Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2 for 2 - Green-tailed Towhee and Harris's Sparrow...

This weekend while tracking down a Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis ) in Queens, with my friend Eric Miller, he mentioned that he and another friend, Jeff Ritter, were going to make a run at a Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus) that had eluded them the prior weekend in PA.  They were also possibly going to chase a Harris's Sparrow that was also in the area.  Both birds would be lifers for me, so of course I was intrigued. It did not take much to convince me and so I joined my fellow Queens birders on Sunday for the run to PA.

We met around 6:15 a.m. and with Jeff at the wheel, we headed off to eastern PA. Having missed the Green tailed-Towhee the prior weekend, Jeff and Eric were hoping that the weather being a bit cooler this weekend would encourage the Towhee to be lured out to bird seed.

We arrived at Blue Marsh Lake in PA, a little after 9AM and immediately heard a singing Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) and the chip notes of nearby Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum). On our walk up the hill past the dam, we found at least 2-3 singing Palm Warblers. Further into the trail we heard a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), which kept out of sight even though we tried to coax it into view. More Palm Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis)and Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) were also seen as we worked our way towards the spot where the Green-tailed Towhee was reported.

Jeff and Eric seemed very encouraged at the birding activity near the area where the Towhee was reported to be frequenting and remarked that the prior weekend there were no birds around that area when they were there. We noticed the empty hulls of bird seed that someone had put in the area and Eric sprinkled some more that he had brought with him. Then we began the waiting game.

I was satisfied that with Eric and Jeff neither of them were going to get antsy after a short wait as they are both patient birders. We all waited patiently and during that time enjoyed ourselves observing many of the other birds that showed up. We also did quite a bit of birding by ear and an observer unfamiliar with our lingo would have been quite amused to hear anyone of us call out a bird and ask if the others had heard it.

Among the birds seen during our wait included several singing Field Sparrow (only one provided a poor view) an immature White-crowned Sparrow, several Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) which created quite the discussion once we heard the call and began to analyze that it did not sound like the Black-capped, call of "Cheese Burger, Cheese Burger". Jeff checked his Sibley Field Guide and commented that the birds appeared to be further north of the range for the species, so it will be interesting to see the feedback we get from the PA list serve once Jeff submits his report.

Target bird #1: Green-tailed Towhee
After about an hour and a half, a discussion began about the plumage of the Green-tailed Towhee. And we were looking at Jeff's Field Guide, when suddenly Jeff announced that the bird had arrived. We all quickly got on the bird which only stayed for a moment before hopping into the bushes. We continued to wait, hoping for another look and were rewarded after about another 15-20 minutes, when the bird came out again for a bit longer, but not by much. We all got on the bird pleased at the second look. We hung around hoping for a third look and for more photos, but Jeff keeping both Eric and I in check reminded us that we were on the clock with time counting down to go look for a Harris' Sparrow.  Eric and I both got a chuckle at Jeff remarking about keeping the two us in check, as we both are guilty of wanting to pore through every nook and cranny when birding; sometimes that works against good time management when birding against the clock. Other good birds in the area included a Kingfisher (heard only) and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow) (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) among many Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).

Eric and Jeff all smiles after picking up their life Green-tailed Towhee
Before we went for the Harris's Sparrow, we stopped at Kaercher Creek to look for a previously reported White Ibis, but we did not find it. Here we had another look, in better light this time of another Northern Rough-winged Swallow among several numerous Tree Swallows. We also spotted and photographed a Wood Chuck, one of the biggest we had ever seen.

Target bird #2: Harris's Sparrow and 2nd lifer for the day
Then we continued to 690 Old Philly Pike where according to directions we had to look for a Shagbark Hickory tree that was about 400-500 feet from the address adjacent to the road. We again looked for evidence of bird seed to help us out and we found the spot using this strategy. Eric put out the remaining bird seed he had and then we waited. The Harris's wait was not as long as the Green-tailed Towhee and in about 20 minutes the bird showed up near the base of the tree. Traffic while not plentiful made the birds skittish and the Harris's Sparrow did not stay in the open for long. However, it made several short appearances, which provided excellent looks. Other birds of note seen in this particular spot, included an Adult White-crowned Sparrow.

Nearby, we observed several roosts of Turkey Vultures (Tachycineta bicolor) and saw several Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) flying around as well. A male Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) came out in the open and called ever so often startling the Turkey Vultures into leaving their perch. We soon left the area and birded in New Jersey on our way home stopping at Spruce Run Reservoir to look for an Eared Grebe that was reported in the area. At this location birds of note, included Savannah Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Wilson's Snipe, 5 Red-necked Grebes and a White-winged Scoter, but no Eared Grebe.

For anyone interested in statistics, we reviewed our field notes on the way home and concluded that we tallied twelve species of Sparrows for the day that included Green-tailed and Eastern Towhees and Dark-eyed Junco.  It was a very fun day birding with Jeff and Eric while picking up two lifers; it is not often one could do a 2 for 2 in the field when chasing rarities.

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Friend of HK said...

Wish I was there too!


You would have loved birding with us. Of course, Eric and I get a little carried away, but with Jeff there to keep us in check it was all good.