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We have cautiously reinstated field trips this fall, along with our first, tentative in-person program meeting in October at the Bellwood library.

After suspending field trips last year because of COVID-19, we have cautiously reinstated them, along with our first, tentative in-person program meeting in October at the Bellwood library. As it says in the latest issue of The Gnatcatcher, this latter event is subject to change. If you would like to be notified about that, and we don't already have your email on our mailing list, let us know at [email protected]. For the field trips, we ask that you wear a mask if you're unvaccinated, and please follow any other CDC/PA guidelines that may be in effect.

Here's the full listing of events for the autumn.

JVAS has developed a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Statement.

Dear JVAS Community,

I hope this message finds you and your family healthy.

It has been quite the summer with the mystery illness of the Songbird Mortality Event which is still being investigated to its cause. I do applaud all of you who acted during this time to keep your feeders down and cleaned. I do have some positive news as we flit into our Fall season and the growth of our JVAS community.

After reviewing the current JVAS boundaries we had the opportunity to add adjacent zip codes that do not have a local Audubon Chapter associated with it and are within the current counties we serve. The following zip codes which include Mifflin, Centre, and Huntingdon Counties: 16668, 16627, 15753, 16616, 16656, 16866, 16844, 16823, 16865, 16803, 16801, 16827, 16828, 17063, 17084, 17004, 17009, 17044, 17029, 17002, 17051, 17060 were thoughtfully discussed by our board and we feel it would help serve adjacent communities near the current boundaries of JVAS to help contribute to the mission and goals.

A few of the initiatives that are outside of our normal year-to-year plans, such as involving members in field trips and educational programs, is to increase diversity and education to our members. The pandemic has helped teach us that we can communicate in so many new creative methods.

If you are not getting emails from JVAS and would like to help conserve paper by receiving a digital copy of the Gnatcatcher Newsletter, please send us your email address so we can communicate with you more effectively. We will not share your email. Please Email: [email protected]

Increasing membership will also lead to stronger efforts in communicating conservation efforts and having more people voice their thoughts to the government and local authorities on important issues that impact our environment. As the saying goes, "Strength in numbers," and if we continue to build our JVAS foundation with voices that are within counties we already serve, it will help the overall mission of Audubon.

Having folks that are not currently part of a local chapter will also help create affinity within those Audubon members and would develop a local connection.

As we continue to work together towards our mission, JVAS developed a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Statement:

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society is committed to welcoming and encouraging birdwatchers and nature lovers from all walks of life. We believe we are able to grow and learn better when we are committed to inclusivity. We respect the individuality of each member, and we want to continue to engage a diverse membership; we encourage people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientation, physical abilities, religions and beliefs, and socio-economic backgrounds to embrace conservation, birding, and nature. Without a diverse perspective and a commitment to conservation, JVAS cannot move forward. Together we can work towards our goals of protecting birds and the environments they need to survive.

Thank you for being a continued valued member of JVAS and I look forward to continuing serving as your chapter’s president. I am enthusiastic in what we can accomplish to make a difference in our communities.

You might be thinking to yourself, “What can I do to help support the birds even more?” And I would say, “Consider planting some native plants!”

Dear JVAS Community,

Spring is here, friends, with new birds passing through our yards, flowers of different varieties emerging from the ground, bees buzzing, butterflies floating by... and the temperature is rising. You might be thinking to yourself, “What can I do to help support the birds even more?” And I would say, “Consider planting some native plants!”

According to Audubon, “In the United States, a native plant is defined as one that was naturally found in a particular area before European colonization. Native plants are the foundation of a region’s biodiversity, providing essential food sources and shelter for birds, especially those threatened by the changing climate. Since native plants are adapted to local precipitation and soil conditions, they generally require less upkeep, therefore helping the environment and saving you time, water, and money.”

Plants that are native to the areas where you live have the greatest number of benefits. They support birds and other wildlife through many stages of their lifecycle. They provide food in the form of seeds, nectar, berries, and nuts. Native plants play an important role in supporting insect species that are critical to the survival of nestlings and migrating birds. Native plants also contribute to healthier, more resilient human communities by more sustainably adding shade, storing carbon, and absorbing storm water to help reduce flooding and polluted run-off after storms than non-native plants.

black-eyed Susans
black-eyed Susans
One of my favorite native plants that I enjoy each year is the black-eyed Susan. This is an herbaceous annual which grows one to two feet tall in full sun in moist to dry, well-drained soil. The daisy-like flowers are yellow with a brownish-purple center, and bloom on rough stalks from June to October. Black-eyed Susan attracts birds such as wood warblers, cardinals, grosbeaks and wrens for its seeds and pollinating insects for its nectar, and is resistant to browsing by deer.

Here are some helpful resources from the National Audubon website to help understand Native Plants and improving your backyard habitat for wildlife:

Thanks for continuing to help our birds and other wildlife!

spicebush swallowtail on swamp milkweed
spicebush swallowtail on swamp milkweed

The Earth Week Birding Classic will be held from April 15 to 25, 2021. Registration is free. The goal is for teams in seven different categories to count as many species of birds as possible over a 24-hour period any time during the week beginning on Apr 15 at noon and ending at noon on April 25. This non-profit event is co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies program at Penn State Altoona and Juniata Valley Audubon Society. Pledges that team members garner will support bird conservation and education in central Pennsylvania. Teams of 3 or more (2 or more for Senior citizens) will count birds in Blair and surrounding counties, and prizes will be awarded during the closing ceremony on Zoom immediately following the event. Registration deadline is April 11. For more information, please contact Catherine Farr at [email protected]

INSTRUCTIONS

Please fill out this form and submit electronically to Catherine Farr, [email protected] or print and mail to her at: 6435 State Route 42, Unityville, PA 17774

RULES & GUIDELINES

Date and Time. Tallying of species may commence at 12:00 PM on April 15 and concludes at 11:59:59:59 AM on April 25. Teams may tally during any 24-hour period beginning at any time prior to 12 PM on April 25. Teams pick a start day and time when they register; they may change this no later than April 11th, the deadline for registration. Pre-registration is required, and free.

The closing event will occur on the Zoom beginning at 1:00 PM on April 25. An email link will be provided to teams at the time of registration. Please contact the organizer, Catherine Farr ([email protected])
All teams competing for prizes must arrive and submit their checklists and pledge forms no later than 1:30 PM (otherwise, submit electronically to the organizers by the end of the day). Winners will be announced, and prizes awarded at 2:00 PM. Prizes will be mailed to team captains. Please note that certain species may require additional documentation to be considered valid (see Checklist). This may mean a descriptive species report, and if possible, photo evidence or sound recording.

Teams are HIGHLY ENCOURAGED but not required to utilize eBird to report their records. They may do this on their phones as they go from place to place, and data can be temporarily hidden if desired (though checking others’ eBird lists is not allowed during the event). For this reason, it is necessary to keep track of numbers of individual birds seen for each species.

Count Area: The geographic area covered by this Birding Classic is Blair County and all counties that border it: Centre, Clearfield, Cambria, Bedford, and Huntingdon. All wild bird species recorded from within the county borders are valid. Counters, as well as birds, must be physically located within one of the counties. It is helpful to have a smartphone to track exact location, in case your team is at the edge of the count area.

Count area for Penn State Altoona campuses: a separate map will be provided to teams covering only the campuses, which include all contiguous (connected) land owned by Penn State on the Ivyside Campus and on the Downtown Campus, as well as in the Seminar Forest. Teams restricting their counting to the campuses can only count birds seen from within the physical boundaries of the campuses, but these may include species perched or flying outside campuses. Teams may not count birds seen when teams are travelling between campuses. Study maps are available at http://www.altoona.psu.edu/aboutus/maps.php.

Team Categories: Prizes will be awarded to the highest number of species counted and verified in each category. Teams can compete in only one category other than Ruffed Grouse, which they are automatically entered to win (teams can choose to enter ONLY Ruffed Grouse category, if they wish—see below).

  • COOT. Senior Citizens (65 and over) only
  • OSPREY. Penn State students only
  • TOWHEE. Limited to a single county
  • MALLARD. Limited to the grounds of Penn State Altoona, including the Seminar Forest
  • PIPIT. On foot only – team members may not use any other form of transportation while counting
  • PHOEBE. Families only. Must include at least one adult.
  • RUFFED GROUSE. Most species recorded anywhere in the region; winner receives Grand Prize for the Classic

All teams must register for one category only and can win only one category.

If the team winning the RUFFED GROUSE grand prize was registered for another category, the prize for its originally registered category will go to the second place team registered in that category.

