This year’s spring migration has been slow (at times painfully slow) here in central Pennsylvania. If you have been following Drew’s daily radar posts then you’ll know why – north winds, rain, and general bad luck have really prevented good numbers of migrates to make their way back to (or through) the northeastern states. Finally weather conditions are starting to change and we have seen a slow but steady trickle of species back into our area with over 10 species of warblers reported from Centre County so far, although all in very low numbers. Last night’s weather conditions seemed like they could have really bumped up numbers of migrants for this morning, so I was pretty excited to head over to the Penn State University’s Big Hollow area to capture band birds – something we do on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings during spring and fall migration. As I walked from my car to the banding area, Yellow Warblers were the only warblers I heard singing so I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t the surge of birds I had been hoping for. In fact the only migrant that appeared to be in higher-than-normal numbers was Gray Catbird.
Walking up the hill to the banding pavilion, I could hear a Common Yellowthroat singing from the brush near a blooming crabapple. The crabapple itself is a popular stop for warblers, kinglets, and many other birds due to the increased number of insects on and around the tree, as well as its location – right at the end of a thin hedgerow. Oftentimes as birds are moving from patches of forest in Big Hollow, they use the hedgerow as a half-way point to stop and hide, rest, or forage. As I walked closer to the tree, I saw a small dull bird moving around in it. Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been foraging in the crabapple lately, so that is what I expected to see when I got my binos on the bird, but then was totally shocked when the bird turned broadside and I realized it was an Orange-crowned Warbler! I yelled to everyone that was already gathered under the pavilion for banding, and many others were able to watch the warbler as it foraged at the tips of branches in the crabapple. After about a minute, the warbler dropped down into the brush nearby and then flew over to another small hedgerow where I was able to get better and closer photos, and then the warbler disappeared back into a thick patch of privet.
I have only seen one other Orange-crowned in Centre County, a bird we captured and banded in Big Hollow in October 2011 (checklist). Orange-crowned Warblers are rarely reported in Centre County and are typically only seen during fall migration. eBird only shows 3 other springtime records of this species in Centre County, and only one of those sightings is from recent history (link to first, second, third). Our local birding competition, the Birding Cup, starts tomorrow at 7pm….hopefully this Orange-crowned Warbler is a sign that between tonight and Friday night there will be some huge pushes of tropical migrants! If you are interested in the other birds I saw during banding in Big Hollow this morning, here is a link to my checklist.