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Michael with bluebird boxes

I am thrilled and honored to have been installed as the new President of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society. As a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation, I want you to know that I am motivated to lead our organization in making a positive impact in our community. Above all, I am excited to work with our dedicated members and volunteers to protect and preserve the natural beauty of our region for future generations. To do that, I also intend on bringing younger membership into the group to ensure JVAS longevity into the future.

As your President, I plan to increase our presence as an organization on social media to engage with a wider, more diverse community. I think regularly posting JVAS content online will attract a wider audience to our cause. By leveraging platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, we can share our mission, events, and conservation efforts with a broader (and at times, younger) audience. It is my belief that this will enable us to strengthen our group with a diverse, inclusive community of nature enthusiasts and conservationists.

I would like to also welcome my friends as newly elected Officers for JVAS.

As newly elected Vice President, we have Catie Farr - who is also our Hospitality Chair.  Catie’s dedication to bringing delicious meals to our JVAS meetings extends beyond what is expected. I’ve had in-depth conversations about how much happiness that brings her, which speaks of her character. I know I, as well as many other members, appreciate all of her efforts and bringing top-notch meals to our meetings. Catie is also responsible for the fun and exciting Earth Week Birding Classic, which we are working on together, to ensure growth for 2025.

Our Treasurer, with 17 years of service to JVAS, is George Mahon. George is on my team for the Christmas Bird Count, and I always enjoy spending time with him.  We are lucky to have such a kind, and trustworthy person managing the books for JVAS. 

I’m very excited about our newly elected Secretary Conner Schmitt.  Conner is young, enthusiastic, and a new member to JVAS as of this year.  Conner has stepped up to bat to fill in for field trips and is eager to help whenever needed.  Having him officiated as Secretary is exciting, because I know he is reliable, and passionate about birding and bird conservation.  Most recently Conner has joined me in the Louisiana Waterthrush Survey which we do to help Moshannon Creek Watershed Association to gain eligibility for various grants to fight acid mine drainage in this waterway.  This survey requires a 4 AM rise, almost 80 minutes drive (round trip) and four miles of hiking to survey birds. And yet, Conner shows up on time, with a smile, ready to work. 

Red-winged Blackbird
As your Field Trip Chair, I have recognized that some of our members may have physical limitations that prevent them from attending field trips or hikes. When leading field trips, it always saddens me to hear someone can’t participate despite wanting to enjoy nature. So, one of my goals is to remedy this situation so that people do not feel left out. And so, to ensure inclusivity, I plan to create videos and photo essays that will showcase our events, conservation efforts, local wildlife appearances, and share them online with members who want to be outdoors but cannot be. By bringing a summary of these events to your computer screen, everyone can experience and appreciate our wild Pennsylvania, regardless of physical abilities. As the new Publicity Chair, I have already begun this process on our Facebook page. If you enjoy simply reading about JVAS, and the outdoor experiences in our area, you can simply go to:
facebook.com/juniatavalleyaudubon. If you do not have a Facebook account, I do not believe you will be able to interact with the posts, but you should be able to scroll down our page and enjoy local photos, writing, events, and perhaps learn a thing or two along the way. I try to post new content daily, so feel free to enjoy it while enjoying your coffee or tea.

Once we begin making videos, we will upload them to YouTube, and they can simply be emailed to members and posted to the website for you all to view. In this scenario, there is no need to leave the comfort of your home to enjoy a bit of nature.

The future is bright for the Juniata Valley Audubon Society. In conclusion, I’d like to say this new position as President is not one I take lightly. My dedication to birds, wildlife, and their habitats will remain unwavering for the duration of my tenure for this amazing group. I look forward to building on the strong foundation our previous Presidents, board members, and long-time members have created as we move forward into this next phase.

May the road rise to meet our every step in this next chapter together.

Warm regards,
Michael Kensinger

We would like to thank everyone who attended the 2024 JVAS Banquet on April 16th. Thank you to Hospitality Chair and new Vice President Catie Farr, as well as Laura and Mike Jackson for the work they put into organizing this event. We would also like to thank everyone who donated an item to our raffle. We ended up raising $525, which is much more than in previous years. There was a myriad of unique items to bid on, including original artworks, crafts, games, foods, and even a bird-themed Lego set!

Amber Weiwel, organizer of the Third Pennsylvania Bird Atlas, was our banquet speaker. Amber presented ways in which we could all get involved with the next PA Breeding Bird Atlas and spoke a bit about a new Winter Bird Atlas that would be coming soon. Attendees were shown imagery and given instructions on the process involved with making accurate decisions on bird breeding behaviors and when to record them. Additionally, we were able to view range variations in a species such as the Carolina Wren, and how Pennsylvania’s ground-breaking atlas has reflected the spread of Carolina Wrens since the first atlas in the late 80’s.