A team registered originally only in the RUFFED GROUSE category that does NOT win that category will not be considered eligible to win another category. Strategically, then, COOTs and OSPREYs, who are not limited to a single county, should register for these categories to be automatically considered for the RUFFED GROUSE prize as well, and not the other way around.

All teams must stay together at all times (within earshot and sight of each other) during the 24-hour period or during the periods that they are counting species (breaks may be taken for sleep or other non-Classic activities, and participants may go to different locations before meeting again later). No species may be counted or scouted during any off periods when the team splits up. If the team does not split up, then all species encountered during the 24-hour period can be counted. Teams may count for as little time or as much time as they wish within their chosen 24-hour period.

The original conformation of the team (at the start of the 24-hour period) is the only one valid for counting species, unless members leave the team and do not rejoin, and the team number stays above the required minimum. Thus, NEW members may not join the team after the beginning of the event, BUT the team remains valid if its numbers are reduced during the course of the Classic, down to the minimum of two or three members.

Teams must consist of at least three members, of any age (except the COOTS and PHOEBES; see below). 75% of team members must ID each species. With three members, all three must ID each species for that species to count, though not necessarily at the same time during the 24-hour period. With four members, 3 of the four must record each species for it to be valid; for 5 members, four must ID; etc.

COOT category: Seniors teams may have two or more members. All members must be 65 years of age or older by the 15th of April. 75% or more of members must ID all species, as above. Coots may bird anywhere in the 6-county area.

OSPREY category: Must consist only of Penn State students, who must be currently enrolled full-time at any campus, including World Campus. Ospreys may bird anywhere in the 6-county area.

MALLARD category: the campus teams can be comprised of anyone, not just students.

PIPIT category: for the on-foot teams, no non-foot (or non-wheelchair) transportation may be used at all during the counting period/s. This includes horse, bicycle, canoe, etc. If the team breaks up for non-Classic activities, members must return to the exact spot they ended at before the break, and begin counting on foot from that spot. Pipits may bird anywhere in the 6-county area.

TOWHEE category: for the single-county teams, any county in the Count Area is valid. All birds recorded in or from the chosen county are valid.

PHOEBE category: At least one family member must be an adult (18 or over) and at least one family member must be a child (under 18). Phoebes may bird anywhere in the 6-county area.

ETHICS: Please follow the American Birding Association’s Code of Ethics if in doubt. In general, do not unduly disturb birds, though “pishing” is allowed. No playing of tape to coax out birds is allowed, though calls may be identified using online resources. Calling for owls or other birds using solely team member’s vocal chords is allowed.

DO NOT enter private property except with explicit permission. Birds on private property seen from public rights-of-way are valid.

Be very careful on highways; use flashers if necessary, and do not block traffic.

DETECTION

Birds must be seen or heard to be considered valid.

Domestic species do not count.

It is not permissible during the count period to solicit information on species locations from non-team members.

It is not permissible to track others’ records on eBird, or to access rare bird alerts or other means of finding out where species have been found. This should be done only during scouting periods prior to the 10-day Classic event, and may be done up until just prior to the start of the event at noon on April 15.

It is not permissible to scout for birds during the night rest period (if the group takes one) or any other non-counting break during the 24-hour counting period, and it is not allowable to count birds recorded during that period (an owl, for example), unless the group has stayed together as per the rules.

PLEDGES

It is expected that teams will garner as many pledges as possible to make this event a success. Pledges are a flat rate. Event organizers, in coordination with Team Captains, will follow up with each pledged donor after the event is concluded, so be sure to include correct information so that organizers may contact the donors. All money pledged will go to support bird conservation and bird education in central Pennsylvania.

Validity of Reports

Contestants accept, on the registration form, that the judges of the Classic may rule impartially on species reports that require validation, and that they are fully qualified to do so. This will be done after checklists are turned in and prior to deciding of winners, in the case that decisions on validity would affect the outcome.

The judges pick the species that require further validation, based on accumulated frequency data and other data in eBird. It is necessary to fill out a Rare Bird Report for each record and to have these reports prepared prior to turning in the checklist. Accompanying documentation such as digital photos can be shown to the organizers.

Tip for Beginners

While we highly encourage birders with little experience to take part in this Classic, we urge them to consult with organizers ahead of time if they are unclear about the basics of eBird that will allow them to have a good idea of species to expect in certain habitats. We have no way of checking misidentification of common species not needing validation, so we hope that first-time birders will be slow and careful in their identifications.

