This past weekend I did a trip into the heart of the Allegheny National Forest (ANF). If you have never heard of this place it is located in north western PA and encompasses the counties of Warren, McKean, Forest and Elk. This forest is huge!! It is 513,000 acres (801 Sq. miles). You could easily spend weeks here and still not be able to explore all this place has to offer. This is a map showing where it is located in the state of Pennsylvania.
It is also home to many of the northern breeding birds. With such vast forest and pristine wilderness it has very high concentrations of many species of birds that call this place home for the summer. You can find close to 20 species of warblers that breed here along with many other birds such as Winter Wren, Northern Goshawk, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Swainsons Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, just to name a few. Some of these birds are super common here while others are quite rare. The birder that I am, I’m always on the lookout for those rare species. I came across tons upon tons of awesome warblers and birds, however only two cooperated nicely for pictures. The one was a very common and abundant warbler of these forest while the other was a prized find! I’ll start with the one that is very common.
This is the very abundant Black-throated Green Warbler. Just because they are super common, doesn’t mean they are any less attractive. They are actually stunning birds. With an extensive jet black throat, a green back, a mostly Yellow head and bold white wing bars, they leave most birders in ooh and aahs at their beautiful sight.
This BTG posed nearly flawlessly for me as he hopped from one branch to another. These warblers prefer mostly coniferous forests but I will often find them in a mix of deciduous and conifers. They particularly seem to love the hemlock stands.
This is the kind of typical forest habitat where your likely to find one of these warblers in the ANF.
Like most of the song birds, it’s easiest to find these birds by first hearing and identifing their song. Their primary song goes “zee zee zee zo zay” which they usually sing when they are in the middle of their territory and trying to attract a mate. Their secondary song goes “zee zo zo zo zay” which they tend to sing more on the edge of their territory and sing it to defend against other intruding males.
If you don’t have the opportunity to get these guys on their breeding territory, don’t worry as they are also a very commonly seen warbler in both the spring and fall migration where you can find them nearly anywhere in woodlands during those times.
The other warbler I got that is much more rarer and difficult to find was the Mourning Warbler. It was by far my prized find for the day!
I’ve only seen these warblers a handful of times and this might be the best photo I’ve ever got of one. They prefer a very different kind of habitat compared to the BTG Warbler. They like clear cuts in the forest and need lots of thick brush where they like to keep under cover. They also love brushy areas that have raspberry and blackberry entanglements, so that is good to look for when trying to locate one of these warblers. This is the road where I found this one which you can see how much more of an open area it is.
I was driving down this road and it looked to me like prime habitat for the Mourning Warbler. So I pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car and just listened from the window. Immediate I heard a Chestnut-sided Warbler singing along with a Catbird, Towhee and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I gave it a little more time and all of a sudden down a little ways in the thick brush I heard the unmistakable song of the Mourning!! So now I knew one was there, now if I can only see him! I slowly approached where I heard the song come from and I spotted a little bird in the brush playing peek a boo with me. It was him!!!
They always seem like very shy birds so I gave him a little time and slowly he came out from hiding a little more.
This was the bird I had really been hoping for, over all the others so getting to see this beautiful bird was a pure delight. Eventually with a little patience he came out for an even better view.
It is estimated that only 10% of the total Mourning Warbler population breeds in the US, so the vast majority go further north into Canada. Needless to say it is a great bird to find breeding here in my home state of PA. Eventually this bird cooperated very nicely for me and I got him here pretty close!
This little guy was the highlight of my day. And it was another great day back into the north woods of the mighty Allegheny National Forest.