If you would like to participate in the 5-year Atlas project to document breeding birds, check out the information on the Hawk Mountain website.

Angie Spagnoli, JVAS Conservation Awardee (left) accepts her Conservation Certificate from out-going JVAS President Mark Bonta and Conservation Chair Laura Jackson (right).

As per tradition, we give a JVAS Conservation Award to a deserving person, decided on by our board. This year’s awardee was Angie Spagnoli, who was nominated due to her tireless efforts to protect wetland habitats and the wildlife that call them home. While birds are an interest of Angie, her passion for amphibians, vernal pools, native wetland fauna and the like have earned her a reputation in our local community. She educates, inspires, and includes volunteers from a variety of backgrounds to get involved with hands-on activities such as tree plantings and invasive plant removal. Such activities do well to inspire new generations of conservationists and offer new perspectives for older generations who have not taken part in such activities before. It is important to note that such efforts are far from glamorous, but special people like Angie are willing to lead the charge.

Wetlands are important habitats for many creatures, including the spotted salamander

In a world where many people are willing to talk about conservation, Angie ‘walks the walk’. Where many people will share newsbytes on social media, Angie is out there in the mud and in the dirt working to make our planet a better place. As a woman of science, she serves also as the only woman on the board of Directors of the Little Juniata River Association. An advocate for protecting wild spaces, Spagnoli has helped lead the charge in the Coalition to Save old Crow Wetland. Currently, Angie is leading the charge as the battle ensues against Rutter’s senseless development up against this vital Huntingdon habitat.

Angie’s work resonates through many conservation groups including The Little Juniata River Association, The Coalition to Save Old Crow Wetland, Friends of Tipton Wetlands, and more. Aside from her talents as a scientist and conservationist, Angie involves people of all backgrounds in her projects spreading awareness of native habitats and ecosystems, and why we must protect them. Congratulations Angie! And thank you for all you have done and will continue to do!

wood turtle (all photos by Michael Kensinger)

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A caravan of refugees leaving Honduras in 2018 (photo by boitchy licensed to the public domain)

Why migrants? Think twice!

Buried in popular coverage of the climate crisis a few years back was this piece at Futurity, ‘Is climate change driving migration from Central America?’ Around 2019, there were a flurry of reports claiming climate change in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador were responsible for a massive outflow of people northward.

The article discusses a National Science Foundation-funded study by geographers at the University of Arizona and elsewhere that reached a conclusion similar to mine: Hogwash! “Migration is complicated and there are many reasons that people migrate…[this] doesn’t mean that an individual climate event can’t have an impact, but there are other driving forces…such as limited land and resources, violence, and corruption,” the leader researcher explained.

As a geographer myself, and a life-long student of Central America, I find that this study resonates with my own experience. I’ve been engaged with Honduras since 1991, and climate change was a primary reason I first worked in Honduran national parks while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Climate change brought together impoverished rural communities to save the environment and protect their water sources, fomenting—there and across Latin America—a veritable local-grown environmental revolution that has received scant coverage in US media. Why, then, am I agreeing with the study?

Microclimate change

Because the climate change that communities were concerned about was (and remains) microclimate alteration. Decades of deforestation funded by North American and European agricultural and forestry development projects had reduced rainforests and pine forests to grasslands during the Green Revolution. Tiny mountaintop water reserves called “cloud forests” were among the last hope for communities in surrounding lowlands, where deforestation had otherwise wrecked watersheds. USAID, the World Bank, and numerous other aid and lending agencies had transferred billions of dollars into the pockets of “entrepreneurs” who rotated between political office and ownership of logging companies, agro-export corporations, and other rapacious ventures. In living memory, places had become hotter and dried as forests turned into deserts.

Talking about a revolution…

The environmental revolution of 1990 to 2010 in Central America was not bloodless. Many environmentalists lost their lives; some were my close friends. The weather wasn’t kind, either, with hurricanes wrecking infrastructure as fast as it could be rebuilt. The US’s appetite for illicit substances didn’t help, as somewhere close to 90% of the world’s cocaine flowed through in the early 2010s, and the environment was hit hard as those who laundered the profits—moguls, politicians, billionaires—did so through mining conglomerates, timbering, real estate, dam building, and the expansion of cattle (see, for example, this paper in Land Use Policy).

