Union County Birding Spotlight Summary

October 13-16, 2023

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Union County Birding Spotlight was our latest adventure in this series of visiting counties that are underbirded and needed some attention and birding love. On eBird, it ranked 53rd in bird species reported and 56th in total checklists out of 67 counties. The spotlight ran from October 13-16, 2023, following our usual Friday to Monday pattern.

Joe Gyekis grew up in this county and led the charge in exploring locals and locales for visiting birders to get with and check out spots.

Friday, we had Brent Bacon lead 19 birders from his home and Spruce Run Rd hitting various spots we could pull over and also when we saw birds to work the flocks. I dragged Aden Troyer along from my county to visit these new spots. I was pleased to see my friends Warren and Nina Wolf join us as they were making their way across the state to chase some birds. We went up on Nittany Mt Rd and then after seeing a report of good birds at RB Winter, we took off for that locale after Julia Plummer found Pine Siskins and Red Crossbills that morning. Marg & Roger Higbee came all the way from Indiana County to join for a bit before the lure of chasing the Northumberland County Swainson’s Hawk nearby was too much. I couldn’t blame them, I went within an hour of it first being announced a few weeks ago. We ended up with 68 species counted on the first day.

Saturday’s forecast didn’t look good but 11 of us braved meeting Joe G and Kay Cramer at RB Winter State Park to see what we could come up with in the rain. I was excited to hit the area again in another attempt to get the Siskins and Crossbills, but it wasn’t meant to be again. Bill Tyler who helped organize the Union County side of things joined us, along with Tom Shrevinskie and Elizabeth Zbenger from the Clinton County side of things. After only getting 8 species in a very wet hour and a half, we all decided it was time to go visit some water and mud spots. The Allenwood side of SGL 252 was our destination and we birded our way over there to check things out. There was a very promising dry/muddy pond bed that had some Killdeer and a Green-winged Teal and just smelled like the promise of a very interesting shorebird species–this is a place that would produce a bunch of rare county birds if it was checked more often. A walk in the shrubby/goldenrod areas produced a big flock of sparrows and got us even more soaked. Angela Romanczuk and Jeff Kenney, connoisseurs of the state’s great gameland areas, gave a high rating to the habitat quality at this site. After a quick lunch, we hit some fields on our way back to RB Winter to drop off some carpoolers. We ended up bringing the spotlight total to 75 species after the 2nd day.

Sunday’s weather couldn’t have been better for us, after what we endured on Saturday. Some of us showed up at 8 am and just birded the parking lot and area at Dale’s Ridge Trail. It was actually a great spot to just stand and walk around a bit by the bridge over Buffalo Creek until the rest of the group got there for the 9 am starting time for the trip led by Joe G. Allen Schweinsberg gave some opening remarks about how the Dale, Engle and Walker families cooperated with the Linn Conservancy to put a conservation easement and a public trail on this spot, which has the big sycamore trees and fields at the beginning and a forested hillside further in. The group of 19 birders walked the trail back along the creek, stopping several times to pick through nice mixed flocks that gave us nice looks at fall migrants, with good splashes of variety. When we got to the end, some decided not to climb the ridge and went back, but those who did got to enjoy a bit of hawkwatching up on the power line cut. Stuff was moving around in the skies all morning, not only some hawks and eagles, but also a nice squall of rain heading our way across the valley, which prompted us to start heading down. We came out on the back farm end, happily seeing the rain miss us to the west, and got into another nice flock of things we picked through for a bit, including a Nashville Warbler and Rusty Blackbird that Michael McGuire photographed and got us picking through the little birds on the edge of the corn field. After some travels to Mifflinburg, some of us went on to SGL 317 at the Shoop Tract, exploring the tall grass meadows and new wetland complexes there.

That evening I got a call from Andrew Hurst reporting that his friend found a shorebird and sent him some pics. After sharing with me and having some friends review it, we confirmed it was a White-rumped Sandpiper, which ended up being a new county record for Union. Andrew tried for it that evening, but it wasn’t refound again. We ended up with 90 species after the 3rd day.

Monday didn’t have an official walk or trip but Karol P and Jessie Sauder did get together and explore SGL 193. They were able to add 2 more species to let us finish with 92 after the 4th and last day. Not bad for a county without much in the way of lakes in a mid October birding challenge.

Many of the attendees were talking about how many (or how few) birds they had in the county previously and how many they were able to add to their lists, which is probably one of the selfish reasons I really enjoy these spotlights. It was great as always to see old friends again, hang out, meet new ones, match faces to names and just enjoy Mother Nature for a few hours or days. With the White-rumped Sandpiper as a new county bird, Union jumped up into a tie for 52nd of out 67 counties all-time for bird species reported to eBird. To see our checklists, bird totals, pictures and audio, please check out our trip report: https://ebird.org/tripreport/151387

Our 2024 schedule will do 3 spotlights again. On March 15-18 we will visit Forest County. The last weekend of April 26-29 will take us to Fulton County to enjoy the southern tier counties again for those early migrants. October 11-14 we will head to Warren County. So keep an eye out for more info on those trips and if you live in those areas, please reach out to possibly help lead or give us ideas on organized trips if possible or just plan on doing some birding of your own to help the cause.