Cameron County Birding Spotlight Summary

October 14-17, 2022

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Our latest edition of the county spotlight took us into the northwest part of the state near the lands of the mighty Elk.

We were reminded that not all locations in the state have cell service, so we had to wait to upload many checklists until we could get to wifi or little islands of reception on mountain vistas or small towns. I can personally thank my vehicle GPS for getting me to and fro in my travels. Even my satellite radio faded in and out of some of the valleys while trying to keep up with PSU football and then baseball playoff scores. Some of my cohorts weren’t so lucky at times with their phone GPS. But in the long run, getting lost in mother nature isn’t the worst thing to happen to someone when you can enjoy the fall foliage, wildlife, and fresh air.

Not many places you can go and not see the golden arches or the big box stores for several days and putting many miles on gravel and dirt roads. I felt blessed to enjoy another spot in the PA Wilds. Once again, we were welcomed with open arms by local birders and state park and forest employees who gave up their time and knowledge to help create and lead field trips for this birding challenge. We had 3 days of field trips lined up in the 4-day challenge. We have created these birding adventures to explore new hotspots for many of us, see what kind of numbers we can get in a snapshot over 4 days, add species to people’s county lists and in some cases, life birds for the attendees. We have the field trip leaders or helpers keep the checklists on eBird and ask anyone who birded in the area during the time frame to share with PSO Birding Data. We had 39 eBird checklists that produced 68 species of birds. Some birders were out multiple days and we tallied 26 people over the 4-dayspotlight.

Friday, October 14, Barbara Gee led five women birders – one of whom was recruited from the parking lot while her husband grilled lunch – completed a two and a half mile birding walk in Sinnemahoning State Park.

They started on the Lowlands Trail at the 40 Maples Day Use Area. Kimberly Lott, Sinnemahoning Park Educator gave them a brief history of the park and was a wealth of information regarding the habitats they went through and the effects of invasive plants on our native birds. The group tallied 14 species, starting with a Bald Eagle soaring down the creek, and ending with an Eastern Towhee calling from the brush.

Roger and Marg Higbee came in and did some exploring on their own to visit various hotspots and explore new roads to them to help add to the challenge.

Several of us who stayed together near Austin all were coming in Friday evening and after dark, Andy Keister and Joe Gyekis joined me in some owling. We ran down to the George Stevenson Dam to do some owl calls and almost immediately we had Eastern Screech Owls responding to us and we had at least 2 maybe 3. That got 1-2 Northern Saw Whet Owls to respond as well with the toot call and the cat-like response. We couldn’t get any of the bigger owls to respond there, but that seems like such a great spot with so many hills and valleys as well as the lake to hear sounds coming. We did have a Mallard humor me with my bigger owl calls I was doing by mouth.

From there we headed down to the boat launch area in pitch black for most of the road going up to the campground and visitors center. We just couldn’t get any big owls like Great Horned or Barred to respond, but did have another Screech Owl and several flying squirrels as well as some sparrow seeps but that was it. A couple of fat Raccoons did scurry across the road near 40 Oaks.

Saturday morning October 15, we got to the park at the visitors center to meet Kimberly Lott for the first time and see the Higbee’s as well as trip leader Mark Johnson for the first time in a long while. He led our group of a dozen birders around some trails and we were able to enjoy the morning fog birding and get some really nice species to add to the challenge. It was nice to meet Marks wife, daughter and son-in-law who are all active birders in the area. Our birding focus did take a detour when we saw a young white-tailed deer feeding in the field and it got some special attention from an Eastern Phoebe who landed near it–before long the bird kept landing and hitting it before eventually landing on the deer’s head to pick off something, maybe ticks, from its ears. Some in our group got pictures of all of this unfolding.

From there several of us headed up to Sterling Run to visit the strip-mines. Mark could only lead us part of the way due to some prior commitments, but we found the place after one mishap of directions and found the place to be quite windy, but the views were killer. We were able to add Savannah Sparrow as well as Eastern Meadowlark which for this 90% forested county is good.

We had to get Andy K back to the visitors center and were able to meet back up with Mark and his wife to go visit some other areas. We hit Hicks Run, got to meet Andy Sidelinger who did some birding of his own for the spotlight and then finished the day at Top of the World, where we had spectacular views at sunset. Again, it was windy at these places, but we did get lucky enough to see others kick up a Ruffed Grouse that flew past us and up over the ridge grasslands. Over this trip, we heard/saw 3-4 of our state bird, a treat for those of us from further south. I am thinking that is about how many I have had in the last 10 years. I am told their numbers are up this year in some areas, which is great news.

Sunday morning October 16 brought us some colder temps while we had to pack out of our rental. While loading my car just south of Austin, I was able to hear Great Horned Owl calling which I was able to add to my Potter County list but we didn’t have for the Cameron list yet. We zipped down to the boat launch at the park, careful to avoid any big mammals as well as smaller ones like Skunk, Wild Turkey, Opossum, and Raccoon I had to avoid while driving around the weekend. We pulled into the launch, saw a few vehicles, soon found out that it was just too cold to do the pontoon boat tour to bird like we had hoped. We had almost a dozen show up for the walk. Kimberly was just beside herself apologizing, but we all said it wasn’t her fault and we would bird elsewhere.

In the meantime, Kim had said she saw 27 ducks come in by the dam the night before, so while things were still being discussed I zipped down to scope the water. Many of those ducks left but I was able to hear Great Horned Owl calling at dawn to add it for the trip. Once I got back to the launch, Joe G had already taken a few people on a lap around the trails and he jumped a potential rare sparrow that he came back to get better waterproof footwear and pants. We then lead the official trip back around the trails and before too long we heard a different chip in the area he saw it before, then the Nelson’s Sparrow hopped up for great looks by all. This ended up being a new county Ebird record as well. It was certainly a lifer for many of us. This has been my nemesis bird for many years now. I was always away or just missed it or it was too windy and I would only see a flash of possible orange or more interesting bird fly ahead of me in several counties. I really didn’t think I would be getting a lifer or state bird on this trip but that is how it happens sometimes. While standing at that same location we heard another chip and a Lincoln’s Sparrow showed up in the same grasssland and everyone got to see it as well.

After that walk, we headed back up to the top of the dam to do a walk across it and down around to the water again. We got into some more birds and were able to add White-crowned Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, and Pied-billed Grebe for our own lists or the spotlight overall list.

After this trip,we decided to hit the Willows for lunch and then head home. Sarah Lindgren and her 2 boys joined for lunch as well. They were spunky and entertaining to have them join us on the walks. I was impressed with their Barred Owl calls and some other bird noises. Sarah is doing a good job raising them for nature adventures, imo.

On Monday October 17, some friends from the State College Bird Club as well as PSO were coming to do a day trip to help finish the spotlight. Deb Grove, Susan Braun, and Ro Fuller explored the area. They were following the trip checklists as the weekend unfolded and were hoping to find some of the highlights as well as hoping to find new additions. They weren’t able to re-find the Nelson’s Sparrow, but did replace it with a Fox Sparrow. Dave Brooke and his wife were able to see and photograph a late Tennessee Warbler to add for the weekend.

So that concluded our county spotlight for Cameron and it was enjoyable to meet some new people we have known from facebook, ebird, birdingchats, texts, and emails over the years. These spotlights have been so successful because of the locals stepping up and helping the cause. We have Columbia set for mid-March 2023 and some discussions for April and later in the year.