Nevertheless, against incredible odds, many of the most at-risk forests and other precious habitats that had seemed doomed in the 1980s, in countries such as Honduras, were saved. Water sources were saved as well, so entire villages didn’t have to be abandoned. For most ordinary citizens, protection of the environment became a sacred duty, and in my experience, ideas such as animal rights, habitat protection, and the values of clean and safe natural resources such as water and air are much more popular and less contentious there than in the US. It is far from a perfect system, of course: great swaths of unprotectable rainforest are still being cut down, and the greenwashing practiced by domestic and foreign interests is too often given the stamp of approval by big environmental NGOs.

Why leave Central America?

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Central America who would tell you honestly that climate change at the macroscale is the principal driver of migration from the region. Indeed, even with changing microclimates due to deforestation, there is an incredible diversity of environmental conditions to choose from, and each little niche has distinct growing conditions that can theoretically support just about any crop or domestic animal known to humanity. On top of that, there are factors such as abundant natural resources that can be utilized sustainably, family and culture ties, and other positive reasons to keep people there.

However, negative push factors far outweigh the positives. The fact is that for the vast majority, it is nearly impossible to survive economically, thanks to, as the authors above point out, “limited land and resources, violence, and corruption.” Land isn’t limited, but access to capital and credit is, and few people control most capital and most land. The rule of law belongs to those who control the capital and the land. This means that if you are poor and you step out of line, you have few options.

(Note: where social and political conditions are much more stable, particularly in Costa Rica but also in Panama, out-migration is negligible.)

Teaching us a thing or two?

The crisis in Central America that drives people to choose to flee is a social and economic crisis, not an environmental crisis nor a climate crisis. I would go so far as to say that, in the environmental realm, Central Americans could teach Central Pennsylvanians a thing or two about how to protect the environment. After all, we share many of the same birds. I have to wonder what the birds coming north after nine months in a shaded coffee plantation think when they find yet another convenience store in place of where they nested last season, or when they have to choke their way through another Canadian burning season, or when yet another unnecessary suburban subdivision cuts down the elms and the maples to make way for Elm Street and Maple Street.

What’s an Auduboner to do?

  • Research your food, and pay more for it: because cheap coffee, bananas, and other tropical fare signify that people are paid little to produce it, perpetuating poverty. Find the food that economically benefits small farmers.
  • Work to preserve bird habitat here, so that Central American birds have decent places to breed.
  • Spend your ecotourism dollars in Central America, in ecologically sustainable places that benefit local and indigenous communities, not wealthy elites or corporations.
  • Think twice before letting profit-seeking, corporate media conglomerates convince you that the reason for the migrant crisis is the climate crisis rather than the same-old, same-old: greedy corporations, corrupt governments, entrenched power structures… Remember that it’s easier and safer for the media to invoke an all-powerful, impersonal foe such as climate change than to name and shame the actual powerful entities perpetuating the desperation that is driving millions northward.
  • Educate elected officials about the right policies for the US to pursue in Central America, environmental and otherwise, that will lead to sustainability.

In honor of the hundreds of environmental leaders who have lost their lives in this fight over the last decade, activists such as Aly Dominguez and Jairo Bonilla.

JVAS member John Carter recounts his discovery of the first recorded American Flamingos in the state of Pennsylvania.


A singular birding moment that I will forever hold close to my heart as a testament to life's beautiful surprises, was the day two American Flamingos became the birding spotlight for Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

On September 7th, 2023, I escaped for a lunchtime bird outing in hopes of finding fall migrant shorebirds at local ponds. When approaching the country pond on Long Lane, little did I know that this would be the most unparalleled experience in my life of bird watching, as I discovered the first recorded American Flamingos in the state of Pennsylvania.

Near the end of August 2023, Hurricane Idalia stirred across the Gulf of Mexico, pushing flocks of American Flamingos from the Caribbean into Florida and well beyond. American Flamingos started showing up in many other states in response to this tropical cyclone, creating a Flamingo mania.

I was as jittery as a caffeinated squirrel, and the enthusiasm bubbling over like a shaken soda can. As I stood alone along the farmland road admiring a once in a lifetime species discovery, I knew this was an unprecedented event that other bird and nature lovers would marvel over. Just as the flamingos flocked to this hidden oasis in the Cumberland Valley so would a mass of people near and far. The news spread like wildfire through the communication channels and fortunately the landowners were accommodating and gracious to welcoming people to take on the observation of these majestic splendors.

The birds had daily surveillance taking in accounts of behaviors and interactions, the state police would help manage the crowds of people so safety and respect would follow suit to help establish appropriate observation etiquette. Another extraordinary, mega rare visitor of a Brown Booby would flyover and be documented on September 14th.

