Somerset County Spring ’12 Big Day
On Sunday May 6, Jeff Payne, his son, Chris and I decided to do a big day in Somerset County PA. We were shooting for 150, a total Jeff thought would be very hard to hit in this county. We loosly planned a route in the days leading up to our big day, but did not put too much effort into really laying out a schedule. We met at 3am and headed out for owls, rails, and whatever else we could get before light.
3:30 am- We started the day at the Buffalo, a private wetland where we hoped to get Sora or Virgina Rail, Bittern and others. It was bright out, in fact the moon was full and at perigee, and the closest it will be to earth in 2012. It was so bright many birds were singing like it was dawn chorus! American Robin was our first bird, many sang loudly as we got out of the car. Solitary Sandpiper and Swamp Sparrow quickly became #2 and #3. We spent a long time trying to get rails and bitterns, but after a lot of calling, only Virginia Rail obliged us with a call back! Black-billed Cuckoo and Dickcissel were heard migrating overhead, and a calling Killdeer brought us to 7 species.
4:30am- We arrived at the Mount Davis area, beginning in an area hit by a series tornadoes many years ago. It is a great spot for Whip-poor-wills, which we quickly ticked. The extremely bright moon made for an interesting early morning, with so many species calling as if it were day. We added 34 more species by 6:30am making many stops in this area. Highlights were Canada, Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue Warbler. We also nearly struck out on Owls, until on one of our last night stops we finally got one to call back to us, a Northern Saw-whet Owl! Total Species tally: 41
6:30am– We moved down in elevation a bit to Deer Creek Lake area scoring a slew of woodpeckers, including Hairy which can easily be missed on big days. We also picked up 9 species of warblers and 4 species of Flycatchers, including Louisiana Waterthrush, Blackburnian Warbler, Great Crested and Acadian Flycatchers. These series of stops landed us 36 more species. Total Species tally: 77
7:45am – We arrived at High Point Lake to a Green Heron still doing its night flight notes as it flew around. Pretty neat! Even though the lake was fairly baren, we still picked up several key birds. Pied-billed Grebe, Common Loon and Bald Eagle were amongst the birds we saw. But the highlight hands down was an American Bittern which flushed when a boat with two fisherman got too close to it. It flew around the bend from them and perched on the bank allowing me to get it in the scope for everyone else! Awesome bird and a great quick look. The High Point area was good for 19 species. Total Species Tally: 96
9:30am– After spending a bit more time than we wanted to in some spots we finally arrived in Confluence/Ursina area. We quickly picked up many more warbler species including Kentucky, Worm-eating, several Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers and a Yellow-throated and Pine, both of which made us work a little too hard to get them. We also picked up 2 key vireos- Yellow-throated and White-eyed, as well as Common Merganser and one key vulture- Black, which can be hard in this county. These stops added 24 species.
Total Species Tally: 120
1:30pm We started working our way north to Somerset Lake. One important stop early on was in a spot with a nice overlook of several ridges. We spotted many soaring raptors moving along the ridges, which were most likely resident species just up soaring around. Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged and Raven were all new. A Prairie warbler was also added nearby. A little furthur north we stopped by a known Kestrel nest and added it to the tally. Now almost to Somerset, we decided to hit an Upland Sandpiper location I had found many years ago. The car was not even stopped when we heard the distictive loud song from the field in front of us! We also noticed in the adjacent field there was a good number of shorebirds. Here we added Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, American Pipit, and Semipalmated Plover. Before we left we saw 3 more Upland Sandpipers standing out in the field, making a total of 4!! One last detour before Somerset for a scouted Red-headed Woodpecker, and several minutes later 2 flew by chasing each other. This can be a tough bird, usually only on big days though 😉 These stops added only 13 species, but some tough ones though. Total Species Tally: 133
3:30pm We arrive at Somerset Lake. Like High Point, Somerset Lake was pretty devoid of birds too. However, there were a few species of waterfowl and gulls. We found Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gull, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, a single Ring-necked Duck, Coot, and Double-crested Cormorant. We also made one error here, forgetting to stop at the place I had scouted for White-throated Sparrow… It will come back to haunt us later. We added 11 species. Total Species Tally: 144
5:30pm We made a quick stop for Mute Swans before arriving at Quemahoning Reservoir. The Que was a bit disappointing. Nothing much there and we only added one species, Red-breasted Merganser. Both stops only garnered 2 species. Total Species Tally: 146
6:15pm We decided to go out of our way for a few grassland species we had yet to get. It was a reliable spot, so it was worth the chance this late in the day. We arrived in the vicinity of Flight 93 and quickly got the three we needed- Horned Lark, Vesper and Henslow’s Sparrow. Added 3 species. Total Species Tally: 149
7:30pm A quick stop at a scouted micro-habitat hoping for breeding Northern Waterthrush since we did not find a migrant. It was there! Running back to car… and Wooooaaahh BARRED OWL calling, nice!! Two more down! Total Species Tally: 151
7:50pm We arrive at a local wetland complex. It was late and we were not coming up with anything new. But half way in we saw 2 Rusty Blackbirds. We stopped at many spots to call for Sora Rail, but nothing. The sound of the peepers was a bit deafening to hear much over them, but we tried and could not get one. Then out of the north, about 1/2 hour after sunset, 2 Sandhill Cranes appeared, flying low over us and landed in the marsh behind us! Very Cool!! Total Species Tally: 153
9:30pm We made several stops calling for owls. At one, we had barely stopped the car and could hear a Screech Owl calling!! Total Species Tally: 154
10:30pm After stopping at half dozen more places calling for owls and listening, we spotted a Great-Horned Owl sitting along side of the road. It flushed up into a small grove of trees, and when the car got a few feet closer to where it had been 2 bunnies darted out. They got lucky this time! Total Species Tally: 155
11:30pm We made several more stops hoping for something to add, but nothing. All in all it was an awesome day, breaking the old Somerset County record and exceeding our target by 5 birds. Even-though we were just before the peak of spring migration, 28 of our species total was warblers! We had some huge misses, and a couple species we did not count because we all could not all get on them, but that always happens on big days. Better planning and route coordination next time may make the difference in breaking this record too. Midnight always comes too early, we wondered what we might have got if we planned better or did not miss some key birds, well it will have to wait until next time to find out!
GRAND BIG DAY TOTAL: 155 SPECIES!
Complete Big Day List
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler