Birding Adams County

By dgross January 26, 2015
SEOW_perched_snow_Dingel

Short-eared Owl perched in the snow by Jacob Dingel, PGC

We are very glad to have the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology (PSO) as a partner in Pennsylvania eBird. As part of our goal to educate birders about great places to find birds in the state and encourage data submission for more locations, we are teaming with PSO to present some locations that deserve more birders. This news story is a narrative by Vern Gauthier of PSO of his search for good birding spots in Adams County. It already was published in the December 2014 edition of the PSO Pileated, the society’s newsletter. So, it takes the flavor of a birding adventure. Adams County is one of southern tier counties that is a bit removed from the urban centers where many birders live. But, it does have many birding opportunities. The Freedom Township grasslands were listed as Important Bird Areas because of their lingering populations of Loggerhead Shrikes, Upland Sandpipers, Barn Owls and other grassland birds. Gettysburg Battlefield National Monument is a center for grassland birds due to its history of old-fashioned agriculture. Lately, there have been some waterfowl reports at Lake Kay, generally an overlooked body of water. More adventures await those willing to explore Adams County. DAG.

Why Adams County? Why not? It is the first county alphabetically in Pennsylvania and it is close to my home county of Cumberland in southcentral Pennsylvania. On the morning of October 13, Chad Kauffman, Aden Troyer, Gideon Renno and I met up with veteran Adams County Birder, Mike O’Brien, at State Game Lands 249 (SGL 249) just west of Heidlersburg. Mike is a long-time member and current field trip leader of South Mountain Audubon and the compiler for the Gettysburg Christmas Bird Count (CBC). He graciously agreed to meet us and show us around what he says is, “hands down the best all-around place in Adams County to bird.

We met at the parking lot just as Game Lands Road enters State Game Lands 249 and from there set out on foot. The first section of State Game Lands Road is a 0.3 mile stretch with fields and hedgerows on either side. Being October it was not surprising to find American Robins in large numbers. There was also a good number of Red-winged Blackbirds with a few Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackles mixed in. Some of the other species we picked up in this stretch were Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Field Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Purple Finch and a less expected Blackpoll Warbler. Mike told us that in the spring there are many Willow Flycatchers calling from the hedgerows and that he has found Rusty Blackbirds here, it also seemed like great habitat for White-eyed Vireo to breed and possibly for a wintering Northern Shrike.

Field Sparrow, a songbird in decline in PA, by Jake Dingel

Field Sparrow, a songbird in decline in PA, by Jake Dingel

            We continued walking with hedgerows giving way to riparian woodlands along the Conewago Creek, an area that Mike told us teems with Warbling Vireo in the spring. Just as we entered this area we picked up the first of the few Blue-headed Vireos and the first of our White-crowned Sparrows, along with a late Rose-breasted Grosbeak. During the course of walking this section we ran into a couple of chickadee flocks adding Cape May Warbler, Bay Breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler, not a bad warbler day for mid October! Also included in this section was a small wetlands area in which we found a couple of Swamp Sparrows, a Great Blue Heron and the first of our Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers — one of the six species of woodpeckers we had at SGL 249; only missing Red-headed Woodpecker (which is possible here) for a full woodpecker sweep. One thing that was pretty cool or gross depending on your point of view was to come upon a Red-tailed Hawk as it was finishing up a breakfast of muskrat. The bird flew and all that was left was some fur, entrails and a tail. We also saw and heard a couple Red-shouldered Hawks in the area.

