The perfect way to spend the Great Backyard Bird Count

Every year, there is an event held for bird watchers of all levels and ages called the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  To find out more about this fun activity, visit http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html.

Now, many people spend the GBBC at their houses, counting from their yards.  For me, this wasn’t the case.  The GBBC in our backyard from previous years was very successful – I added the American Tree Sparrow to my life list – but this year, I wanted to do something different.  So, on Sunday of last weekend, we drove to Atwater Quarry, in Malvern, Pennsylvania.  Note – To find Atwater Quarry, plug in Atwater Drive as the street name.  You can try Atwater Corporate Park, but that might not work in all cases.  Also, the “overlook” of the Quarry is actually the road leading into an Allstate Insurance building, so there is more background noise on weekdays than on weekends.

In my opinion, out of all of the places that I have been to in my life, Atwater Quarry is the third most gorgeous and serene (Second: the U.S Virgin Islands. First: Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York).  On your first visit here, you will fall in love with it, not only because of the exquisite views, but because of the sheer masses of birds!

The water in the Quarry is an amazing blue-green color, and is obviously packed full of fish, because it has a wide variety of fish-eating birds throughout the year.  Feeding on the water alone, you will be able to find a wide variety of species, including Belted Kingfisher, Double-Crested Cormorant, Bank Swallows, Canada Goose, Mallard, and other winter duck species.  But the birds on land are of the greatest variety of all.

You can go through a multitude of habitats – there is a “fit trail”, which overlooks the Quarry, takes you past a few secluded trees, gives you a distant view at a forest mixed with scrub, and then takes you close up past some small trees (which usually harbor Red-Winged Blackbirds and Common Yellowthroat).  There is an area (off of the “fit trail”) that is behind the Allstate building which is a garden.  This area usually has Northern Mockingbird, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, and the occasional Turkey Vulture that perches on top of the building.

If you are the “off-the-beaten-path-rather-than-heavily-trodden-trails” type of person, then you can always walk on the dirt/stone area leading out farther into the “wilds” of the Quarry.

The rugged path at Atwater Quarry.

Here, you can get a good look at Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, and Red-Winged Blackbird (On our trip this past Sunday, this is where we found an American Kestrel).  This area also brings you close enough to get a good look at breeding Killdeer, but not close enough to do them any harm.

This birding paradise’s specialty, though, is it’s Hawks and Vultures.  You are guaranteed a close up view of Turkey and Black Vultures, and possibly a Red-Tailed Hawk (if it comes to you at all).  Even on Sunday’s trip, we had hoards of Turkey Vultures flying relatively low over

One of the many Turkey Vultures hangliding on the thermals here

our heads.

Finally, the most beautiful view of the Quarry is from a cliff – the St. Peters Church side of Atwater Drive.  There is nothing special birding-wise up here, but the view is spectacular.  You get to look over everything – and when I say everything, I mean everything.  To get the best views, though, you will need to come here early in spring, so that the bushy scrub doesn’t get in your way.

All in all, this past Sunday’s GBBC was amazing.  The list of birds seen is listed below

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Redhead
  3. Ring-Necked Duck
  4. Mallard
  5. American Black Duck
  6. American Wigeon
  7. Common Merganser
  8. American Kestrel
  9. Song Sparrow
  10. Turkey Vulture
  11. Killdeer
  12. Eastern Bluebird
  13. Northern Mockingbird
  14. Dark-Eyed Junco

    Canada Goose sitting in the water

    A mixture of ducks at the Quarry including Mallard, American Black Duck, Ring-Necked Duck, American Wigeon, and a couple of Redhead

    A long distance of an Eastern Bluebird. They weren't being very cooperative today!

    A Northern Mockingbird watching over his land!

So, if you ever need to relax, or you want to have a great birding day, give Atwater Quarry a try!

An overlook of the Quarry

An overlook of the Quarry

A high cliff. Taken from near the waters edge

A small waterfall leading into the Quarry

An overlook of the Quarry

An overlook of the Quarry

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Spring!!!…….Sort of

You know its close to spring when the Bluebirds are checking out possible homes for the breeding season!!

This past Wednesday, I noticed a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flying from birdhouse to birdhouse in our backyard, and occasionally entering one.  When they entered one, they would usually go in together, which, according to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Bluebird/id, is a good thing.  This behavior indicates that the pair bond is typically established (read more at the link above).

If you have a story similar to this, feel free to comment it!