As nature goes, not everything concludes with a happy ending. On September 11th the subadult flamingo was attacked by a resident common snapping turtle, causing a substantial injury to the leg. The bird was quickly and safely captured, and then transported by the PA Game Commission to the Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Boro, PA. The injured bird was making strides in its recovery, but would perish en route to the next stage of its recovery.

The remaining adult flamingo would remain at Long Lane Pond for another 8 days giving opportunities for bird chasers, nature lovers and just curious individuals a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime birding opportunity in the wild. The adult flamingo departed the pond soaring on the evening of September 19th.

It was such a joy to see the smiles and excitement of others taking in their encounter of the American Flamingos. I ventured to the pond seven different times and was beyond grateful to share my binoculars and spotting scope with outside visitors so they could have a close-up view.

For more information about American Flamingos:
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/american-flamingo
https://abcbirds.org/bird/american-flamingo/

Rutters has not yet received a permit from DEP to build a truck stop next to Old Crow Wetland in Huntingdon.  It is likely that they will, and the coalition is raising funds to appeal a DEP stormwater permit. Our lawyer is working for us pro bono but we’ll need to pay experts who will testify for us at an appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board, so we are raising money for a legal fund. See below for how to donate.

We have two avenues to stop this project: DEP and Smithfield township. On the first Tuesday of each month, members of the Coalition to Save Old Crow Wetland voice opposition to Rutters’ plans at Smithfield township supervisors’ meetings. We point out how Rutters’ plans do not meet Smithfield township’s ordinances. The next meeting will be on January 2, 2024 at 6:00 pm at 202 South 13th Street, Huntingdon, PA 16652. Any member of the public may attend and speak at these meetings.

Local media calls Rutters’ project a “convenience store” because that is how it is labelled in DEP and township documents. Reporters claim they must use that term, but it is misleading because the project is a seven-acre truck stop, one of the largest in central Pennsylvania, open 24 hours a day. A large Rutters is being built in Blair county now and another is planned for Centre county.

Coalition members have spoken with the Maxatawny Community Coalition near Kutztown PA.  Since a Rutters was recently built there, traffic congestion in the area has become worse. Residents are concerned about gambling machines and the sale of alcohol at the Rutters, as well as many warehouses now proposed for the area. A member of the Maxatawny group wrote:

“Even though Rutters calls themselves a convenience store, we consider them to be a truck stop due to the massive amount of parking they have for tractor trailers in the back parking lot and the amount of diesel gas pumps on the property.  Trucks park overnight on the property which is against our ordinances and many of them are idling non-stop regardless of any laws against it.  These types of facilities should be up on the Interstates and NOT in communities!  -  A.F.

The Coalition held a Non-Violent Direct Action Training session in December, 2023, led by Michael Badges-Canning and Penn Garvin (NVDA training facilitators) in Huntingdon, Pa.

If you want to prevent traffic, pollution, and related problems in Huntingdon and to prevent harm coming to the beautiful Old Crow Wetland, please join the Coalition.

To donate to the legal fund, send a check made out to Coalition to Save Old Crow Wetland to: Coalition to Save Old Crow Wetland, P.O. Box 7, Huntingdon PA 16652, or donate to fundrazr.com/saveoldcrow  Any donation would be much appreciated.

Join our Facebook group: Coalition to Save Old Crow wetland (Huntingdon PA) .

WE ARE! (#47)

Of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Blair, at the core of our Audubon chapter’s area, is ranked 46 all-time in number of bird species recorded. We’ve logged 259 species so far, 38 above Sullivan County, Pennsylvania’s lowest, but 96 less than Lancaster County, number one in the state.

This year, I set out to see if it was possible to detect at least 200 species in a single hotspot – in this case, Plummer’s Hollow, at the northern end of Blair County. I used every means at my disposal, including a nocturnal flight call recorder, and managed to count 202 species (pending continuing flight call analysis that may swell the total). One of the things I learned was that knowing how to detect birds (I call it “intercepting” them) is a large part of what we think of as “species richness.” Location, habitat quality and diversity, and observer effort are also critically important, but it’s amazing how many species are missed just because someone isn’t in the right place at the right time. We probably missed Sandhill Crane, or Swallow-tailed Kite, or you-name-it this year because someone didn’t glance up at just the right moment in just the right location.

While I like to think that Plummer’s Hollow is special, I suspect that virtually every Pennsylvania natural area with varied habitat and a few hundred acres of woods and fields could turn up similar hotspot top-ten numbers on a yearly basis. The problem is how hard it is to detect some birds unless someone is onsite 24/7. I can’t imagine how many rarities escape notice on our many local ponds and lakes, or even muddy fields, for example. Often, waterfowl and waders land in the night, spend a few hours in the morning, and they’re off again. How many of these completely escape detection? How many of the rarities that non-birders see ever get noted or reported to birders?

