Two of the most unusual birds in the state are the two cuckoos, the Yellow-billed and the Black-billed cuckoos. Cuckoos are just really odd birds. They are stealthy and reptilian in their movements, yet graceful fliers and elegantly plumaged birds. This year may be a particularly crazy one for cuckoos with the increase in gypsy moth infestations. I’ve noticed hillsides of barren trees from gypsy moth caterpillar damage and the summer is still young.
Cuckoos really respond to these outbreaks because they feed on hairy caterpillars. We have also experienced how they respond to cicada outbreaks with the same resounding flurry of activity. They not only gobble up gypsy moth caterpillars but also tent caterpillars and fall webworms, avoided by most other birds. As such, they really provide an ecological service as well as an economical one. This might be a bad year for tree foliage but a great year to experience the crazy cuckoos.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission does not conduct statewide Osprey nest surveys every year, but always cares about Ospreys. This year is one of the “off years” so the agency is not doing a full-scale survey. However, this charismatic fish-eating raptor is a state Threatened species and nest information is always appreciated. Many of the currently known nests were submitted to the agency by the general public. Ospreys often nest in areas with many other species so eBird reports for Osprey nesting locations are always good to add. Many Ospreys are nesting at impoundments including Army Corps and state park dams, but also along rivers especially near people. There is an Osprey nest survey web page on the Game Commission website that has more information about this survey, including a link to the survey form. Please see:
There also is a comprehensive description of the species in the state in the agency’s Wildlife Section: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=621014&mode=2
Birders are invited to participate in the Second Annual Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Blitz (PAB3). What is the PA Breeding Bird Blitz? The PAB3 is a great time to get out during the peak of the breeding season. This event is a fun means of gathering data on an annual basis of the breeding bird population in Pennsylvania. This event is being organized by the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology with the approval of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. When is the PAB3? It runs from Friday June 19 through Monday June 22. This is a great excuse to go out and find interesting birds and records during the nesting season. Of course, there are great scientific and conservation reasons to do bird surveys during the breeding season, but it also can be a lot of fun. There are three ways to participate, listed below in the story. So, what’s in it for you? The chance to have a lot of birding fun in the summer and the ability to compete for birdy prizes. Follow the story or visit the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology website for more details.
Remember to DO THE BLITZ!
Reports of Loggerhead Shrikes in Pennsylvania are few and far between. That is why it is considered a state Endangered species. Is it gone from the state? Or is it a matter of birders and biologists not looking in the right places? There does seem to be a glimmer of home with recent nesting season activity reported in neighboring states along Pennsylvania’s southern border. These reports are encouraging and should entice birders to conduct searches of this peculiar songbird in spring and summer. Small populations persist in northern Virginia, primarily in the Blue Ridge, the Valley and Ridge provinces of the state and in the southeast. During West Virginia’s recent atlas efforts, 2009-2014, provisional reports show Loggerhead Shrike was confirmed in seven atlas blocks in southeastern and northeastern parts of the state. This is a relatively short distance from the Mason-Dixon line as a shrike flies, with the potential for shrikes to show up in Pennsylvania. The shrike’s occurrence in those same areas of West Virginia is further supported by eBird reports some of which include breeding behavior observations. Franklin and Adams Counties seem to have the best chance for Loggerhead Shrike enclave, but there may be other unsearched areas where it is eluding observation. Its habit of impaling prey on the thorns or barbed wired give it the nic-name of “butcher bird.” New locations tend to be associated with grazed pastures, something to look for. In some older references, it was called “Migrant Shrike.” We invite the state’s birders to search for Loggerhead Shrikes and report these observations to the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well as to eBird. Follow the story below for more information.
In Pennsylvania, bird migration can be as dazzling as the swirling flocks of snow geese that descend by tens-of-thousands of birds to refuel at Middle Creek WMA before continuing their Arctic-bound journey; it can be as fleeting as a Golden Eagle soaring over the Tussey Mountain Hawkwatch on a southerly March wind; or it can be as subtle as a Louisiana Waterthrush arriving from Caribbean wintering grounds to establish a territory along the stream bank of small stream in Moshannon State Forest. Regardless of size or scope, bird migration is a spectacular phenomenon that connects us to faraway lands and diverse cultures and people. Birds connect us together across political and geographical borders. It is cause for celebration.
International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) celebrates the amazing journeys of birds. Nearly 350 migratory birds live out their full life cycles by traveling the Americas. Many birds make epic flights that span thousands of miles. These migrants face perilous obstacles and threats along the way, both natural and human-related. An alarming number are endangered, threatened or species of conservation concern. Annual migration cycles bridge breeding grounds, wintering grounds, migration routes and stopover areas. The health of those environments is imperative. Protecting and restoring our migratory bird populations requires conservation and cooperation on an international scale. IMBD promotes international conservation by raising awareness and educating at the local, regional, national and international level. As with migration, IMBD links continents and nations by including countries and territories in North America, Central America and South America in this unique celebration.
Most birders know, first hand, the value of wetland habitats. Be it forested wetland, emergent marsh, shrub-scrub wetland or boreal swamp, quality wetland habitat is rich in its diversity of wildlife and an exciting place to search for birds. Our wetlands hold uncommon and secretive species including a host of species of greatest conservation need that can be challenging to detect and to identify, especially in our larger wetlands. Several formerly common birds have dwindled over the past two decades as wetland habitat continues to decline. Many of our wetland-dependent species are declining in the state according to the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania. Wetland birds are undoubtedly in need of our monitoring attention.