Willow Flycatcher singing in thicket by Chuck Musitano

Willow Flycatcher singing in thicket by Chuck Musitano

            We then drove about 3 miles east to a 65-acre wetlands which is part of SGL 249 off of Gun Club Road. There we walked a 0.6-mile trail up along the wetlands. There was a countless number of robins, with many blackbirds and sparrows, along with a few Palm Warblers and Common Yellowthroats. New species we picked up here included about a dozen Tree Swallows, a couple of Chipping Sparrows and a Pine Warbler. I could certainly see this place as a haven for winter sparrows and a place where puddle ducks might hang out in the fall as long as the water remains open. This is also great looking habitat for Rusty Blackbirds. In speaking to PSO County Compiler Phil Keener afterwards he adds, “The wetland pond it is a reliable spot in August/early September for waders. Double-digit Green Heron counts are routine while also seeing Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Glossy Ibis and Little Blue Heron have been reported in past years.” The one down side for birding in this location is that a large part of it is closed from March to mid-June as a propagation area.

Red-shouldered Hawk, a forest raptor that can be highlight of a good field day, by Jake Dingel

Red-shouldered Hawk, a forest raptor that can be highlight of a good field day, by Jake Dingel

           In our four hours at SGL 249 we came up with a very respectable 58 species, especially for an overcast and dreary morning. We parted ways with Mike and after lunch kicked around a part of my section of the York Springs CBC where we picked up a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

            We then headed to the northwest corner of Adams County; to Michaux State Forest and Long Pine Run Reservoir, a 150-acre impoundment that serves as a reservoir for Chambersburg. I had been there on a few previous occasions and found a Cackling Goose along with Common Loons and Tundra Swans and I have noticed on eBird that Surf Scoter had also been found there. A couple of other great birds that had been reported from there are a Mississippi Kite in 2011 and an American Avocet in 2003 and again in 2014. I must admit however I wasn’t planning to find a whole lot here due to the timing of the season; a little too late to find many migrants on the ridge and a little too early for waterfowl or so I thought. Still the Michaux State Forest was alive with color; the oranges, yellows, and reds of the maples and other hardwoods popping against a dark green canvas of evergreens. This picturesque lake was worth coming to for the scenery alone.

Surf Scoter can be a surprise find, by Jake Dingel

Surf Scoter can be a surprise find, by Jake Dingel

 

            We pulled into the main parking/boat launch area off Milesburn Road, scanned the waters and came up empty. On a second scan however Chad came up with two dark diving ducks. When we zoomed in we were able to make out the head markings that indicated that they were two first-year Surf Scoters! I tried to pass off to my fellow birders that I told them there were scoters here, but they would have nothing of it.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker by Jake Dingel

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker by Jake Dingel

            While you can actually walk around the lake, we opted to drive out on Birch Run Road which took us around about 75 percent of the lake before heading up the ridge and Shippensburg Road. One of the places the road crossed an inlet there was another duck in the water which turned out to be a lone male Ring-necked Duck. Not in the class of a scoter but still unexpected. Other birds of note we encountered were a Common Raven croaking out its harsh gravelly call, a lone Tree Swallow, 3 Blue-headed Vireos, 6-8 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a very pale Pine Warbler and a couple flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos, which were my first of the season.

            Even though it was an overcast and dreary day we still identified 63 species in Adams County and took in some beautiful scenery. SGL 249 and Long Pine Run Reservoir are two places I would not hesitate to bird again.

Good Birding PA!

Vern Gauthier, Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology

Please contact Vern Gauthier about any newly discovered birding hotspots. His e-mail address is pabirder@gmail.com

 Links and e-mail for more on Adams County Birding:

PSO Site Guidewww.pabirds.org/SiteGuide/PACountyPage.php?CountyID=1

South Mountain Audubon Society http://southmountainaudubon.org

Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve http://strawberryhill.org/about-us/facilities

Adams County eBird sightings http://tinyurl.com/qejdvvk

Gettysburg CBC Compiler / Mike O’Brien maddogobrien@gmail.com

York Springs CBC Compiler / Vern Gauthier pabirder@gmail.com

PSO County Compiler / Phil Keenerpittche74@yahoo.com

Barn Owl hiding on a farm, by Hal Korber

Barn Owl hiding on a farm, by Hal Korber

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