WE ARE! (#20)

In 2023, Blair County cracked the top 20 in the state, in a five-way county tie of 223 species for the year. This is a substantially higher county rank than in the past and based on far less eBird checklists than the counties occupying one through 19. This 253-and-counting list is probably still dozens shy of the “true number” (total species present in the skies and/or on the ground at some point during the year) but is nevertheless a testament to the couple dozen casual and, well, fanatical birders who have focused more effort on Blair this year than ever before.

NIGHT WATCH

Blair added six species to its all-time list in 2023. They were the Painted Bunting on April 22, photographed at a feeder near the Juniata Valley Church, and five nocturnal migrants over Plummer’s Hollow: Common Gallinule (4/15); Whimbrel (5/22 and after); Ruddy Turnstone (5/27); Short-billed Dowitcher (7/1 and after); Upland Sandpiper (8/9). Now, there are naysayers who may doubt the importance of birds that fly over at night, but I think nocturnal migrants are equally as important as those that fly over during the day, such as raptors. Whether they land here or not, nest here or not—they are still within our territory. We don’t own them, for sure, but we are their stewards as long as they are here. And whether we know it or not, they—particularly the night-flying ones—face some pretty large obstacles. Take the tens of thousands of Swainson’s ThrushesGray-cheeked ThrushesHermit Thrushes, and Veeries that stream north in the spring and south in the fall. On certain September dawns, I sit in a field on top of Plummer’s Hollow, awash in the overlapping peeps of thousands of thrushes as they descend to the forests all around to rest and feed for the day. One day, it occurred to me that, minutes earlier, they may have had to thread the massive wind towers of Sandy Ridge, directly to the north, as they exited the Appalachian Plateau airspace and entered the Ridge and Valley Province. (Or, perhaps, they’ve learned to avoid those obstacles?) I’m happy that we’ve kept much of our part of their flyway free of obstacles, and also that we entice them and hundreds of other species with ample opportunities to spend a day, a week, or a season.

To paraphrase the great Eddie Kendricks, KEEP ON BIRDIN’!

Dear JVAS Community,

It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the deaths of hundreds of millions of my friends in 2023. I’m talking about the toll that buildings take on birds worldwide, each and every year.

This year, Chicago once again earned its moniker as the deadliest city for bird strikes. On the morning of October 5th, residents of the Windy City were awakened by the flight calls of millions of warblers and other migrants. Birders descended on the parks along Lake Michigan and recorded the amazing spectacle of hundreds of thousands of warblers threading their way through the wilderness of steel, glass, and concrete. For more details on what a fallout of this magnitude looks like, see Marky Mutchler’s account and videos on eBird

While most of the birds were able to make it through, untold thousands did not, and accounts tell of their corpses littering the streets and sidewalks.

To quote Mutchler: “TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF”

It can be hard to fathom the sheer magnitude of what is transpiring in the night sky above our communities. On certain nights, particularly in May, September, and October, tens of millions of birds are on the move. If they become bottled up by stagnant weather for a while, they may surge forward on the next north wind, as apparently happened in Chicago this year. 

This dead warbler (fall plumage) is a tragedy that could have been prevented

if the homeowners had treated their kitchen storm door to prevent bird kills.

It’s not just the tall buildings that represent danger to birds. It’s also all the light we humans generate. And in the daytime, it’s also the reflective glass panes that turn so many central business districts into giant funhouse mirror landscapes. 

By night or by day, our iconic skylines are their killing fields.

To a lesser extent, these risks all exist in rural central Pennsylvania, in every mirror-like pane, every light left on needlessly at night, every churning turbine (I’ll have more on this last bit in a future comment).

What can you do? Here’s an Audubon.org article on some actions for your home or place of work. Here’s another on the Lights Out movement. As of this year, following action from local birders, State College has started turning its lights off during peak migration. Let’s put some pressure on other local communities to follow suit! 

Editor’s Note: Buildings two or three stories high kill more birds than tall buildings. Your home could very well be a death-trap for birds. Even if birds hit your window and fly away, chances are the injury is fatal and birds will die soon after they hit the window.

What can you do? Add Acopian Bird Savers (aka Zen Curtains) or purchase Feather Friendly dots. You can make your own Acopian Bird Savers™ or buy a kit designed for your window:

The FeatherFriendly® dots are available.

