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East Coast Trip part 1 – Pennsylvania

06/29/2013

So the family took a vacation to the East Coast.  We decided to spend my son’s first birthday in Pittsburgh and have a big party with family and friends.  Then we drove to NYC for a day to see our BFF Nina and then wound up in Connecticut on the coast at a gathering of my wife’s family.  It was nearly 2 weeks of good times.  I didn’t get a chance to do or see everyone and everything that I wanted to, but came home tired, yet satisfied.  And traveling with 2 kids is hard, especially ones that don’t like to sleep in airplanes or cars.  Ireland is going to be rough.

But I was really hoping to see lots of birds during the trip.  I never kept lists until after I moved to New Mexico, so technically lots of birds that I’ve seen before aren’t listed anywhere.  Plus I’ll admit that I didn’t know much birds while I grew up, despite spending lots of time outdoors.  The very first new bird that I saw was a Grey Catbird at Idlewild Park.  We were waiting for the train when I spotted a grey bird singing it’s tail off. I got a look and saw a grey bird with a smart little cap.  No camera then, but we watched it for awhile.

I set aside a morning in PA and one in Connecticut to try and see what I could see.  I’ll say that I was pretty disappointed in what I’ll call the mono-culture of urban birds.  You have Pigeons, some sort of dove (or doves here in NM), a Grackle (Common out East, Great-Tailed here), House Sparrows and European Starlings. Those birds are replicated everywhere, and in the majority of populations.  Albuquerque at least has house-finches in good numbers, which offers some variety in hindsight. And our population of hummingbirds is much higher.  They really are rare out east compared to here.

But I chose Harrison Hills County Park in Harrison Township was my birding location in PA.  I almost grew up there and know the park pretty well.  There’s a pond, some fields and lots of mixed woods and plenty of trails, which happen to be the best marked of any park that I’ve been to before.

Scout Trail, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Rachel Carson Trail, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

I was looking at the ebird lists for the area and the potential was there for me to see 30 or more new species.  But as it turns out, birding in the East is much different than birding in the Southwest.  I really don’t know any bird calls.  I know a few, but enough to say that I don’t know any.  And the canopy was so far away! A hundred and fifty feet or more.  I heard lots more birds than I ever saw and only picked up a few new birds over a 7 hour stretch.  And no woodpeckers at all.  But, the first new bird was the bird of the day, and maybe the trip.  I had hiked a mile or so on the Scout trail and saw the usual Grackles, Robins and Starlings at the large field where I parked.  And then a female Northern Cardinal.  But just a bit further on I saw a flash of red to my right and….

Male Scarlet Tanager, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Male Scarlet Tanager, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

A beautiful male Scarlet Tanager!  It was in horrible light, but it sat there for a bit looking very majestic.  I actually think that I walked away while it was still sitting there with an extra bounce in my step.  But I ended up walking a long time before seeing another bird.  This Brown Headed Cowbird was sitting up on a pole near some soccer fields.

Brown-Headed Cowbird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Brown-Headed Cowbird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

And near the soccer fields I saw an Eastern Towhee, a pair of Northern Cardinals and some Tree Swallows buzzing the fields.

Northern Cardinal, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Northern Cardinal, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Eastern Towhee, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Eastern Towhee, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Have I mentioned how bad the lighting was?  It was much worse in the photos than it was seeing the birds.  I continued on to the small pond at the South Edge of the park.  This was a favorite haunt of mine as a kid. I could sit there for hours and watch ducks, turtles, frogs and fish swimming around.  I remember a large albino snapping turtle that used to live there.  I passed some Tufted Titmice frolicking in pine trees on the way to the pond, but no good photos.  And at the pond there were lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, a Song Sparrow and some Tree Swallows with a nest in the box.

Red-Winged Blackbirds, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Red-Winged Blackbirds, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Female Red-Winged Blackbird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Female Red-Winged Blackbird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Song Sparrow, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Song Sparrow, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Tree Swallows at nest box, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Tree Swallows at nest box, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Tree Swallow peeking out of nest, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Tree Swallow peeking out of nest, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Up the hill from the pond I saw lots of Cedar Waxwings, some Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, a bunch of Black-Capped Chickadees and a mystery bird.

Cedar Waxwing, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Cedar Waxwing, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Northern Cardinal, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Northern Cardinal, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Blue Jay, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Blue Jay, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Black-Capped Chickadee, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Black-Capped Chickadee, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Here’s the mystery bird.  It was way up in a tree and I thought that it was an Eastern Bluebird, but now I think that it was an Indigo Bunting.  I’ll ask Reddit’s /r/whatsthisbird, those guys are amazing at ID’ing birds from crappy photos.

Mystery Bird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Mystery Bird, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Mystery Bird 2, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Mystery Bird 2, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

I went to check one more area that I thought would be good for woodpeckers without seeing anything.  I did see an Eastern White-Breasted Nuthatch.

White-Breasted Nuthatch (Eastern), Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

White-Breasted Nuthatch (Eastern), Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

And a close second for bird of the day, and the only warbler of the trip, a beautiful Black-and-White Warbler crawling around on a tree trunk.  It was very low on the tree and pretty much ignored me standing there.

Black-and-White Warbler, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Black-and-White Warbler, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Black-and-White Warbler, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

Black-and-White Warbler, Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA

And that was about it for Harrison Hills Park.  I did see lots of Chimney Swifts during my son’s party in the evening.  And I did hear some pounding from a woodpecker that I never saw.  Next time I’ll look for a guide, or know more than 3 bird calls.

Cheers!

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From → birding

One Comment
  1. Mystery Bird is… probably an Indigo Bunting

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