JVAS President's Message

It was an early Autumn morning and the sun was just peaking over the mountain top. I could hear the Red-winged blackbirds and Song Sparrows wake up the neighborhood. I was enjoying a fresh cup of shade grown Lenca Farms coffee, and that was when I heard the sound that makes all of us bird lovers just cringe. Yes, it was a loud thud against the window from an alluring Red-eyed Vireo.

Red-eyed Vireo

With the white eyebrow stripe bordered above and below by blackish lines, this olive-green colored bird was certainly dazed but did not appear to have any other injuries such as a broken wing. I held the bird for a few minutes to see if it would come to and fly-off, but it seemed comfortable in my hands. I have read that birds can overheat in your hands, so I didn’t want to hold this adult bird longer than necessary. I got a shoebox and softened the bottom with some cloth. After 15 minutes, I opened the box and the bird was clearly calm and alert, ready to take flight once again.

Sadly, in many of window strike cases, birds suffer serious injuries such as internal hemorrhages, concussions, or damage to their bills, wings, eyes, or skulls. Window collisions kill vast numbers of birds in the United States each year and is reported to be at least a billion birds per year.

Here are some strategies from the National Audubon website to help protect our bird friends from window strikes:

  • Make windows look like a barrier to birds, such as
    • Window decals may help, but they must be placed no more than 2-4 inches apart in order to be effective. Birds will try to fly through larger gaps. This means that on large windows, many closely spaced decals may be necessary to deter bird collisions.
    • Create temporary designs with window markers or tempera paints, soap, or hang ribbons on window exteriors. Again, designs or ribbons should be placed no more than 2-4 inches apart.
  • Install external screens or netting on windows. When done effectively, external screens can break up reflections or can slow birds down before they hit the glass.
  • Close window drapes or blinds partially or completely whenever possible. This is especially important at night when interior lights are in use.
  • Position feeders either directly on a window with suction cups or within 3 feet.
  • Avoid placing plants near windows inside your home.

Thanks for helping keep our birds safe!

—John Carter

Additional Solutions

Mike and I have also found birds that were injured or killed by flying into a window. Most of the problems occurred outside our big kitchen window, in the back yard where we have bird feeders and a bubbling boulder to provide water for wildlife. The kitchen window reflects the forest that surrounds our backyard, so it’s no wonder that birds fly into the glass. Birds don’t realize that they see a reflection; they think they are flying into the forest.

One thing that does work is screening. Frank Haas, a well-known Pennsylvania birder, started the Bird Screen Company. His products do work, by providing a screen that deters most birds from hitting the windows. The screens are not flush with the window and have enough tension, so birds that hit the screen bounce off without being injured. We bought enough screens to cover our kitchen window and thought we had the problem solved, until our backyard bears discovered the suction cups that attached the screens to the windows. For some reason, the bears delighted in removing the suction cups, rendering the screens useless.

Still searching we found a product called Bird Crash Preventer. This setup has easy-to-install brackets that held up a curtain of fishing line spaced 4 in. apart and fastened to brackets below. The fishing line is very reflective, so birds avoid the “curtain.” However, we found that small birds like American Goldfinches would fly between the fishing line and hit the window. We then strung more fishing line to make the gap just 2 inches apart. This helped, but a few birds still hit the window. Next, we bought black garden nylon netting sold in hardware stores used to cover fruit trees and shrubs. We strung this on top of the fishing line, attached it to the brackets, and pulled it taut. When birds hit the netting, they just bounce off without being injured. Voila! Problem solved.

There are other solutions, too. Check out Acopian Bird Savers (Zen Wind Curtains). You can purchase this solution or make your own. This product has been scientifically shown to be effective. You can download the research papers from the website.

—Laura Jackson

The JVAS Blair County Christmas Bird Count (CBC), centered at Culp, will be held on Saturday, December 19, 2020 with a Tally Count to be held via Zoom on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

The JVAS Blair County Christmas Bird Count (CBC), centered on Culp, will be held on Saturday, December 19, 2020 with a Tally Count to be held via Zoom on Tuesday, Dec. 22. All are invited to attend the Zoom tally – even if you aren’t a counter. Details here.

Sign up soon to be a counter! Call or email Laura Jackson by Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Phone: 814-652-9268 Email: [email protected] or email John Carter: [email protected]

Participation is free, but you must count within the established circle, which is located within 7.5 miles of Culp in Sinking Valley. If you live inside the circle, you could count birds at your feeder and on your property, but please sign up so we know your property is covered. Counters will receive a map, a species checklist, and pointers on any hotspots that might be in your part of the circle. We hope you will spend most of the day counting birds in your area of the circle or observing the birds at your feeder if you live in the circle.

