.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

These familiar shorebirds were at Sandy Ridge and The Muck.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

AMERICAN WOODCOCK (Scolopax minor)

One brief flyby at dusk at the Scotia Barrens.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

One was at Bald Eagle SP.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Just a couple - one was at Cold Stream Dam and another flew over us at The Muck.

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

Two were at Wildwood Lake in Harrisburg.

GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)

Heard at Colyer Lake; seen at Bald Eagle SP.

YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)

On our penultimate day, we visited a small colony in Harrisburg with two active nests and a lounging first summer bird. The big, sturdy trees and close proximity to the Susquehanna River make this a good place for the locally rare species to nest.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

About eight were up and soaring over Prescot Road on our first morning, and we saw a few others while driving in the Harrisburg area.

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Common across most of our tour route.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

A few peeked out of nests along the Susquehanna River, and we saw a few more at Bald Eagle SP, Lake Nessmuk, and Wildwood Lake.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

One flew by and raised the ire of many songbirds near dusk at The Muck.

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Flybys at Stony Creek and The Muck.

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus)

We heard the loud wailing calls from this Buteo at Colton Point SP.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)

Several sightings of soaring birds plus a roadside adult that had just caught a small mammal along our drive from State College to Sandy Ridge.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Numerous sightings of this widespread raptor.

Strigidae (Owls)

BARRED OWL (Strix varia)

We heard two calling from a stream valley near the Pine Creek Gorge.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

One flew over calling at The Muck.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


Super views of a territorial pair near the bathrooms at Colton Point SP.

RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus)

Commonly heard and seen most days.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

A few sightings at Scotia Barrens, Pine Creek Rail Trail, and Stony Creek.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

Perhaps even more common than Downy in mature hardwood forest in much of Pennsylvania; we saw them at Prescot Road, Scotia Barrens, Bear Meadows, and Pine Creek Gorge.

PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus)

We heard their far-carrying cries daily, but it took until our final morning to get a really great view of these big woodpeckers at Detweiler Park near Clarks Creek.

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

Several sightings, primarily of yellowish blurs in flyby mode.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

A northbound flyover at Sandy Ridge was either a late migrant or perhaps a local breeder (the species just started nesting in PA in the last 20 years and has established a toehold across the northern tier).

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

We were able to get a few looks at an adult in transit to the nest in Harrisburg from our vantage behind the Appalachian Brewing Company.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens)

Our best view was early in the trip at Prescot Road along the Susquehanna, but we continued to hear their plaintive songs in many woodlands across the state.

ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens)

On our final morning together, we tracked down this forest Empidonax in the Stony Creek Valley after hearing its "pizZA!" song.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

A singing bird posed for us and sang "FreeBeer!" along the Pine Creek Rail Trail near Wellsboro.

WILLOW FLYCATCHER (Empidonax traillii)

Our top views were at the Frog Pond at Bald Eagle SP, though we heard others singing and calling at The Muck, too.

LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)

After seeing the Alder Flycatcher, we were able to compare our recent memory to this small, eyeringed flycatcher as it sang "chebek" from the midstory of the forest edge near Wellsboro.

EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)

A common flycatcher in PA, especially near bridges and buildings where they nest.


We heard these loud flycatchers squawking on several occasions in the forest.

EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus)

It was interesting to follow the bird at Stony Creek to its small nest up high on the tall transmission tower.

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus)

Good views of this southern songbird along the trail at Hahn Road in Stony Creek Valley.

YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons)

We heard and saw these bold, loud vireos ("3-8!") in the forest canopy along the Appalachian Trail on Peters Mountain.

BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)

Quite common in mixed northern forests with a hemlock element, with repeated nice views at Bear Meadows and Pine Creek Gorge.

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

A few views of these plain-faced vireos at Millerstown, Lake Nessmuk, and the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)

Downright abundant; one of PA's most common forest songbirds in summer. "Where are you? Here I am!"

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)

Small numbers were in stealth breeding mode as is common in May.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Seen throughout our tour route.

FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus)

Ours were along the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers, and we identified them primarily by their nasal calls.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Regular sightings of flybys in the northern reaches of the state.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis)

A few were at Prescot Road and in the Stony Creek Valley in the southern stretch of our route.

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

Leaving the Harrisburg area, we jumped through the "hybrid zone" and spent most of our birding time in the range of Black-capped Chickadee across the northern parts of PA.

TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor)

A few of these noisy songbirds appeared at Bear Meadows and Pine Creek Gorge, but they were mostly quiet during our visit.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

We practiced picking out these brown, loping swallows near water at places like Falmouth, Colyer Lake, The Muck, and Wildwood Lake.

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

Common across most of our route.