Shot of a female Eastern Bluebird from a couple of years ago. This shot portrays what will probably be happening at our house soon, though!

I hope as we start a little birding community here, the readers of this blog will be able to share your experiences through comments, and we will all eventually be able to learn from each other!

Birding Black Rock Sanctuary

This past Sunday, February 6th, we went birding at Black Rock Sanctuary in Phoenixville (near Spring City), Pennsylvania.  For more information about the whereabouts of this sanctuary and its amenities, please visit http://dsf.chesco.org/ccparks/cwp/view.asp?a=1550&q=616465.

One of the many interpretive stations along the Interpretive Trail.

A trail at Black Rock.

One of the first points that I want to make is that if you are planning on finding this park with a GPS, you have to be careful and word it as Black Rock Sanctuary.  We tried finding it using Black Rock Park, and that took us to another place in Phoenixville that was under some sort of construction, and didn’t look much like a park at all.

Many people say that places like Cape May or Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (hoping to be able to get there in spring!) are their favorite places to see Warblers during migration.  Cape May is my favorite spring birding spot, but not for the Warblers.  I would say that Black Rock, a rather local (to me), unknown gem, is my favorite place to see Warblers during migration.  This is the place where I found my first Chestnut-Sided, Black-and-White, Yellow, and Tennessee (I had an interesting experience with this guy last year!) Warblers, and during the winter you can expect to see bounties of Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Now for the birding!

To start off the day, we started on the interpretive trail leading through a multitude of habitats (unfortunately walking straight into the sun).  Immediately, we experienced one of the great things that happens at this park.  Pockets!

“Pockets” of birds form everywhere, but I notice them the most at Black Rock.  Pockets can be found almost anywhere along the trails at any time of the year.  My favorite part about pockets at Black Rock is that they don’t only consist of one species, you usually can find about fifteen species in one pocket on a spring day.

The birds that we found in our pocket consisted of Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, White-Throated Sparrow, European Starling, a Chickadee, Mourning Dove, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Mourning Dove, and an American Goldfinch.

A Great-Blue Heron. Messed with the white-balance of this one a bit.

A Yellow-Rumped Warbler that spends the winter here.

Messed with the white-balance of this one, too. A Chickadee who was visiting the nearby feeding station.

Now, one of the questions that you might be asking yourself (if you haven’t already gone onto Black Rock’s website) is “What type of birds could I expect to see here?”.  Well, you are in for a long explanation!

First of all, Black Rock’s trails (more than just the interpretive trail) lead you through such a variety of habitats, I will not be able to name all of the individual species, but I should be able to get you a pretty good idea of what you will see.

When you pull into the parking lot, you will see a field at your left.  This field will have a trail that stretches back for at least a mile, and then loops you back to the parking lot again.  During breeding season, this trail holds many good birding opportunities, as the Parks and Rec Service put up nesting boxes (seemingly for Eastern Bluebirds, but Tree Swallows occupy most of them).  The Tree Swallows that have taken up residence in these boxes allow you to get very close (good for photographers), but please, leave their nests alone.

Anyway, you can expect to see many species on this field trail including many birds of prey, a good variety of Swallow (Northern Rough-Winged, too), some species of Warbler, Sparrow, and Indigo Bunting.

They have the Interpretive Trail, as mentioned earlier.  This has just been paved, so it makes it handicap accessible.  The true Interpretive Trail (true meaning that the Interpretive Trail ends where its pavement ends, and then leads onto an entirely different trail) leads through a multitude of habitats itself.  You can expect to see Warblers during any season (preferably during migration).  You can see Sparrows and Wrens in winter, and Herons and Egrets in summer.  Towhees, Grosbeak, Woodpeckers, Tanagers, Bunting, and Oriole can all be seen at different times throughout the year.

The final trail (well, the last trail that I have found) doesn’t seem to be named, but it can be found off of the Interpretive Trail Loop.  We have ventured only about three quarters of a mile on this trail, and we have made the realization that this is really the part of this sanctuary where you are surprisingly (surprisingly for this area) a good distance from any houses or roads.

A few years ago (not during migration, and we haven’t been on this trail for a very long time.  I am hoping to get there this spring to see what Warblers can be seen, as well as other species), this trail produced my first Great-Crested Flycatcher, which flew right out in the open (unfortunately I wasn’t into photography).  Other species that I guarantee you that you will see on this trail at some time of the year are Buntings, Towhee, Tanager, some Warblers, and Oriole.  This trail, along with the others, leads though a diversity of habitats, including marshes, fields, deciduous forests, and open water (those are the only ones that I passed on my trip), so there is bound to be a much greater quantity of species that can be found there.