Unfortunately, Centre Wildlife Care's Robyn Graboski had to postpone her presentation to JVAS scheduled for Sept. 19. Robyn has promised us she will reschedule her visit sometime in the spring of 2024.
Instead, we will enjoy a presentation by JVAS President Mark Bonta called
Tyroner Travels the World - 12 Lessons Learned.
This interactive talk distills the endless ramblings of a Tyrone-based geographer into a series of lessons on the world. Each lesson is preceded by a series of slides, and the audience tries to guess what the lesson is, and where the pictured places are. Photos go as far back as grainy scanned slides from 1986, and range across six continents. At the end is a geography quiz just to keep you on your toes.
The in-person talk is at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, as usual, with a free meal at 6:00 and the meeting to commence at 7:00--when we also go live on Zoom. To join by computer, use this link: https://psu.zoom.us/j/97418229426 (passcode: 123456). To join from the Zoom app on a smartphone, enter this meeting ID: 974 1822 9426 (passcode: 123456). To join by phone, call this number: +1 301 715 8592 (US Toll), enter the meeting ID followed by the pound sign.

from the September-October issue of the Gnatcatcher

I hope everyone has had a productive summer despite the rain, heat, and bugs. Ah, the bugs! At times, it has felt like the North Woods out there. Even so, JVAS has had a few activities going on this summer, including the monthly first Tuesday hike at the Ray Amato Memorial Nature Trail at the Northern Blair County Recreation Center in Tipton, led by George Mahon and Eric Oliver. We also had our annual picnic at Canoe Creek State Park in June, where Catie and Ethan Farr served up some delicious smoked chicken.

JVAS members hamming it up at the picnic

I want to give special thanks to past president Catie Farr for not only providing delicious food for our meetings and picnics, as hospitality chair, but also stepping up and taking over as secretary, in addition to coordinating the Earth Week Birding Classic. We hope her scheduled meals for the fall meetings in Bellwood can help entice you to join us live for some exciting talks. If not, however, we will endeavor to provide a virtual option as well for those who are joining us long-distance, or for any other reason can’t make it in person.

While the Juniata Valley environmentalist community has been rushing around on our vacations and family visits, the forces of destruction have not stayed idle, unfortunately. On the one hand, the Old Crow wetlands remain at dire threat from a Rutter’s, despite a fierce struggle mounted by a coalition led by Claire Holzner; on the other hand, another Rutter’s is being erected at the Pinecroft exit of I-99, obliterating important habitat. As if that weren’t enough, the Borough of Hollidaysburg recently decided to have the side of the mountain in front of iconic Chimney Rocks clearcut so that folks could see the rocks better.

This short-sighted decision will result not only in erosion of the fragile soil but also a hostile takeover by invasive plants. JVAS and other local groups are currently looking at ways to mitigate the damage, but the message is clear: never let down your guard when it comes to habitat. Be proactive: if you see valuable habitat that appears protected, never assume it’s safe from clearcutting and development, even if it’s on public land of some type. And while cutting forest has undeniable economic benefits, the inevitable environmental result now seems to be vast thickets of privet, barberry, mile-a-minute, and a ton of other invasives.

Habitat destruction at Pinecroft on May 21, 2023 (photo by Laura Jackson)

Case in point: along the I-99 corridor between Bedford and Lock Haven are literally hundreds of small wetlands, of which only a handful have any meaningful protection. Any wetland, no matter the size, or whether it’s vernal or permanent, is important, but pretty much every single one is vulnerable to development, despite existing federal and state legislation. Sometimes, it’s not even the wetland itself that gets directly destroyed or polluted, but, as in the case of Old Crow wetland down in Huntingdon, an adjacent piece of land. Nevertheless, I know personally of wetlands large enough to hold breeding herons, Wood Ducks, and much more, that are at the back of junkyards, have garbage dumped into them, and are otherwise abandoned, neglected, and forgotten. It is high time that we took a more systematic approach to finding, studying, and anticipating possible protection measures for such threatened places. Look at the success that Wetlands for Everyone has had with the Soaring Eagle Wetland and the Dreibelbis Viewing Area (former Julian Wetland) along HWY 220 in Centre County. Within a few miles of Tyrone in either direction are close to a dozen similar places, a few of which are “protected,” but for how long? To mention a few: Moorhen Marsh by Altoona, wetlands around Bellwood, wetlands on either side of the Tipton-Grazierville exit including the Charlottesville Wetland, wetlands around Olivia, Vail, and Bald Eagle—and of course, the Northern Blair County Rec Center wetlands that Angie Spagnoli has been instrumental in studying and promoting.