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

At least three sizzled and circled overhead at The Muck.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Very common, especially in openings in the forest and agricultural fields.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

We enjoyed close views of nesting birds in that pavilion at Lake Nessmuk.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

One was very active in dense spruces at Colton Point SP.

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)

These stout tree-creepers were at Scotia Barens and Colton Point SP.

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

We saw these tail-flippers dancing around along the Susquehanna River, at Bear Meadows, Scotia Barrens, and Bald Eagle SP.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

A few singing birds chattered loudly at Prescot Road and Scotia Barrens, but the bird at Detweiler Park showed off best.

MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)

Scarce breeders in Pennsylvania, these vociferous wrens are locally common at The Muck where we saw ours. It was interesting to check out some woven "dummy nests" in the cattails along the boardwalk.

CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

These loud but stealthy wrens were common by voice, and we even saw a few at places like Prescot Road and Clarks Creek.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)

Common in more open habitats we visited.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis)

These slim mimids are very common in spring and summer across Pennsylvania. Though they are charming, lovely songbirds, I do sometimes yearn for a "catbird mute button" so that I could hear other birds singing out beyond a close, noisy catbird!

BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum)

Seen and heard repeatedly at Scotia Barrens, Sandy Ridge, and Clarks Creek.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)

These fine, cavity-nesting thrushes were busy with their breeding season at Colyer Lake, Scotia Barrens, and Detweiler Park.

VEERY (Catharus fuscescens)

Singing birds were at Bear Meadows and in the Pine Creek Gorge. We even saw this cinnamon-colored understory thrush a few times.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

One of these stealthy migrants suddenly appeared high in the canopy at Scotia Barrens with a mobbing flock of songbirds.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

Heard singing its wonderful, flute-like melody at the Pine Creek Gorge.

WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina)

These spot-breasted thrushes were belting out their amazing songs at many woodland sites, but they were tricky to see. We eventually caught up to one that popped out onto the road at Stony Creek.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Just about everywhere in Pennsylvania.

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Just a few sightings of small groups of these handsome songbirds - at Prescot Road, Bald Eagle SP, and Clarks Creek. The Clarks Creek birds sat low in a small bare tree and let us admire them from about 20 feet away!

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

We didn't spend much time in House Sparrow habitat, so we mostly saw these outside Sheetz gas stations.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Just a few sightings of these widespread finches.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

One of these streaky finches flew over calling at Scotia Barrens.


Common and widespread.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)

We caught up to a singing bird for some nice views at Sandy Ridge just after walking away from a stealthy Henslow's Sparrow.

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

These trillers were particularly common at the Scotia Barrens, but we found them widely on the tour.

FIELD SPARROW (Spizella pusilla)

The slim sparrow with the sweet, bouncing song. The second growth habitat at Scotia Barrens hosts a dense pocket of this species.

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

A few of these northern and montane breeders were near Bear Meadows and along the rim of the Pine Creek Gorge.

HENSLOW'S SPARROW (Centronyx henslowii)

This one gave us a challenge, but we were patient and eventually had some close views of this olive-headed, rust-backed beauty at Sandy Ridge.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

Common and widespread, particularly near water.

SWAMP SPARROW (Melospiza georgiana)

These rust-capped, gray-bodied sparrows were trilling and sitting up at Bear Meadows and The Muck.

EASTERN TOWHEE (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

Fairly common along the route, with the best views at Scotia Barrens where they are downright abundant.

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)


One was heard singing at the Scotia Barrens.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

BOBOLINK (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

We caught up with about six flight-displaying males over a hay meadow outside Punxsutawney.

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

At the same meadow that hosted the Bobolinks, we enjoyed the sight and sound of two meadowlarks.

ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius)

A young male sang and chattered near the picnic area at Bald Eagle SP.

BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula)

A pair was visiting a hanging nest in the tall sycamores along the Juniata River at our Millerstown picnic spot.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Common in marshes and fields.


Regular sightings in small numbers, often perched up in treetops or flying over.

COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula)

Quite common in several habitats. Most impressive were the 80+ that came in to roost at The Muck during our evening visit.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla)

The chanting "teacher, teacher, teacher..." song greeted us at most of our forested stops, and we had some nice looks along the way too. One that perched out over the road at Bear Meadows comes to mind.

WORM-EATING WARBLER (Helmitheros vermivorum)

A couple of birds offered brief glimpses at Peters Mountain and Bear Meadows.

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla)

In beautiful, hemlock-lined valleys at Bear Meadows and Clarks Creek, we quietly followed these eyebrowed songsters. This was one of the warblers that got me really hooked on birding when I was just getting started.

GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora chrysoptera)

We heard the rapid buzzy songs and then tracked down two singing males and a female in the open mixed forest of the Scotia Barrens. These lovely little warblers have declined dramatically in the southeastern portion of their range, but they're still hanging on in a few pockets in the Keystone State.

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER (Vermivora cyanoptera)

A male perched up and sang his buzzy song along the utility line cut in Stony Creek Valley.


These lovely "zebra creepers" were most common at Bear Meadows and the Pine Creek Gorge.

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea)

A few males sang their piercing calls along the canal trail through the bottomland forest along the Susquehanna River on our first morning. We also watched a female as she foraged for small insect larvae.

TENNESSEE WARBLER (Leiothlypis peregrina)

Though they stayed up high in the canopy, these migrant warblers sang their rapid, rattly songs and joined mixed flocks at Scotia Barrens and Bear Meadows.

NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

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

MOURNING WARBLER (Geothlypis philadelphia)

An immature male and then an adult male sang "cheery cheery cheery cheery-o" from forest gaps west of the Pine Creek Gorge. These warblers are difficult to see during migration but tend to take open song perches on their summer territories, making views a bit easier!

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

Quite common in marsh and edge habitat.

HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina)

Heard widely in broadleaf forest along our route. We caught up to a few striking males for views at Pine Creek and Stony Creek.

AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)

These lobe-tailed, droopy-winged warblers sang and fed in many forest and edge habitats in the northern part of the state. Highest numbers were at Bear Meadows and Pine Creek Gorge.

CAPE MAY WARBLER (Setophaga tigrina)

A singing bird was heard in the high canopy at Bear Meadows.

CERULEAN WARBLER (Setophaga cerulea)

Two singing males belted out their buzzy cadence from the canopy on the top of Peters Mountain; one dropped low enough for us to enjoy its blue-and-white plumage.

NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)

Mostly heard, but we did see a few individuals in mixed flocks at Scotia Barrens and the Pine Creek Gorge.

MAGNOLIA WARBLER (Setophaga magnolia)

Our finest look came at Bear Meadows, but we heard several others at the Pine Creek Gorge.

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER (Setophaga castanea)

Migrants were still flowing through the state, and we encountered up to 5 of these beautiful warblers in a mixed flock at Scotia Barrens.


These gorgeous, orange-throated sprites were particularly abundant in mixed flocks at Bear Meadows and the Pine Creek Gorge.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

These widespread warblers were especially common at the edges of marshes at places like Lake Nessmuk, the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and The Muck.

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica)

One of the most conspicuous songbirds we encountered at the Scotia Barrens and the Pine Creek Gorge, and the only warbler to bear the name of the state in its Linnaean species name (pensylvanica).

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

Migrants sang their high, staccato songs from the forest canopy at many stops.

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (Setophaga caerulescens cairnsi)

We heard several singing from the understory and midstory at Bear Meadows before catching up to a few for clean views at the Pine Creek Gorge. One male in particular posed in the open near a lookout over the gorge.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)

We saw three mixed with other warblers in the forest at Bear Meadows. These were likely tardy migrants as opposed to local breeders, though the species does breed across the northern portion of the state.

PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)

The male at Hahn Road in the Stony Creek Valley pumped its tail and sang its thin, buzzy staircase song at close range.


These spunky warblers put in nice appearances at Bear Meadows and Colton Point SP.

CANADA WARBLER (Cardellina canadensis)

Wow! These little gems were right at the edge of the Pine Creek Gorge and gave us some incredible moments of nice views. When you listen to the song a bit, what initially sounds like a nonsensical jumble takes shape as a highly structured, rapid melody.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea)

Numerous sightings (and hearings) from broadleaf forests across the state.

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Quite common, especially in thickets and edge habitats.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

The nicest looks came at Bear Meadows, Scotia Barrens, and Pine Creek Gorge.

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)

Common in most edge habitats. Places like Hahn Road in the Stony Creek Valley hosted high densities of gorgeous, singing males.


EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)

The common bunny that we saw throughout the journey.


Seen on most days of the tour.

WOODCHUCK (Marmota monax)

A few roadside sightings of "Phil" along the way. The marmot of the East.

EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)

The common large squirrel, especially common in broadleaf forests.

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

The larger aquatic mammal we saw at The Muck.

MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)

This was the smaller, rope-tailed mammal we saw swimming shortly after the beaver sighting at The Muck.


Marsha saw one while the rest of us were otherwise occupied with something else—perhaps a bird!

BOBCAT (Lynx rufus)

Amazing! One walked out on the Pine Creek Rail Trail near Wellsboro. We scarcely had time to recognize the animal as a bobcat before it calmly walked off into the shrubs.

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)

Seen almost every day; quite common across PA's woodlands.

Totals for the tour: 133 bird taxa and 9 mammal taxa