For any of you who want to check Black Rock out:  Depending on the weather, you should have an amazing birding day.  Also, if you are not a serious birder, it probably wouldn’t be worth a two and a half to three hour drive, because this place is relatively small; it isn’t like one of the major state parks or wildlife refuge where, if at one part the birding isn’t good, you can just go to another part.  But, if you want to, I hope you have a great time!

Oops!  I forgot!  If you come during spring, summer, or fall, make sure you check out their front garden in the parking lot (the garden pictured in the link that I have attached at the top of this post) for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds!

P.S.  I have not been posting as frequently as I had hoped.  You can expect a larger wave of posts coming during mid-spring through mid-fall.  School has been keeping me busy!!

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!!

Staten Island & Ferry Ride Birding

On January 29th, we went to the Manhattan area in New York to visit a family friend.  That friend was kind enough to hook all four of us up with a tour of some Staten Island Parks!

Now, today’s post will be slightly shorter than previous ones because, although the 29th was a beautiful day, many of the pond and lake birding opportunities were spoiled by freezing weather.  The day did not produce any lifers.  It did start out interestingly enough, though.

The ferry ride to the island was great – the Gulls trailing it were very photogenic!

Gulls flying behind the Staten Island Ferry on the Manhattan skyline.

A Ring-Billed Gull following the Ferry

A Ring-Billed Gull that took a ride with us on the Ferry

But what really stood out was when we got off of the ferry.  Immediately, our guide spotted Cormorants, and identified one as a Great.  Now, this would have been a lifer for me, but there were many Double-Crested Cormorants around.  Not that I didn’t trust the guide (he was a great leader and his bird identification skills were very good), its just that the bird was very far away, and I couldn’t get a positive ID on it.  If there is something as serious (well, serious for me) as putting a misidentified species on my life list at stake, I want to take as much precaution with identifying the bird as possible.

After that, we boarded our bus that would take us to the southern end of the island.  The bus ride was very long (personally, I wished that we could have spent more time birding and less time on a bus), but they did spot two Wild Turkeys in a tree.  It wouldn’t have been a lifer, of course, but I didn’t see them anyway.  I would have liked to see a turkey (other than on my dinner plate), because I haven’t seen one in years, and I think that they are a very intriguing species, not only because of their looks but because of their history too (but that is for an entirely different post).

After about a half an hour on the bus, we reached our destination, Wolfe’s Pond Park.  It is a scenic place, even in winter, but further research shows me that the birding there is better during spring and fall.  We saw Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls, Long-Tailed Duck, a species of Scaup (probably Greater), Common Goldeneye, Brant, Mallard, and American Black Duck.

A saltwater Scaup species, which means that they are probably Greater Scaup

A flock of Brant flying away from us as we walked in their direction.

There was one specific Ring-Billed Gull that would let me get within feet of him, which proved to provide many good photo opportunities.

The Ring-Billed Gull that let me get very close at Wolfe's Pond Park.

There is nothing else to be noted about birding at this park, other than a great look of Herring Gulls trying to steal an American Black Duck’s food.

Here is the Gull trying to steal the American Black Duck's mussel

We got BACK on the bus and headed up to Greenbelt Nature Center to attempt to walk on some trails to get some forest birds.  We arrived, and headed into the nature center.  They had a band playing, and there were drinks and snacks for all.  I then went outside to a feeder right along the walkway leading into the front doors, where a Chickadee was letting people get very close (a Downy Woodpecker showed up, too, but left before I could get pictures).

"What are you lookin' at?" The Chickadee that was being very photogenic.

We then all attempted to walk on a trail through the forest, but then they all turned around because the snow became too deep.

We, for the last time, boarded the bus which took us back to the Ferry.  We took one final look at the Cormorant to try to determine if it was a Great, and then got on the Ferry.

The final excitement of the day was when a Rock Pigeon boarded the Ferry with us, rode it all the way back to the Manhattan side, and flew back towards Staten Island until out of sight.  I don’t know why, but that intrigued me…

This guy boarded the Ferry with us, rode it to Manhattan, and then flew back in the direction of Staten Island.

One of the Gulls that was following the Ferry