News & Features

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!

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz 2016 Starts Now!

Male Rusty Blackbird in habitat by Keith Williams

Birders are invited to participate in the 2016 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz. The Spring Blitz has already begun in over half of the participating states in the south where Rusty Blackbirds spend the winter. Migration already has begun and probably will proceed even faster than previous years considering how mild the winter of El Nino was in 2015 – 2016. The birds are ready to move north! Officially, Pennsylvania Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz spans from mid-March through late April, but it is worth looking now for Rusties in our state. Pennsylvania birders have contributed a tremendous amount of information about migration through the state in the last two years. Many of the gaps in coverage in 2014 were filled last year. This year can be even better with more participation. Check out the very informative Rusty Blackbird website which is chock full of resources: http://rustyblackbird.org/. And to see how you can help check out the page http://rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/get-involved/.

March eBirder of the Month Challenge: New Locations

A striking Lincoln's Sparrow at the Clinton County wetlands. By Wayne Laubscher

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on exploring new areas. eBirders have entered sightings from more than 3 million locations across every country in the world. Even though that sounds like a big number, there is still a lot we have yet to learn, and a lot of areas where we have very little information! In March we’re encouraging you to explore, and fill some of those knowledge gaps. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 1 or more complete no-X checklists in March from at least 15 locations new to your eBird account. This means a total of 15 lists is required as a minimum. These locations can be hotspots or any kind of location, they just have new in your specific eBird account. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month. In Pennsylvania, we have encouraged the discovery of new birding locations that fill in the gaps of our bird distribution knowledge. Most of the state’s birders live in the urban and suburban settings, but most birds are found outside those areas. Many rural counties receive poor eBird coverage even at easily accessible state parks, game lands, state forests, and county parks. It has been long said that birders should go “where no birder has gone before” to explore the possibilities in our state. With migration starting strong in 2016, there are many reasons to seek out new territories!

Citizen Science Reveals Annual Bird Migrations Across Continents

See the full map animation here

For the first time, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have documented migratory movements of bird populations spanning the entire year for 118 species throughout the Western Hemisphere. The study finds broad similarity in the routes used by specific groups of species—vividly demonstrated by a brand new animated map showing patterns of movement across the annual cycle. The results of these analyses were published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.