As our wetlands begin to stir with the extraordinary sounds of the nesting season, birders are once again invited to participate in the 2015 Marsh Bird Survey effort. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, assisted by Audubon Pennsylvania and its local chapters, the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology, and wetland survey volunteers, will conduct wetlands surveys across the state this year with a concentration on large wetlands of 10 hectares (25 acres). Breeding season data collected on any size wetland, however, is valuable and contributes to wetland conservation. Birders should also recheck locations where they have observed our wetland-dependent species and attempt to confirm nesting by these species.
The Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology (PSO) is a group of birders founded “to foster the study and appreciation of birds of Pennsylvania and to promote the conservation of birds and their habitat. It is a dedicated group of bird watchers who contribute significantly to “citizen science” projects. They also go out and have fun birding in new places and finding adventures on the birding trail. The PSO organizes field trips to great birding spots across the state and a few out of state. Information on these trips can be found on the PSO website. Trips have been planned to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, Tussy Mountain Hawkwatch, Presque Isle State Park, Bake Oven Knob, and other likely birding locations. Here is a narration by Wayne Laubscher of a recent PSO field trip to the wilds of Ontario where many boreal birds were found and enjoyed. On the early morning of February 13th, 16 hardy birders departed Hazleton for four days of birdwatching in cold and snowy Ontario. This was the first official Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology 2015 field trip. To say the participants were a hardy bunch would be quite the understatement, as we experienced nighttime temperatures averaging around -10 to -15 degrees F. with -30 degrees F. as a brief record low. Daytime high temperatures remained several degrees below zero all four days of the long President’s Day Weekend.
As you are birding in Penn’s Woods this spring, intending to report your findings to eBird, please keep an eye out for Ruffed Grouse nests. Ruffed Grouse have undergone a noticeable northern shift in their distribution and a significant range contraction in Pennsylvania, as recorded by the Second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas project. Our state bird, the Ruffed Grouse, has been called the “quintessential species of upland forests” by Ian Gregg in the 2nd Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania. How can this bird be declining?
While the loss of young forest cover is a primary reason for long term population declines, there are a host of other factors capable of suppressing grouse populations. Spring weather, predation and increasing fragmentation and isolation of suitable habitats on a landscape scale are all likely contributing to grouse population woes.
A new factor being assessed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for its role in recent population declines is West Nile Virus (WNV). While bird watchers are familiar with WNV due to its dramatic effect on corvid populations in the early 2000s, the effect of WNV on grouse has not been studied. Birders can help the Game Commission study Ruffed Grouse. Follow the story by the link to learn how you can help by reporting any Ruffed Grouse nests that you might find. On the agency website, look under the Ruffed Grouse – How You Can Help section.
Spring is upon us and many of our neotropical migrants will soon be making their way north to breeding grounds in Pennsylvania. Thanks to conservation actions, one forest gem, the critically threatened Golden-winged Warbler, may find an increase in the availability of quality breeding habitat when it arrives this spring. There are great efforts underway across breeding grounds and wintering grounds to stop the steep declines and recover Golden-wing populations. There are many partners in these efforts including Audubon chapters, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), American Bird Conservancy, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. This workshop brings many partners together. For more information and registration on the Golden-winged Warbler Weekend visit www.jvas.org.
Join the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, Penn State Altoona, and Audubon PA for a Golden-Winged Warbler Weekend on April 10 – 11, 2015 at the Penn State Altoona Campus. The two-day workshop will explore research and early successional and young forest habitat creation and restoration projects going on in Pennsylvania as well as conservation programs in Central America where many of our Golden-wings spend the winter. The event is open to birders, forest landowners, students and anyone interested in conservation and the Golden-winged Warbler. The weekend will include interesting presentations on the Golden-wing’s identification, biology and conservation. Learn how we can help keep this vivacious songbird off the Endangered Species List.
Thanks to an enthusiastic crew of birders, Pennsylvania was one of the many states that participated in the first Rusty Blackbird spring blitz last year. The results were pretty amazing considering what an obscure bird the Rusty is reputed to be, and not to mention that they can occupy some pretty obscure places. We urge that you learn more about and participate in the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz to support an international initiative to conserve this enigmatic and vulnerable songbird. To review, Rusty Blackbirds are among the highest priority conservation songbirds of North America. Their decline is tough to measure because most of their nesting range is beyond where breeding surveys go and they spend the winter in swampy areas in the deep south. Many migrate through our flyway on the way back and forth from their nesting grounds in the boreal forest. Rusty Blackbirds get their toes wet when they forage. They can be found along ditches; wet woods; the edges of streams, ponds, swamps; and almost anywhere there is shallow water. They roost in tree groves, sometimes far away from their foraging location. The visitors from the north can start migrating even when there is snow on the ground, finding bare ground and shallow water to forage in. The Pennsylvania portion of the Blitz officially starts on March 15, but there are many reports of Rusties spending winter in the state. So, there is incentive to look for Rusties as early as possible. There are lots of pictures of Rusty Blackbirds walking on frozen mud and at the edge of icy pools. The 2015 Spring Blitz has been improved with the addition of some neat features on the website. It has made some progress by identifying “Areas of Interest” and a section on the RustyBlackbird.org website devoted to AOIs: http://rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/2015-areas-of-interest/ and a Frequently Asked Questions page, which is now available online: http://rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/faq/s
Remember the Boreal Oriole! Let’s beat last year’s Blitz!