The Tale Of Two Warblers

The Minister Creek Overlook – Allegheny National Forest

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. ┬áThe 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.

A fine day at Conneaut

If you’re an avid bird photographer from Western PA or Eastern Ohio, then there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Conneaut Ohio for the fall shorebird migration. It lies only a mile from the PA border on Lake Erie. The lake shore is a migration corridor for many migrating birds and come August the shorebirds are already heading south to their wintering grounds. Gull Point at Presque Isle is another good spot to catch the migrating shorebirds, but what makes Conneaut so great is that you can get incredibly close to the birds. You can drive your car right out on the sandspit and take pics of the birds without even leaving your vehicle! In late summer I always make a few trips there to see what I can find. I got there this past Monday at 8am and the first shorebird I saw was a group of Sanderlings. They have always been a favorite of mine. They have so much personality as they are constantly running the shoreline back and forth in front of the waves.

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This one came walking right up to me!

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The next shorebird I came across were some Lesser Yellowlegs. I got this one as it almost looks like he is staring at himself in the reflection, but really he’s just trying to find his next little meal.

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Other than those birds, there wasn’t a whole lot to take pictures of at that point, so I got some photos of this Great Blue Heron as he was completely focused on catching his next fish.

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And then there it was!! An American Avocet just flew into the sandspit!!

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Avocets are birds that breed in the Western U.S. and Canada and we only see them here in the East (if you’re lucky) when they are passing through in migration. They are not a common bird to see in Ohio or Pennsylvania so it’s always a treat when one shows up. This Avocet landed by the water’s edge and at first he was extremely flighty and every time I tried approaching he took off.

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But finally after awhile, this bird seemed to realize that all the birders and photographers there looking at him, meant him no harm. So then he just chilled out a little ways in the water.

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They are my favorite shorebird. They have an elegant beauty like no other in my opinion. During their breeding plumage their head and neck is a very rich cinnamon color, but the color was fading on this Avocet which is what happens in late summer. Eventually their head and neck will turn all white for their winter attire. Even with changing out of his breeding colors this bird was still a stunning sight to see!

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Occasionally I’d take aim at some of the other shorebirds present like this very fresh juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper.

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During the morning hours, the Avocet would occasionally take off flying, but he’d do a few laps around the sandspit and then settle back down.

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Here a Barn Swallow for what ever reason decided to give him a little chase.

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I took tons of photos of this Avocet since he stayed the entire time I was there. So many times when you see shorebirds during the migration they only stay a short while, sometimes only minutes, so to have several hours with this fine bird was a pure delight.

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It may have been a dark, dreary day with rain off and on, but catching the sight of an Avocet will brighten any day. Here was my final photo of him with the Conneaut lighthouse in the background.

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Ibis in Indiana!

Last Friday I was informed of a very special bird that showed up on a small farm pond near Indiana, PA….a Glossy Ibis!! I’ve seen these birds in Florida and a few spots in Delaware and Virginia but never in PA. I was keeping my fingers crossed it would stick around since I was off work for the weekend and could take a ride over to look for him. Saturday afternoon I arrived at the farm pond and to my good fortune he was still there! I first spotted him just down the grassy embankment next to the water.

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I wasn’t sure just how skittish he would be so I approached very slowly and cautiously. I quickly could tell he didn’t seem to concerned with my presence but I still kept a respectable distance. All of a sudden without warning he took off, and I thought, oh no he’s leaving!

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As it turned out he was just in the mood to fly a little, did a couple laps around the pond and then came flying back in.

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Then for the next hour or so, my friend and I watched as he foraged around the pond, sweeping his bill in the water, eating what he could find. Occasionally he came extremely close to us, probably within 10 yards a few times, which afforded us with some nice close ups!

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When the light hit him just right, his iridescent colors absolutely shined. With a maroon colored neck and upper body and green and purple iridescence in the wings, he was truly a beautiful sight to see.

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They are a very rare bird for Western PA as they are mostly found along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast states. I later found out, this day was the last day he was seen there….I was so fortunate to have had this opportunity to see and photography this magnificent bird. This was definitely one of my highlight birds thus far for 2016!