Skip to content

Year End PA Trip part 2

01/04/2014

I began writing about our trip to Pittsburgh for Christmas and my quest to see Snowy Owls in my previous post here.  The tl/dr is that I spend Christmas Eve looking for them around Amish Farms with no luck.   My second chance to go looking would be the Saturday after Christmas.  I had volunteered to help out with Pittsburgh’s CBC that morning and was going to try to head to Erie and Presque Isle State Park (PISP) afterwards.

But before any of that, I got a surprise lifer while visiting some friends the day after Christmas.  They live in an awesome house in the woods outside of the city and are always having woodpeckers trying to make houses in their wood-sided house.  I was watching their feeder when a little brown shape was making a visit.  I looked twice and grabbed my camera.

Carolina Wren, Pittsburgh PA

Carolina Wren, Pittsburgh PA

A Carolina Wren! It was joined by some Black-Capped Chickadees and these Tufted Titmice.

Tufted Titmice, Pittsburgh PA

Tufted Titmice, Pittsburgh PA

The last time that we were there I got to see a Red-Bellied Woodpecker making a visit, and it’s ripe Pileated WP territory, I didn’t see any of those.  Saturday morning I was up early and found my way to the CBC meeting place.  I finally got to meet Steve Gosser, who is a good photographer from the area and was coordinating out part of the count. I was assigned a place with 2 other people and we set off.  What would signal the tone for that part of the day, a tree had fallen across the road that we had to take to get to our area.

Blocked Path, Indianola PA

Blocked Path, Indianola PA

Despite it not being very large, the three of us couldn’t budge it.  Lucky for us a good Samaritan with a chainsaw was waiting for his boss nearby and cut the tree apart for us.  I gave him some Christmas cookies for his time.  But as we got closer to our area, we saw lots of vehicles belonging to hunters along the side of the road.  We didn’t have anything orange to wear, and I didn’t feel like taking my chances, so we stuck to the roads.  It was fairly uneventful, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, some Downy Woodpeckers, Chickadees and lots of Cardinals.  We went to another spot that we couldn’t get to, but got to see a Golden-Crowned Kinglet flitting around some pine trees.  We were on our way back to the meet-up spot so that I could drop my passengers off when we stopped near a graveyard to see if we could spot a hawk that was seen there earlier.

We didn’t see anything near the road, but a hawk-shape was spotted on the other side of the cemetery. Looking at it through binoculars I ID’d it as a new bird for me, a Red-Shouldered Hawk!   The orange striping on the breast was unmistakable and it lacked the long tail of an Accipiter.

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Pittsburgh PA

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Pittsburgh PA

I tried getting closer but it decided to fly off and I was so amazed at how beautiful it was flying over that I didn’t get any more photos of it.  This has got to be the best looking hawk of the bunch.  Maybe even the bird of my trip.

I was soon off on my way to Erie and PISP, a little more than 2 hours away from where I was. I got there much later than I had planned and drove around the peninsula twice before I found the trial to Gull Point.  It was crazy seeing the amount of people coming and going with binoculars, cameras and scopes.  Some of the people even had opera glasses.  The walk to where the owls were seen ended up being a mile and a half of mud and sand.  I had never been to the area before, but someone actually had posted signs to where the owls were at various intersections with other trails.  I was almost at Gull Point when someone said that there was an owl off to the right.  I followed a short trail and saw a big, dark shape out on the ice.

Snowy Owl on Ice, PISP Erie PA

Snowy Owl on Ice, PISP Erie PA

It was a Snowy Owl, finally. It was sitting there staring into the Sun and eventually flew off and landed on a breakwater a bit further out.  I kept walking out onto the point to where another owl or 2 were being seen.  I saw lots of ducks out on the water, along with some lifer Red-Breasted Mergansers.   The other owl was sitting out on some broken ice that was surrounded on both sides by sand.  And people were getting really close to it, within a 100 feet.  I stuck to the viewing platform and managed to see it fine.

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

I was in shock at the people who were trying to get close enough to get photos with their cellphone cameras.  There is a reason that some of us spend thousands on camera gear.  Well, I walked out to the point and tried to get a good look at the various ducks that were sitting out there sleeping.

Redheads, PISP Erie PA

Redheads, PISP Erie PA

I also saw a Greater Scaup.  It was with some other ducks that I couldn’t get a good look at, as well as a smaller Lesser Scaup.

Greater Scaup, PISP Erie PA

Greater Scaup, PISP Erie PA

I also saw some Long-Tailed Ducks and what may have been a kind of Scoter, but I couldn’t be sure enough.  But the light was really going and the Sun was soon to set, so I needed to head back to the parking lot.  But on the way I saw a small bird hopping about in the underbrush.  It was a type of Sparrow and as typical for them, wouldn’t sit still for very long.  But I thought that it was an American Tree Sparrow and the photos back me up.

American Tree Sparrow, PISP Erie PA

American Tree Sparrow, PISP Erie PA

I hiked for a half mile more and then turned a corner to see a group of people standing ahead and looking East.  I looked to see what they were looking at and saw a third Snowy Owl. This one was way up at the top of a tree, and just as the Sun was setting.

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

The owl stayed up in the tree long enough for me to get pretty close.  And by pretty close, meaning that I walked up to where a group of people where already standing for a few minutes without the owl getting spooked. I managed to get some really good photos of it.

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

It would occasionally flex it’s wings, but never flew.

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

Snowy Owl, PISP Erie PA

The Sun was gone and Taps being played at the nearby Coastguard Station made me bid farewell to this beautiful bird.  I managed to get a nice view of the lake before I made it back to my car.

Lake Erie, PISP Erie PA

Lake Erie, PISP Erie PA

So maybe I spent too much time and energy on seeing the Snowy Owls while on a short vacation.  But they were really great to see, and I managed to see some other nice birds along the way.  I use the Google Tracker app on my phone to see how far I hiked for ebird purposes and the track from my visit to Presque Isle State Park was an interesting one.

My wondering, PISP Erie PA

My wondering, PISP Erie PA

Over 4 miles in mud.  Needless to say there was plenty of dry ground out there at Gull Point that I didn’t need waders.  And you can make out the spots where I walked off of the main trail to see the three owls.

I’m going to post 2 more times on this blog and then move to my new one, Bothering Birds.  We leave Albuquerque in a month and have lots to do.  But I want to post a best-of from 2013 and conclude my Birds of New Mexico Guidebook challenge (which I didn’t make).

Thanks for making it this far,

cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

2 Comments
  1. Rather successful trip, eh? Those last two Snowy Owl pictures are superb!

    • steve permalink

      Thanks Joe. There were lots of other birds that I wanted to see but didn’t have time for. Some day maybe I can have a bird only vacation. Maybe to Belize. But there was a Barred Owl near my parents’ house that is fairly easy to spot that I didn’t have a chance to go see.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: