Cambria County Birding Spotlight Summary

March 4-7, 2022

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The PSO decided to start a new birding adventure by spotlighting counties and Cambria was the first chosen one. We had the fortune to have Tony DeSantis involved on this one as he worked at Prince Gallitzin as the Naturalist for several years. Many of his old friends were glad to see him back and I am sure he was glad to visit again on a more fun level than work.

We hoped to promote hotspots, bird as much as we could, lead some walks, get groups to hit various spots and see what we could put on the Ebird map during the challenge. We had everyone share their checklists with PSO Birding Data and we also created a Trip Report list to share with anyone who wished to see it while it was going on and afterwards.

My son Noah and I arrived in the evening and we hoped to see some things before it got dark. We lucked out and saw some waterfowl on the little bit of water that was open. As dusk kicked in, we heard American Woodcock peenting on Long Rd. We worked the Evergreens by the parking area by doing an Eastern Screech Owl call and lo and behold across the lake 1-2 Barred Owl returned a call and I was able to get some recorded on the Merlin App that was put on the Ebird Checklist.

I was joined by Joe Gyekis and his son Henry for the weekend and we got up early to do some birding on our own before we met the crew for Tony’s official field trip at 8 am. We worked our way to Long Rd again and got into large flocks of American Goldfinch, probably a few hundred and in that flock picked out some Purple Finch and Red-breasted Nuthatch. We also noted the frog sound that the Hooded Mergansers were making and the racket that the Tundra Swans were making as well.

We were to meet at 8 am with Tony and the crew at the marina and we got a few more people than expected. They were ready to be led around and go birding, almost gave us a sense of normalcy (?).We ended up with 22 people throughout the day until after noon with some coming and going. We were glad to see 2 younger kids who came along with adults and they had their bins with them too. It was nice to see them asking questions and noting birds on our stops. We did get a glimpse of Julia Plummer who was doing birding on her own so she could avoid the crowds and get sound recordings to add to our bird checklists.

With over 95% of the lake frozen, the waterfowl that was there was concentrated until spooked by ice fisherman or Bald Eagles flying around. There was some collection of birds including gulls on the ice at times.

When we parked at McDermott Trail to walk down to the waters edge to get as close to the waterfowl as we could, it was well worth the walk. We were able to get the scope on the ducks as well as much closer bin looks. We hit several more areas on the north side of the lake, the highlight of that section was the special cookies that Susan Braun broke out for the crew. She all of a sudden became the favorite person in the group.

Raptors were busy in the day as there was nice winds and lifts. We saw great looks at many Red-tails, Red-shoulders, Bald Eagles, American Kestrel, Cooper’s Hawk and Turkey Vultures.

As noon approached, many in the group started peeling off and we finished the group trip at the Rangers station looking at the feeders and restrooms.

It was now time to expand our search area outside of the park, so we went looking for field birds.We got into some Horned Lark flocks, some blackbirds, and many raptors out and about.

Another spot we looked forward to visiting was Slate Lick Run which gave us some more species we didn’t have on the waterfowl front and our first good looks at American Tree Sparrow.We tried our hardest to pish up a Swamp Sparrow here and some other places, but they just weren’t around yet it seems.

On a tip from our friend Tina Alianiello, she suggested we visit SGL 108-Killbuck Run Habitat Restoration Area. We parked at the gate and walked back the roads splitting up. I broke out the screech owl call and bam, it was a birding session mob. We had up to 5 Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Purple Finch, Golden-crowned Kinglet among others as well as hearing a mobbing Blue Jay flock that kicked up a real Eastern Screech Owl calling. We didn’t have to walk far past the gate, probably less than 100 yards but certainly a spot worth checking out in various seasons.

We decided to end the day and sunlight at Dugan’s Marsh down from the Rangers station.We hoped to see Short-eared Owls, Snipe, Woodcock, etc.Tony and Joe did a walk around the property while I stayed up with the scope, no Owls came, but they got some great birds with almost a dozen American Woodcock, Eastern Towhee, close flying Hooded Merganser and Wood Duck.

We got another early start on Sunday for day 3 of the spotlight. We hit Long Road first, then beelined down to Slate Lick Run again before the rain which had starting to drizzle. We were pleased to get Tree Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, Gadwall, among the other waterfowl. The Tree Swallows came in with the warm southern winds right on cue.

Heading back to the marina, Tony let us know he had Eastern Meadowlark and we counted 5 of them as well as nice numbers of Killdeer making themselves known. I was able to see a larger gull on the ice with the Ring-billed and we were able to call our only Herring Gull of the weekend as well as add Northern Pintail. Joe was also able to snag a Wilson’s Snipe with picture as it flew over his head too — not an easy thing to do ever.

We ended up with 76 species on the 4-day spotlight, 131 checklists, 47 species with pictures and 8 species with audio recording.

Vern Gauthier was joined by Bill Oyler hit hotspots in the southern part of the county and Marg and Roger Higbee put in time every day. Tina Alianiello, Pam & Winnie Illig, John Carter and Court Harding all put in time and added checklists.

We were pleased at how nice Mother Nature treated us with weather as even with frozen lake conditions we still got a good bit of waterfowl and the like as well as some seasonal birds for early March.

The eBird trip report can be found here