Columbia County Birding Spotlight March 17-20, 2023

It was time to head towards the eastern part of the state and I reached out to some birders about certain counties and Andy Keister suggested we do Columbia County with some potential for waterfowl mid-March and after some research, even predicted that we could get 80-85 species during that time. It certainly qualified as a lower ranked county on ebird for species and checklists. So, it was time to give it some love.

We were able to line up 3 days’ worth of birding walks which is always helpful for these spotlights. We started it off on the 17th with Karol Pasquinelli leading a trip around Briar Creek Lake. It predicted some light rain on that Friday morning, so we prepared and hoped for some waterfowl and whatever else we could find. Noah and I got there a bit early and Karol and a couple others were already there, we met on the west side. I recognized Mark Nale and Darla getting their rain gear on. The lake was loaded with Canada Geese and some other waterfowl. Skeins of geese kept going overhead all morning and we low estimated over 5k. We had Bryce from Northumberland, Jessie from Snyder and Lisa from Potter join us as well. We had over a dozen birders make the lap around half of the lake getting some first of the year birds for ourselves as well as the county. We enjoyed getting the first Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow and Eastern Meadowlark which also perched in a tree by our cars. Another great highlight was having a gray ghost, the male Northern Harrier fly right over us on the walk.

We went up the road just a bit to see the local vulture roost and got both species, the Black Vulture was the hardest one to get that weekend for sure. After some field birding and a wonderful lunch at Berwick Brewing, we continued to Columbia Park. A mad crazy pishing recording perked up a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, our first American Goldfinch and a few other nice birds. Andy finally got off work and was able to join us in the afternoon and after exploring some more fields, we went to the top of the mountain after some fruitless Sandhill Crane search and found some more waterfowl and our first Common Goldeneye for the weekend along with more Ring-necked Duck which was in good numbers all over the county. Coming back down the mountain we did some more field searching and lucked out seeing and hearing some Horned Lark.

We finished our day at Lake Glory Campground and saw some nice waterfowl coming in for the evening. This was one of the many hotspots we created during this spotlight. Late that night Joe Gyekis and his son Henry got to our AirBnB in Orangeville, so we hoped for an early start the next morning before the field trips. Joe was able to get out and about, hearing American Woodcock and Wild Turkey. We were working our way to Bloomsburg to meet Andy Keister and the gang for our 8am walk along some river spots. Elsewhere in the county Julia Plummer was doing some solo birding and getting audio and found the first Fox Sparrow as well for the weekend. She was able to get 14 different species on audio which is always a great addition to our spotlights. She does better when she does hermit birding to lessen the noise and interference.

On our walk, with 14 people along the river spots, we saw a single Merlin who was vocal, got another Eastern Phoebe and by the sports parks, saw at least 2 Merlin in their nesting area. We were hoping to get the falcon sweep by visiting the Bloomsburg Airport but this visit wouldn’t pan out. Peregrines seem to like to winter roost in this area, but nest elsewhere in the county.

Our next stop was Paper Mill Rd and Lake which we can now tell you not to park at the top of the hill after the town’s finest badge came to check us out. But that walk down that road looking through the fence and tree gave us an amazing waterfowl selection. We got 10 duck species plus Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot. Other highlights were Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye and Ruddy Duck.

We then did some spot checking for various species and scored with 2 Purple Finch at local birder John Slotterback’s home. He had them a week or so before and we lucked out on that day. The only spot for them the whole weekend.

We decided to hit Lake Glory Campground again and found some really nice additions in Winter Wren, Rusty Blackbird and Swamp Sparrow. As we decided to call it a day, we finished at Harris Wetlands and Andy found us 4 Wilson Snipe, several nice flocks of Rusty Blackbirds, and some more waterfowl.

Back at our rental Joe went back out with Michael David to look for more American Woodcock and actually got to see some and get pics. A Sharp-shinned Hawk almost hit them as it was zooming by within 4 feet. Sunday morning came quickly as we had to get packed up and run over to SGL 226 to meet Andy for another bird walk. When we got there, John let us know that after 7 pm the night before, he did see a perched Peregrine Falcon near the airport to give the spotlight a falcon sweep.

The temps Sunday morning were the lowest all weekend, so we all had to bundle up for some walks. We got our first of the weekend Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-breasted Nuthatch and American Tree Sparrow for our group of over a dozen. As we went further north, we got lucky to see a Fox Sparrow of our own as well as hear it. Most of us called it a day after this.

Monday morning, I had to get back to work and posted some of the updates and pics on the last day of the challenge but Moses Martin who lives near SGL 226 responded to my email to the listserv and let us know that he was hearing Eastern Screech Owl every morning and I was allowed to share it on ebird for him. On the last night Andy also went out and got us a Great Horned Owl to add another new species. So, we had 96 ebird checklists for 86 species, with 28 of them with pictures and 14 of them with audio. We added 14 year birds to the county and several new hotspot requests.

It was another great excuse to see some old friends, meet some new ones, explore new places, promote an underbirded county and enjoy mother nature once again. The biggest non birding adventure many of us got to enjoy was seeing a river otter playing in the water and on the bank.

Thanks again Andy and Karol for leading and joining, as well as all of the local birders and the ones who had to travel to join us.