Marcellus Research Press!

For the past two summers, I have assisted with graduate research concerning Marcellus Shale development and its impact on breeding forest birds in Pennsylvania. Penn State News recently did on piece on Lillie Langlois, my delightful boss and the head researcher of the project.  Below is a link to the article. There is even a short video about some of our work embedded on the article webpage (because videos are awesome, right?). Enjoy!

A transport line for shale gas – photo by Lillie Langlois

4th of July Birding Challenge!

Do you love America? Are you a warm-blooded patriot looking for a way to enjoy your freedoms? Do you love birds? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, then you qualify for the –

“Thermal Birding 4th of July Birding Challenge: ‘Merica Addition!”

American Avocet – photo by Steve Brenner

One week from today, people all across the country will be having cookouts, launching fireworks, and birdwatching! The rules of the challenge are simple: when you are out birding on the 4th of July, every species you see that begins with the word “American” counts. Also, any species that begins with the name of a U.S. state (e.g.. California Towhee) also counts. You can also collect bonus birds for each of the following winged-countrymen you spot: Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, and the official birds of each U.S. state. So, for example, let’s say I go out on Independence Day and see an American Robin, 5 American Crows, 3 American Redstarts, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Bald Eagle, and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, then I would have a grand total of 6 countable species. So it’s fairly straight-forward and similar to other ‘big day’ type competitions. Feeling patriotic yet?

As with all birding competitions, this is solely meant for the purposes of fun, and as long as you have a good time birding, that’s what really matters. Also, mid-summer can be a very slow time for bird watching, so this provides an excellent opportunity for birders to get out there and check out some breeding birds in your area or scour those neglected local hotspots. Please post replies on how you faired with the challenge, and try to nab as many of these species as you can. Remember, Thomas Jefferson may have spent all day inside on July 4th, 1776, but that doesn’t mean you should! So get out there and bird, people . . . USA, USA, USA!

Here is the list of the 57 eligible ‘4th of July birds’ for counting in the ABA area, including the official birds of each state. (Note: ‘state game birds’ have been omitted, as has Hawaiian Goose, Blue Hen Chicken, and Rhode Island Red Chicken).

  1. American Avocet
  2. American Bittern
  3. American Black Duck
  4. American Coot
  5. American Crow
  6. American Dipper
  7. American Flamingo
  8. American Golden-Plover
  9. American Goldfinch (also state bird for IA, NJ, and WA)
  10. American Kestrel

    ‘Merica Kestrel – photo by Steve Brenner

  11. American Oystercatcher
  12. American Pipit
  13. American Redstart
  14. American Robin (also state bird for CT, MI, and WI)
  15. American Three-toed Woodpecker
  16. American Tree Sparrow
  17. American White Pelican
  18. American Wigeon
  19. American Woodcock
  20. Arizona Woodpecker
  21. California Condor
  22. California Gnatcatcher
  23. California Quail (also state bird for CA)
  24. California Thrasher
  25. California Towhee
  26. California Gull (also state bird for UT)
  27. Carolina Chickadee
  28. Carolina Wren (also state bird for SC)

    Carolina Wren – photo by Steve Brenner

  29. Connecticut Warbler
  30. Florida Scrub Jay
  31. Kentucky Warbler
  32. Louisiana Waterthrush
  33. Mississippi Kite
  34. Tennessee Warbler
  35. Virginia Rail
  36. Bald Eagle
  37. Wild Turkey
  38. Northern Flicker (AL)
  39. Willow Ptarmigan (AK)
  40. Cactus Wren (AZ)
  41. Northern Mockingbird (AR, FL, MS, TN, and TX)
  42. Lark Bunting (CO)
  43. Brown Thrasher (GA)

    Brown Thrasher – photo by Steve Brenner

  44. Mountain Bluebird (ID, NV)
  45. Northern Cardinal (IL, IN, KY, NC, OH, VI, and WV)
  46. Western Meadowlark (KS, MT, NE, ND, OR, and WY)
  47. Brown Pelican (LA)
  48. Black-capped Chickadee (ME, MA)
  49. Baltimore Oriole (MD)
  50. Common Loon (MN)
  51. Eastern Bluebird (MO, NY)
  52. Purple Finch (NH)
  53. Greater Roadrunner (NM)
  54. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (OK)
  55. Ruffed Grouse (PA)
  56. Ring-necked Pheasant (SD)
  57. Hermit Thrush (VT)

Red Phalarope in Williamsport!

On Saturday May 11, while I was running along the Lycoming Creek in Williamsport I noticed a small bird in the middle of the creek. Curious I ran closer and the bird took off, heading up the creek. I noticed that it looked very shorebird-like so I began to get very excited. Soon enough the bird floated back down the creek and the distinct foraging behavior gave it away, I was looking at a phalarope. However, I didn’t have binoculars or a camera so I began the fastest half mile I’ve ever ran back to my house to grab the gear.

Sure enough the bird was still present. I put the binoculars up to my eyes and realized I was looking at a Red Phalarope. This was only the second Red Phalarope I have ever seen so I took my time looking at the bird and then eventually got closer for some pictures. Unfortunately the pictures didn’t come out great and the low light didn’t help but here is the best one.

Red Phalarope along Lycoming Creek in Williamsport, PA on 11 May 2013. Photo by Nate Fronk.

Lycoming County Spring Migrants


Spring migration has certainly picked up in the last few weeks with Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush all becoming rather common in appropriate habitat. This weekend I finally got the chance to see some new spring migrants with both Pine Warbler and Palm Warbler at Rose Valley Lake.

Purple Martins have returned to their roost on County Farm Road just north of Montoursville and Spotted Sandpiper and Green Heron have appeared at Rose Valley Lake once again. I even had my first Chimney Swift, twittering high overhead of my house.

