News & Features

August eBirder of the Month Challenge: Media Entry

Female Northern Harrier in Flight by J. Dingel, PA Game Commission

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, is a photography and recording contest! Don’t worry, you don’t need a fancy camera or microphone to win. Minimum entry requirements are an appreciation for birds, your optics of choice, and anything that takes a picture or makes a recording: phone, camera, voice recorder—whatever works! It is amazing how many good bird sightings are verified by photographs, even one taken with minimal equipment. Pennsylvania’s eBird web page is full of really good images of birds reported during eBird trips. We have a good tradition that just needs a boost. We always want more! The next time you’re in the field, take a few seconds to immortalize some of the birds you’re encountering through image or sound, and add those media to your checklists. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from all complete, no-X checklists submitted in August that include at least three photos and/or 1 audio recording. This means that each checklist you enter with at least three photos or one audio recording counts as one chance to win. The more eligible checklists, the better chance to win! NOTE: the photos and recordings must be your own, and of the actual individual bird you observed in the field—shared checklists with media from your friend don’t count towards your total, but you can always add your media to a shared list to qualify! Checklists must be for observations during this month; not historical checklists entered during August. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

PA Game Commission Requests Wild Turkey Sightings in August

Displaying Gobbler by J. Dingel, PGC

The inaugural Pennsylvania Wild Turkey Sighting Survey begins Aug. 1, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission encourages the public to assist by reporting online the turkeys they see throughout the month of August. It is fitting to ask for wide participation since the Wild Turkey is an American original and an eminently popular bird in our state. Turkeys only occur naturally on this continent and have provided food and sport for humans ever since they were first discovered. This was noted by Ben Franklin who wrote that it is “a true original Native of America” and “much more respectable Bird” than the Bald Eagle, which he thought a cowardly and lazy bird. The restoration of Wild Turkey in Pennsylvania is considered one of the state’s best achievements in wildlife management. Although turkeys are now a fairly common sight, they were once rare due to over-hunting and destruction of forests by timbering and agricultural development. They are enjoyed by hunters and non-hunting wildlife-watchers alike.

Information submitted to https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/TurkeyBroodSurvey will help in analyzing spring turkey production. Participants are requested to report the wild turkeys they see, along with the general location, date, and contact information to be used if there are any questions. Of course, we welcome birders to include sightings of Wild Turkey in their regular eBird field trip entries including the appropriate breeding code during the appropriate season. Seeing some Wild Turkeys caps off a good birding day in Pennsylvania.

Wanted: Blackpoll Warbler and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Reports

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher female on nest, Pennsylvania, by Doug Gross

As part of a long-term project to monitor and protect the breeding habitat of two PA Endangered species, I have been conducting surveys of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Blackpoll Warbler. Northeastern Pennsylvania is the southern outpost for the breeding range of both species at the moment. Both species are considered state Endangered in Pennsylvania because of their very small populations and limited breeding range. This project has resulted in some publications about these birds and the forest habitats that supports them. For the last two years Eric Zawatski, a Penn State biology student, has been assisting this project and contributing significantly to these challenging surveys. Last summer, we found only two territories of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, but we found at least 21 territories of Blackpoll Warbler. All of these were in boreal conifer swamps of Dutch Mountain in SGL 57, dominated by red and black spruce. It is good news that the Blackpoll Warbler population may be expanding into more conifer-dominated and headwater swamps. There are several conifer stands and wetlands in northern Pennsylvania that could support these species but are not visited by birders. Almost all recent reports of these species nesting in the state are above 1900 feet. Both of these species are well-described in the Endangered species section of the Pennsylvania Game Commission website under Wildlife.

Osprey and Bald Eagle Nest Reports Are Still Welcome

Osprey Pair on Nest by Jake Dingel, PGC

The Game Commission is performing an extensive state-wide survey of osprey nests this year. It is an initiative that’s not possible without the help of volunteers. We very much appreciate the contribution of the many people who have sent in Osprey nest reports. Those who are interested in taking part can find out more at the Game Commission’s website,(www.pgc.pa.gov). Information on the nest survey is available on the Birding page in the Birding section under the Wildlife tab. We also provide a comprehensive description of the species and its history in the state as another page in the Endangered species section. Just download the Osprey Nest Survey Form along with the Nest Observation Protocol, and submit it osprey@pa.gov or to Doug Gross, the project coordinator.

The survey seeks to determine the location of each active Osprey nest. If you know about a pair of Ospreys, we’d appreciate hearing from you. Please do not assume that a nest that you know about is covered by somebody else. One of our biggest fears is that several nests will go unreported due to this factor. Please make sure that the Osprey nest that you know about gets into our annual survey. If you do not know the results of the Osprey nest, please do not hesitate to report what you know of the activity of the nests. So far, the Bald Eagle nest tally is lower in 2016 than in the recent past years because of a reduction in staff that work on eagle nest surveys. Reports of Bald Eagle nests are appreciated.

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

Golden-winged Warbler in Pennsylvania by Wayne Laubscher

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”

The American Redstart nests in our forests but winters in the West Indies. By Jake Dingel, PGC.

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.