News & Features

State of the Birds 2016 Pennsylvania Style

Magnolia Warbler is strongly associated with hemlocks and other conifers, A Neotropical migrant that links Pennsylvania to Mexico.  by Jake Dingel

The State of the Birds (SOTB) report for 2016 has been released and is building bridges between countries for which birds are dependent. Significantly, the SOTB 2016 summary concerning the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) was announced at a meeting of the Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management in Ottawa, Canada. This meeting includes Mexico, United States, and Canada that share the lives of millions of migratory birds.
There are dire warnings in the report. More than a third (37%) of our North American bird species are listed as high conservation concern. Without significant conservation action, several are at risk of extinction. Yet, the report is a wonderful acclamation of the power of birds to span national boundaries and embrace peoples across the boundaries and over many miles. With their amazing ability to migrant long distances and also appeal of peoples of all kinds, birds unite us and demonstrate to us the need to take better care of our environment. Most of what is known about bird populations, ranges, and trends is derived from “citizen science” ornithological records such as eBird, Christmas Bird Counts, and wildlife agency projects. For that we are extremely grateful to the legions of citizen scientists that contribute to various monitoring programs and share their own passion for birds and nature. Please check out the new report and the related stories at www.stateofthebirds.org.

The Third Annual PSO Breeding Bird Blitz

Belted Kingfisher male emerging from nest burrow by J. Dingel, PGC

The third annual Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Blitz (PAB3) will be taking place Friday, June 17th through Monday, June 20th. This is another opportunity to add some great Pennsylvania Breeding Bird data to eBird and to win prizes for yourself!
One eBird Checklist per contestant per category can be entered daily. This means you can enter up to 4 checklists daily for a chance to win a prize which are described below. This contest really brings everyone out there in the field in June when most of our birds are in nesting phase. As we found out in the breeding bird atlas, finding evidence of a breeding population of birds is a lot like fun and adds an extra dimension to your birding experience, especially if you are doing it either on your turf or discovering new areas. This is a chance to really change the map of where breeding species live in the state while having a good time of it. Follow the story for the categories of the contest.

eBird Data Assists Golden-winged Warbler Management

Male Golden-winged Warbler. Photo by Jake Dingel, PA Game Commission

The Golden-winged Warbler is one the most threatened songbirds of North America. Researchers feel that the quality and quantity of its young forest and early succession habitat is one of the limiting factors for the population of this species. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been working with many partners to monitor, manage, and conserve this migratory songbird. Fortunately, we have found many eager partners. Many of the threats to Golden-winged Warblers also are shared with other species of conservation concern and popular game species due to the lack of regular disturbance to and appropriate management of forests. Among the partners in Golden-winged Warbler conservation are the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry, the American Bird Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Indeed, this team of partners has made Pennsylvania a leader in Golden-winged Warbler conservation in the Appalachian Mountain region. By collecting data on Golden-winged Warbler occupancy, birders assist our joint efforts by allowing us to see where there are active populations. Monitoring shows where any management would be more effective at attracting Golden-winged Warblers. Birders are urged to enter their Golden-winged Warbler observations into eBird as well as the closely related Blue-winged Warbler and other young forest species such as Willow Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Towhee, and Field Sparrow. Breeding Bird Atlas, Cornell Laboratory, Audubon Important Bird Area, and Game Commission data already are working on behalf of this species. This is happening on private as well as public lands!

Birding Perry County – “The County Between Us”

Golden-winged Warbler has been a priority for PGC and other partners in PA. By Jake Dingel

Note that this story originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology Newsletter, the Pileated, and is reproduced here by permission and in partnership with that organization. It starts with a general story by Vern Gaulthier and followed by stories by Ted Nichols and Deuane Hoffman. “The County Between Us,” sounds more like the title of a movie, doesn’t it, than a write up about birding one of our Pennsylvania counties. Yet “The County Between Us” explains in many ways birding in Perry County.

Perry County is located between the well birded counties of Cumberland to its south, Juniata to its north, Dauphin to its east, and Franklin to its west. Yet this county in between is often overlooked by birders. At the start of 2015 Chad Kauffman of Juniata County and I, who live in Cumberland County, proposed between us to rack up 200 species on eBird for the year in Perry. For many counties this might seem like an easily attainable goal, but for Perry, the most species reported on eBird for a year was 186 in 2013. Add to this, the biggest year in PSO records is 202 species by Richard Colyer in 1997. At the point that I wrote this article Perry County had 187 eBird species reported for 2015.

2nd Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania On Sale!

Cover of the 2nd Atlas of Breeding Birds in PA

One of the very best Pennsylvania bird books is still available for sale! The 2nd Atlas is a masterpiece and a “must-own” reference book for any Pennsylvania birder or ornithologist. With the holidays coming up, it is time to consider getting a copy of this invaluable book for a friend, a library, or yourself. The 2nd Atlas was published 20 years after the first Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas. It brought our knowledge of the state’s bird populations up to date, documented current breeding distribution, abundance, and changes since the previous project. This publication has been given very favorable reviews including in the June 2014 edition of the Wilson Journal of Ornithology which stated that “Any birder visiting Pennsylvania should be sure to have a copy of this book at home or in the car.” It is called a “masterful and successful example” of a breeding bird atlas. There also was a great review of the book in the Journal of Field Ornithology. A remarkable feature of this project was its strong support from citizen scientists with 2000 dedicated birders contributing to the project. That kind of passion and dedication also extends to eBird and projects promoted by the PA Game Commission and its partners. The result of this dedication was a fine book published by Penn State Press and also a coalition of volunteers eager to do more field work and conservation. This valuable resource is still available for purchase at; http://www.psupress.org at the reduced price of $33.98. The exact page of the offer is at the following: http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-05630-2.html.