Download the Culp Circle map [PDF], and/or find the count circle on National Audubon's interactive map by searching for "Culp, Tyrone Twp, PA, USA".

If you have a favorite part of the circle, then don’t wait to call as the “early birders” get first pick of the count area. Below are the historic count areas, but anyone who lives in the circle can cover their property, just be sure to sign up so we don’t overlap count areas.

  • Northern Altoona
  • Sinking Valley
  • Bellwood
  • Canoe Creek State Park
  • Tyrone-Tipton
  • Canoe Valley
  • Park Forest/Watts Road
  • Tyrone Treatment Plant
  • Brush Mountain (NE end)
  • Juniata River Corridor

There are 3 other Christmas Bird Counts that need counters:

Bedford County CBC is on Saturday, January 2, 2021 and is centered at Manns Choice, Pa. Contact compilers Mike & Laura Jackson: 814-652-9268 or [email protected]

Huntingdon County CBC is on Sunday, December 20 and is centered at Donation, Pa. If you’d like to help, contact compiler Deb Grove: 814-643-3295 or [email protected]

Raystown CBC: Historically occurs near the end of December. If you’d like to help, contact compiler Jon Kauffman: [email protected]

The JVAS Board has decided that we want all of our members to stay safe during these Covid-19 uncertain times. Because we care about your health and safety, and because we want our members to feel connected, we are offering virtual meetings this fall via Zoom.

Before joining a Zoom meeting on a computer or mobile device, you can download the FREE Zoom app from the Download Center (https://zoom.us/download). Otherwise, you will be prompted to download and install Zoom when you click a join link.
You can also join a test meeting (https://zoom.us/test) to familiarize yourself with Zoom.
JVAS Fall General Meetings via Zoom:
When: Tuesday Sept. 15, 2020 at 7pm
When: Tuesday Oct. 20, 2020 at 7 pm
When: Tuesday Nov. 17, 2020 at 7pm
When: Tuesday Dec. 22, 2020 at 7 pm

See the Events listings for information about the programs.

To join any one of these meetings, follow these instructions:

Try to log in about 5 to 10 minutes before 7:00 pm.

  • To join by computer, use this link:
    https://psu.zoom.us/j/97418229426
  • To join from the Zoom app on a smartphone: enter this meeting ID:
    974 1822 9426
    Passcode is: 123456
  • To join by phone, call this number: +1 301 715 8592 (US Toll)
    Enter the meeting ID followed by the pound sign.
    974 1822 9426
    Passcode is 123456

Due to the Cornonavirus pandemic, we have been forced to cancel our annual banquet, along with other activities. Please keep birding, though!

Due to the Cornonavirus pandemic, we have been forced to cancel our annual banquet. If you've already signed up, Laura Jackson will be returning your registration fee shortly.

Our other events in March and April have also been cancelled, with the exception (so far) of the Earth Week Birding Classic, which may still go ahead in some form if social distancing protocols can be maintained. Check back here for updates. And don't stop going outside! As the Associate Editor of Audubon magazine, Andy McGlashen, recently pointed out, Birding Is the Perfect Activity While Practicing Social Distancing.

A CDC computer rendering of the surface of SARS-CoV-2
A CDC computer rendering of the surface of SARS-CoV-2 (public domain)
Some final food for thought: This pandemic does illustrate the ecological perils of global trade. Our native forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other habitats are being overwhelmed by invaders every bit as deadly and insidious to other creatures as the Cornonavirus is to us, whether you're talking about native ladybird beetles displaced by the harlequin ladybird, spring beauties smothered by Japanese stiltgrass, or natural forest openings filling with Ailanthus. Bringing back American manufacturing, if done in a cleaner, greener way, would not only shorten supply chains, help workers, and protect the public, but it might also provide some relief for natural ecosystems already stressed by climate change, habitat fragmentation, pesticides, and so many other assaults.

The Juniata Valley Audubon Society is cancelling our upcoming field trips in April.  This includes the Greenwood Furnace Adventure on April 4 and the Trillium Hike on April 18.  

We feel this is necessary for the safety of our membership and the general public with regards to the coronavirus pandemic.

Please check the JVAS website for future updates.

~ Susan Braun, Field Trips Chair