Tufted Titmouse
Many song birds, such as this Tufted Titmouse, prefer black oil sunflowers. These seeds are high in fat, providing much-needed energy during the winter.

Birders converged on the Culp Christmas Bird Count Circle in Blair County on a cold and windy December 19, 2015 to participate in the 47th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by Juniata Valley Audubon Society, under the direction of National Audubon. The first CBC ever was in 1900 - an alternative activity to count birds ALIVE, since prior to 1900 the tools of choice were not binoculars, but were guns, with participants competing to see how many birds they could KILL.

Some key counters were sorely missed as they could not participate this year due to illness, but the 18 people who did participate on December 19 counted a total of 5,082 birds, representing 67 different species. JVAS President and CBC Compiler Laura Jackson would like to thank the following counters who braved a cold and windy day: Susan Braun, Michael David, JP Dibert, Carl Engstrom, Kurt Engstrom, Stephanie Gallagher, Debra Grim, Charlie Hoyer, Mike Jackson, Kristin Joivell, George Mahon, Stephen Martynuska, Ian McGregor, John Orr, Mark Shields, and Jody Wallace. JVAS VP Mark Bonta helped to organize the counters and contributed the sighting of a Horned Grebe that was recorded as a “count week bird,” making 68 the total number of species recorded during the count week.

Mild fall weather meant that there was plenty of open water, but waterfowl were surprisingly scarce. Canoe Lake is a good location to observe waterfowl, but no Canada geese were to be found. Observers did find 10 Buffleheads, one Common Goldeneye, seven Hooded Mergansers, and one Common Merganser, as well as a few Mallards, at Canoe Lake. Elsewhere in the count circle, 143 Canada Geese were found, just two Wood Ducks, one American Black Duck, and over 200 Mallards. Fortunately, the 10 American Coots spotted at Canoe Lake were alive - last year approximately 12 were found dead floating in the lake. The reason for their death remains a mystery.

Bald eagle in flight
Counters spotted 5 Bald Eagles this year - a record high for the Culp CBC Circle; Bald Eagles were rarely seen during the Christmas Bird Count until recently. Reintroduction efforts by the Pennsylvania Game Commission are so successful that Bald Eagles are actually nesting in Blair County.

It was a good day for raptors: 5 Bald Eagles and 1 Golden Eagle were counted, as well as 1 Merlin, 3 Northern Harriers, 7 American Kestrels, 4 Sharp-shinned Hawks, and 6 Cooper’s Hawks. As expected, Red-tailed Hawks were the most common - 28 were found. The highlight of the raptor survey was finding a Northern Goshawk. Sinking Valley, with its broad vistas and farm fields, is a good habitat for birds of prey, as well as for the gallinaceous birds like Wild turkey (48), Ring-necked Pheasant (16), and some exotic Chukar (7) - a partridge native to Eurasia that has been introduced as a game bird. Sadly, our state bird, the Ruffed Grouse, is in decline, and only one was found. Another species that frequents Sinking Valley in the winter is the Horned Lark - 70 were counted.

All species of woodpeckers were observed, except the Red-headed Woodpecker; European Starlings are responsible for their absence. In fact, the Starling was the most common species counted in the circle, with observers reporting a total of 1,714 birds. Brown-headed Cowbirds were the second most common bird with 550 reported. A few Red-winged Blackbirds (8) and just one rusty Blackbird were found in some of the Cowbird flocks.

Many common “winter birds” were seen: Winter Wrens (2), Golden-crowned Kinglets (16), American Tree Sparrows (40), Dark-eyed Juncos (265), White-throated Sparrows (120), Purple Finches (7) and a few Pine Siskins (7), to name a few.

The relatively mild winter meant that many birds which might be scarce during cold winters were still in abundance: 53 Eastern Bluebirds, 50 American Robins, 7 Northern Mockingbirds, and 24 Killdeer.

Observers at feeders and along wooded trails also reported good numbers of our common backyard birds: 76 Black-capped Chickadees, 81 Tufted Titmouse, 50 White-breasted Nuthatches, and 7 Carolina Wrens.

It is a challenge to thoroughly cover the count circle, centered at Culp - a crossroads in Sinking Valley. The circle is 15 miles in diameter, so the effort includes observations while driving the roads, hiking the fields and forests, or counting birds at backyard feeders. This year, 18 birders counted throughout the day, from dawn to dark - and even after dark for owls, for a cumulative effort of 75 hours looking for birds.