More migrants should be showing up daily throughout the state so get out and keep your eyes open! Some of the best places in Lycoming County to find spring migrants is Rose Valley Lake, Rider Park, and Canfield Island.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2013 Results!

The Delaware River at Battery Park in New Castle, Delaware on 18 February 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

I started the GBBC off birding at the Newark Reservoir with Mason and Becky. I then drove home Friday afternoon picking up GBBC birds and county ticks along the way using BirdLog (more on that later). Saturday I worked some fields around Luthersburg in Clearfield County, PA and found a huge flock of 107 Common Redpolls foraging in corn stubble and a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk. Those were by far the best birds of the weekend. I county-ticked my way back to Newark Sunday afternoon. To round out the GBBC, Alan Kneidel and I spent almost two hours at Battery Park in New Castle County sifting through the gull flock. We didn’t find any interesting gulls, but we did have several Great Cormorants, a Northern Pintail, and a Northern Harrier.

Here is a photo of the Common Redpolls in flight after a Cooper’s Hawk flushed them while they were foraging in the corn stubble. Check out this photo of the entire flock:

Common Redpolls - Pennsylvania

Common Redpolls along Wells Rd. in Luthersburg, PA on 16 February 2013. Photo by Tim Schreckengost.

BirdLog Checklist Summary for: Feb 15, 2013 to Feb 18, 2013

Number of Checklists: 63
Number of Species: 55

1478 Canada Goose — (1),(2),(4),(11),(25),(59),(60),(62),(63)
64 Mallard — (1),(33),(63)
1 Mallard (Domestic type) — (1)
1 Northern Pintail — (63)
2 Ring-necked Duck — (1)
37 Lesser Scaup — (1)
9 Common Merganser — (1)
25 Wild Turkey — (30)
5 Double-crested Cormorant — (63)
6 Great Cormorant — (63)
1 Great Blue Heron — (63)
6 Black Vulture — (24),(27)
33 Turkey Vulture — (6),(7),(8),(10),(11),(14),(16),(17),(23),(27),(29),(56)
1 Northern Harrier — (63)
2 Cooper’s Hawk — (9),(49)
2 Bald Eagle — (63)
1 Red-shouldered Hawk — (56)
15 Red-tailed Hawk — (4),(5),(19),(23),(24),(25),(26),(37),(44),(47),(49),(50),(53)
1 Rough-legged Hawk — (50)
1040 Ring-billed Gull — (1),(5),(28),(63)
7 Herring Gull (American) — (5),(58),(63)
1 Great Black-backed Gull — (63)
3004 gull sp. — (17),(60),(63)
570 Rock Pigeon — (2),(4),(5),(8),(10),(13),(14),(15),(16),(19),(20),(21),(22),(23),(25),(26),(27),(28),(32),(33),(36),(51),(55),(63)
32 Mourning Dove — (1),(3),(9),(12),(15),(16),(17),(18),(19),(20),(24),(57),(59),(63)
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker — (52)
2 Downy Woodpecker — (1),(52)
2 American Kestrel — (16),(37)
10 Blue Jay — (1),(29),(34),(44),(49),(61)
58 American Crow — (1),(7),(20),(23),(28),(29),(34),(36),(37),(38),(39),(41),(45),(47),(49),(51),(52),(58),(63)
12002 Fish Crow — (1),(9),(63)
11 crow sp. — (1),(17),(55),(58),(61)
4 Horned Lark — (44)
11 Black-capped Chickadee — (34),(44),(45)
4 Tufted Titmouse — (1),(2),(34),(52)
4 White-breasted Nuthatch — (34),(35)
4 Carolina Wren — (1),(61)
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet — (1),(34)
4 Eastern Bluebird — (1)
119 American Robin — (1),(59),(60),(61),(62),(63)
1 Northern Mockingbird — (61)
859 European Starling — (1),(2),(4),(5),(8),(9),(10),(17),(18),(21),(23),(24),(25),(37),(39),(42),(52),(54),(57),(58),(60),(62),(63)
3 American Tree Sparrow — (52)
4 Savannah Sparrow — (1)
5 Song Sparrow — (1),(58),(63)
2 White-throated Sparrow — (1)
1 Dark-eyed Junco — (44)
3 Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) — (35),(52)
10 Northern Cardinal — (1),(2),(35),(60)
482 Red-winged Blackbird — (1),(58),(59),(60)
42 Common Grackle — (31),(58)
450 blackbird sp. — (1),(59)
15 House Finch — (1),(2),(20),(35),(52),(58),(61)
30 Common Redpoll — (49)
5 House Sparrow — (13),(52)

This trip summary was created using the BirdLog app for iPhone and iPad.
See BirdLog for more information.

Mallards know how to “do it” on V-Day

Although these photos were not taken on Valentine’s Day, they still show that Mallards can “do it” any time, or during mating season. These photos were taken on February 17th, 2011 at Millbrook Marsh in State College, PA. The male definitely wears the pants in this relationship. Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Lycoming County Winter Raptor Survey & Redpolls

Yesterday Dave Ferry and myself went ventured into northern Lycoming county to conduct our first winter raptor survey of the year. Raptors were few and far between, real far between. We only had 3 Red-tailed Hawks the entire 25 mile transect. No harriers, rough-legs, or kestrels, which was a major surprise. I’m uncertain as to the lack of raptors the past few years in northern Lycoming county but I’m hoping it’s just been slow the past two years and not hinting at any declines in the wintering population of raptors.

As a consolation prize we had roughly 100 Common Redpolls and 15 or so Brown-headed Cowbirds at a home in eastern Jackson Township. The birds were flying from tree to tree and would eventually come into the feeders at the home below. I was surprised by the skittishness of the redpolls but I did manage to get a few good shots.