Habitat destruction at Pinecroft as of May 21, 2023 (photo by Laura Jackson)

The Friends of Tipton Wetlands has been promoting the Charlottesville wetland all summer, with photo essays by Frank Nale on their Facebook page that show the beauty of this location and the hard work put in by JVAS board member and talented wildlife artist Michael Kensinger, who has erected nesting boxes here as well as at Old Crow and along the Ray Amato trail and elsewhere.

photo and wood duck box by Michael Kensinger

If you are as interested in the subject of Logan Valley-Bald Eagle Valley wetland protection as I am, please let me know. I’m thinking about ways we can be several steps ahead of the developers. Companies, private landowners, the state government, and most importantly, local governments, should be partners in this, not adversaries. Perhaps it’s time for all the different local environmental NGOs, coalitions, and Friends groups to get together to discuss some sort of unified strategy.

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Before the age of the Internet, we would straggle in oblivious to each other’s finds. Indeed, half the fun was the unveiling of the best species during the tally after every count supper.

December 28, 1969: ‘Twas a clear day, low of 22, high of 31. Eight intrepid souls, led by the late John Orr, ventured into the woods and fields of Sinking Valley for the first ever Christmas Bird Count in the recently established Culp circle. After 24 hours of team effort, the counters tallied 32 species. That year was the 70th annual CBC nationwide; it would take the Culp count all the way to year #123, on December 17, 2022, to reach 72 species. Along the way, effort, species numbers, and weather have had their ups and downs, but enthusiasm has never flagged. In celebration of surpassing the long-sought 70-species goal, we present a brief history of the Culp Count.

My family, up in Plummer’s Hollow, first got involved in CBC #79, in 1978. I was nine years old. Since then, I participate every year I am in town. In my family, it is safe to say, Christmas Bird Count is bigger than Christmas!

In those early years, the count supper, as we called it, was strictly potluck, at the old Sinking Valley Grange. Before the age of the Internet, we would straggle in oblivious to each other’s finds. Indeed, half the fun was the unveiling of the best species during the tally after every count supper. If you had something good, you kept mum until then. Nowadays, via a Whatsapp group chat, we announce the top finds as we get them.

Back in the day, many frustrations resulted from lack of a good photograph. After all, it was going to take you quite a while to get the film developed, and telephoto lenses were scarce. Now, of course, we share photos instantly. And we have eBird. And Merlin. And so forth—but the spirit of the thing hasn’t changed, even if potluck count suppers are long forgotten, and we meet in the private room of a local restaurant. We still swap war stories (of the birding variety) and do a read-out tally of every species.

It does look like hi-tech has helped us get to 70 species, though. How else would we have known that this year’s putative Yellow-rumped Warbler was actually, on closer examination of digital evidence, a Cape May Warbler? How else to keep track of who is getting what, and thus refocus and calibrate team efforts during the course of the day?

Effort—number of total hours logged by teams—doesn’t necessarily correlate to number of species. In 1993, 138.5 hours were spent for a total of only 50 species. Compare that to 2012, where only six counters, the smallest group ever, spent 40 hours but got 58 species. The most counters, 45, were in 1983, but they only logged 56 species.

These small songbirds are often counted at feeders if shrubs and other cover are nearby. L to R: White-throated sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch. Photo by Mike Jackson

The weather of course is a huge factor. Birds that remain in central Pennsylvania in late December move around quite a lot: waterfowl, particularly. They have to, as their waterholes freeze over and they head to bigger lakes or rivers outside the count circle. What about holding it later, after Christmas? Wouldn’t we get more winter species? This tactic has never worked for Culp. The first five counts were all after Christmas, but otherwise, only Jan 2, ’93; Dec. 27, ’97; and Jan. 3, ‘17 have been later; in none of these have species been higher. Mid-December works best!

Now for the suffering. One can reliably predict most of the species that will be gotten, but the weather conditions? Never! Our coldest count ever was December 16, 1989: a low of 0 and a high of only 14.

At the other end of the spectrum, just five years earlier, December 15, 1984, the low was 46 degrees and the high reached 66!

As for the birds themselves, over the years, Culp has gotten a total of 121 species on count day, and another three only on count week (the three days before and after). Some of these, like this year’s Savannah Sparrow and Cape May Warbler, have been gotten only once. Others, like this year’s Lapland Longspur and Golden Eagle, and many more, have been recorded only a handful of times. Then there are the frustrating misses: when the tallier reads out an expected species and no one raises their hand. No Red-breasted Nuthatches??? How can that be?!?!