The Culp CBC is usually held the Saturday before Christmas, so if you might like to participate next year, call JVAS President Laura Jackson (814-652-9268) and get your name added to the list of potential participants. If you live in the count circle, you could count birds at your feeder. Otherwise, expect to spend part of a day on an exciting adventure exploring parts of Blair County.

A Christmas Bird Count Dinner was held immediately following the count when most of the birders enjoyed an evening at Marzoni’s - after a great meal each group reported their findings at the “tally rally.” A good day was had by all!

A complete list of all the bird species counted for the Culp CBC can be found on the National Audubon website.

Here is the link to an interactive circle for our CBC on Dec. 19th. Search Culp, PA and you'll see our circle with Tyrone Twp near the center. Zoom in and out to see details, as well as other CBC circles. You can also change the maps, which is a cool feature.

Please let me know what area you plan to cover for the CBC. We will have a planning meeting at The Dream Restaurant on Dec. 6th at 5:15 pm to assign areas. If we don't hear from you before then, we won't know what area you want to bird. We can meet there for free as long as people buy dinner. Ask for the meeting room under Laura Jackson's reservation.

Also, we will have the tally rally dinner at Marzoni's on Dec. 19th. Reservations need to be sent no later than Dec. 11 and cost $20.00. See more details in the last issue of The Gnatcatcher. Send your check payable to JVAS to Laura Jackson 8621 Black Valley Road, Everett, PA 15537. We encourage you to attend, even if you can't help with the CBC.

blue-gray gnatcatcher with its mouth openThe latest issue of the Gnatcatcher, the newsletter of Juniata Valley Audubon, is available for download and online viewing. (If you receive the paper edition, it should be arriving in mailboxes soon.) Articles in this issue include a message from the president, Laura Jackson, about saving the owls and other raptors on Amherst Island from industrial wind development; a profile of v-p Mark Bonta and his community conservation work; photos from recent JVAS field trips; reviews of two nature-related novels, Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash and Martin Marten by Brian Doyle, which sound as if they would make fine Christmas presents; information on how to take part in our annual Christmas Bird Count; and much more. Check it out!

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Resplendent Quetzal
Resplendent Quetzal (photo: Honduran Conservation Coalition)

Dates: Feb. 17 - 28, 2016

Cost: $1,500 + airfare

Are you a birder eager to explore one of Latin America’s hottest emerging destinations, but also interested in helping ensure that the birds and habitats you visit will be around for others to enjoy in the future? Do you also want to learn about other aspects of Honduran nature, and experience Honduran culture? And, would you like to travel comfortably, yet save big over other birding/natural history tours? The Honduran Conservation Coalition offers you an ethical, affordable alternative.

Participants should see over 300 species of birds, a variety of habitats from coast to mid-altitude rain forests, and will visit some outstanding efforts by Hondurans to protect the environment and educate their citizens on birds and conservation.

Trip leaders: JVAS vice president Dr. Mark Bonta, a Penn State Altoona geography professor and recognized authority on Honduran culture and nature, with 25 years’ experience in Honduras; and Gilberto Flores-Walter, bilingual Honduran birder and coffee farmer, as well as vice-president of the Honduran Ornithological Association.

The tour is limited to 10 paying participants, so email Mark right away if you are interested: markabonta@yahoo.com

Additional information: Birding for Conservation: Honduras 2016 [PDF]
Registration form [PDF]

And don't miss our October program, Honduras: Wildlife, Parks, and People (Tuesday, Oct 20, 7:00 pm in the Bellwood-Antis Public Library). Mark Bonta, Ian McGregor, and John Dibert will describe their trips to some of Honduras’s most important protected areas.

Superb Bird of Paradise
The Superb Bird of Paradise. Its breast feathers were used in headdresses.

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society's September meeting will feature a program on Collecting and Conservation in Papua New Guinea. Join us at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library for gorgeous photos and captivating stories of adventure. Ron Johnson will describe his three expeditions to the second largest island in the world — home to more than 700 species of birds, including 33 birds of paradise. Johnson will explain the importance of the expeditions, tribal culture diversity and the urgency to preserve the world’s third largest rainforest.

Ron Johnson was Curator of Birds at Jacksonville, Minnesota and Miami Zoos. He recently retired from the University of Wisconsin as an Aquaculture Outreach Specialist. He now lives in Pennsylvania and is a member of JVAS.

As an added bonus, Papua New Guinea regional "treats" will be offered at the meeting. JVAS Programs, designed for a general audience, are free and open to the public.