Somerset Hosting the 2016 Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology Annual Meeting, May 20 -22

Upland Sandpiper, PA Endangered species, by Jake Dingel

Pennsylvania birders should start making plans to attend the 27th annual Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology (PSO) in Somerset, a premier birding location. The meeting will be held at the Quality Inn and Conference Center in Somerset on May 20 to 22. A diverse bird list is possible because of the variety of habitats ranging from high elevation forests to grasslands. There is a superb line-up of field trip destinations, including Somerset Lake Nature and Wildlife Park, Quemahoning Reservoir, North Fork Reservoir and Sammy Swamp, Flight 93 Memorial and game lands, the southern grasslands and farmlands, the Confluence area, Kimberly Run Natural Area, and Mount Davis area. The meeting’s many target species include Sora, Virginia Rail, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Henslow’s Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, and many more. This is one of the higher elevation locations of southwestern Pennsylvania and will surely produce a wide range of bird species including rarities. The Society also will be presenting awards to worthy recipients, Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary and the Somerset County Conservancy.

2016 Osprey Nesting Survey

Osprey descending on nest by Jake Dingel

The Osprey is one of our most recognizable and popular raptors. Like the Bald Eagle, it is a charismatic bird of conservation concern strongly associated with aquatic habitats. Yet often it is found near humans. Unique in appearance, it is truly the “people’s fish hawk.” This year, the Game Commission is performing an extensive statewide survey of osprey nests. It is an initiative that’s not possible without the help of volunteers. Those who are interested in taking part can learn more at the Game Commission’s website,(www.pgc.pa.gov). Information on the nest survey is available on the Bird Conservation part of the Birding and Bird Conservation section under the Wildlife tab. Just download the Osprey Nest Survey Form along with the Nest Observation Protocol, and submit it to osprey@pa.gov.

April eBirder of the Month Challenge – Get Specific!

Perched Tree Swallow by Jake Dingel, PGC

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on fine-scale reporting and helps promote good eBird location selection habits. Almost everything in eBird depends on choosing your location correctly and precisely. Whether online or with eBird Mobile, having an accurate location associated with the birds you see makes your checklists accurate and thorough, helps you and others refind birds you report, and most importantly, gives scientists and conservationists the best possible data—allowing for everything from local analyses to global models. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 15 or more complete no-X checklists in April as stationary counts or traveling counts of two kilometers (1.25 miles) or less and five hours or less. This means a total of 15 lists is required as a minimum; if you think in miles, just shoot for one mile or less. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

The single most important thing in eBird is to report accurately how you went birding. If you covered 12.5 miles, please enter that as your distance in your traveling count. If you seawatched for 14 hours straight, we are impressed (!), but we also want you to report your duration accurately.

With that in mind, your eBird checklists are much more valuable if they are more specific. This includes both space and time.

2016 Working Together for Wildlife Features Great Blue Heron

2016 Working Together for Wildlife Patch

The 2016 Working Together for Wildlife program features the familiar and popular Great Blue Heron. This is a fitting choice because this iconic bird represents environmental quality and species recovery, two themes of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Great Blue Herons are our largest and most widespread long-legged wading bird. Now they are commonly found across the state but once they were rare and seemingly headed for extirpation.
Great Blue Herons are our “watchers of the wetlands” as well as other aquatic resources. Without clean water and the accompanying fish and other finny wildlife, there would be no herons. Over half of the state’s endangered and threatened bird species are dependent on wetlands, giving it special importance to the state’s biodiversity. The Working Together for Wildlife program provides a way for the public to support the nongame wildlife program of the agency. The heron’s long, stellate bill points the way to making an easy contribution to these efforts. The print “Blue Haze” and the 2016 Working Together for Wildlife patch are available as merchandise at the Outdoor Shop of Pennsylvania Game Commission. More information about Working Together for Wildlife and the agency’s Wildlife Diversity program can be found at the new website http://www.pgc.pa.gov/.

Global Big Day the Pennsylvania Way – May 14

Crimson-colored Tanager in Nicaragua by Doug Gross

May 14, 2016. The second Global Big Day. We need your help to make it the biggest day of birding the world has ever seen. With less than three months until the day, it’s time to get started! Birds surely show us how political boundaries are fairly meaningless when it comes to migration and for birding. Our own state’s birds migrate to many other countries in the Western Hemisphere, prompting us to think globally when we consider the birding habit. Your checklists contribute to everyone’s understanding of the world’s birds wherever they were collected and submitted.

Last year, thanks to participation from eBirders worldwide, we were able to engage more than 14,000 people in 135 countries to submit almost 45,000 checklists, featuring 6,085 species of birds. All in a single day. More importantly, it introduced eBird to hundreds of new people, resulting in thousands of valuable checklists of bird sightings that are used for science and conservation worldwide. Thank you to all who participated, and we look forward to seeing many new faces joining the ranks this year!