At least, there are those old dependables, the ones you get on every count. We have 15 species in that category. If you live in the area, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the most common of these is the European Starling. It’s had some low years, but never less than 100, and the most-ever of a single species was 2,160 in 2016.

Of course, there are a lot of other trends of interest. Ruffed Grouse, PA’s state bird, used to be easy to locate, with a count high of 31 in 1988. A few are still in the area, but we haven’t gotten any on count day since 2016. You can thank the West Nile Virus for that population crash. On the other side of things, we didn’t get the first Bald Eagle until 2002, but now we get up to five every year. Raptors in general have remained stable or gone up in numbers, with the sad exception of the Northern Goshawk, which has vanished from the area and indeed from most of the state.

December 17, 2022: So, what WAS this year’s magic formula for hitting 72? I can honestly say we have schemed and plotted and scouted for several counts in the past. In the mid 2010s, I put together a Google Map of the count circle with every accessible road and birding spot highlighted and applied a technique I had seen in other count circles: drawing birding zones so that we could match teams to areas and avoid overlap and missed opportunities. Still, we couldn’t top the record of 67 species set in back-to-back years (’07/’08).

Then came all the bird identification tech and just the right combination of motivated (some would say obsessed) counters, just waiting for perfect weather conditions. Here are some choice snippets from the group chat:

John Carter, 4:53 AM: “Good morning and happy Culp CBC day! Hope you all have fun and see lots of birds! Thank you for being part of the count. On the board with a Screech Owl.”

John again at 7:21 AM: “Grackle!”

Me at 7:30 AM: “5 male common mergs”

Michael Kensinger at 7:31 AM: “50 Red-winged Blackbirds”

And on it went. People hit the best spots in the morning, cognizant of looming snow showers in the afternoon, and a general lull in bird activity. At around 9:30 AM, we began to wonder about waterfowl.

John: “Any update from Canoe Lake, Jacksons? Hoping there is some open H20 there.” Nothing to report. But a few minutes later, John clocked in with a Green-winged Teal and Laura Jackson reported 3 Northern Pintails.

The adventure continued. Michael Kensinger at 10:01 AM: “100 Horned Larks being hunted by an immature Sharpie.”

Carl Engstrom at 10:33 AM: “Good stuff – kestrels and Bald Eagle if those haven’t been recorded yet.”

At 10:55 AM, John reminded folks to keep their eyes on the sky in case of Golden Eagles; Carl delivered one at 12:36 PM. Sign of the times: a Red-headed Woodpecker returned after a 24-year absence (Michael Kensinger reported from Ft. Roberdeau).

At 11:39 AM, I messaged John: “Looks like we are headed for an all-time high. Easily break 70.” This was after my Savannah Sparrow, hanging with some Northern Cardinals at the edge of our field. But the kicker, or so we thought, was Carl’s 2:06 PM Lapland Longspur. After that, as it usually does, numbers of new species dropped off and heavy snow showers kicked in. I had already walked eight miles and decided to scrap a final push for Ruffed Grouse in the thickest, thorniest, invasive thickets of Brush Mountain. No Barred Owl was to be found, no Red-breasted Nuthatch; no one had gotten a Merlin or a Rusty Blackbird, either: granted, not easy or common species, but when your totals are already high, as all birders know, you tend to get a little greedy. John announced he was headed to Sinking Valley in the fading light to make a try for a possible Short-eared Owl reported by Michael Kensinger, but no luck.

And then it was over. I joked that had the total been 69 species, folks were invited to scrabble through two miles of icy slush to make a try for the Plummer’s Hollow Barred Owl. Owling, as it’s called, is about the only option left if you want to make use of the 5 hours remaining in the count. But we stayed with Great-horned Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl and went home happy (some prepping for another CBC somewhere else the next day).

The biggest surprise for this CBC was the Cape May Warbler on a feeder in Sinking Valley! Photo by Joe Glass

How many bird species were in the Culp Circle on December 17, 2022? The surprises weren’t over yet. A Peregrine Falcon sailed over my head in Tyrone the next morning, hunting Rock Pigeons, but I doubt it had been there the day before. Nevertheless, it became a count week bird, or “cw.” Though several feeder counters didn’t turn in new species, Michael delivered the biggest surprise of the season when announced on the evening of the 18th that his team’s Yellow-rumped Warbler was a Cape May Warbler, with a photo to back them up. This was only the 9th-ever of this species for Pennsylvania in December and the second from central PA.

Due to the icy conditions, most ponds were frozen, but a few had open water that attracted ducks and other waterfowl. This Northern Pintail was a handsome duck among the many Mallards at a small pond in Sinking Valley. Photo by Joe Glass

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