Directions: Take I-99 to the Bellwood/Route 865 Exit (Exit 41). Follow Rt. 865 through the Sheetz/Martin intersection. Proceed about four blocks and turn right at the “Business District” sign just before the railroad overpass. Turn left at the dead end and travel to the stop sign. Continue a short distance; the library will be on your right.

red maple leafIt may be another month until the autumn equinox, but the fall season is already officially underway at JVAS. The September-October issue of the Gnatcatcher is available for download, along with a separate brochure that includes descriptions of all the programs and field trips through December. Those events are also all now listed on the website, and include a number of interesting offerings, such as a presentation on collecting and conservation in Papua New Guinea, a demonstration of Appalachian Trail hiking strategies followed by a trip to the movie theater to watch A Walk in the Woods, and a workshop on how to use eBird at Canoe Creek State Park. We're also listing the Bedford County Christmas Bird Count this year as well as the one we've traditionally organized in Blair County, for all of you who can't get enough of CBC festivities. We hope to see you at our monthly program meetings at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library as well as out in the woods, to share what we hope will be a fun-filled and beautiful autumn in central Pennsylvania.

Gone Piching group photo
(l-r) Ian McGregor, Mark Bonta, and Catherine Kilgus

Congratulations are in order to Mark Bonta (JVAS Vice President and Education Chair), Ian McGregor (Conservation Chair) and Catherine Kilgus. Their team, Gone Pishing, braved the elements last weekend and nabbed 100 bird species in 24 hours to win the Potter Mug at the Shaver's Creek 2015 Birding Cup. The Potter Mug is awarded to a team with a majority of members who have only been birding for less than a year.

We've just released the May-June 2015 Gnatcatcher (Vol XLVII, No. 3). Download the PDF or read it at Issuu. You'll find stories about a six-year project to preserve open space and to recognize a historic agricultural area at Dutch Corner, a field trip through periglacial and proglacial landscapes of central PA, the bluebird trail at Fort Roberdeau County Park, a new book called Welcome to Subirdia, upcoming activities and programs, and more. How well do you know your spring wildflowers? Test your knowledge with a photographic quiz! There's information about our new Golden-winged Warbler t-shirt, our exhibition at the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators Conference, and a proposed change in our bylaws. Find out who our National Audubon Society "veterans" are. View art and photos by JVAS' talented members.

It's worth pointing out that all the articles in this issue were contributed by JVAS members—this is information you won't get anywhere else. Interested in adding your voice? Contact Laura Jackson, mljackson2@embarqmail.com or 814-652-9268. We're always looking for new content about nature in central Pennsylvania.

Thanks once again to Alan and Terri Swann for putting the issue together. Read back issues of the Gnatcatcher at our website.

Call or email JVAS Hospitality Chair Marcia Bonta to make reservations for the April 21, 2014 JVAS Spring Banquet: 814-684-3113 or marciabonta@hotmail.com. Also, even if you can't attend, please consider donating new or gently used nature-related items to the silent auction: books, artwork, crafts, bird boxes, native plants, clothing, jewelry... anything that might appeal to someone who loves nature and the outdoors. Contact JVAS President Laura Jackson if you have something to donate: 814-652-9268 or mljackson2@embarqmail.com.

The dinner is at Hoss's Steak & Sea House in Duncansville, whose all-you-can-eat buffet includes vegetarian options. The silent auction begins at 5:30 PM and dinner is at 6:00, followed by the presentation of our annual conservation award and a multimedia presentation on Golden-Winged Warblers. The featured speaker is ecologist Jeff Larkin, accompanied by his student D.J. McNeil, and they'll be talking about their research on monitoring the response of Golden-winged Warblers to habitat management. See the event description for more information, including a map and directions.

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The field trip to Dunning's Creek Wetlands, originally scheduled for March 14, has been rescheduled for Saturday, March 28.

The ice is slow to thaw at Dunning’s Creek Wetlands and the waterfowl are elsewhere, so we are postponing the field trip. Even the March 28 date is tentative; if the spring thaw is too fast, then flooding will be a big problem. We may have to cancel the March 28 trip, if flooding occurs.

We still plan to meet at Eat 2 Live Bistro at 8:30 AM on Saturday, March 28 and will carpool to Dunning's Creek Wetlands. Lunch at Eat 2 Live Bistro is optional. Eat 2 Live Bistro is located along Rt. 56 at the former location of Apple Bin Restaurant. (Directions here.)

Killdeer have been reported on the farm fields, ring-billed gulls are migrating through to the Great Lakes, and red-winged blackbirds are arriving!!! Spring is in the air.

Please let Laura know if you plan to attend the March 28 field trip (mljackson2@embarqmail.com).