My Top 25 Most Wanted Centre County Species for 2012

2012 is my third calendar year birding in Centre County, PA. So far I have only birded in the county during the fall semester of 2010 and the fall semester of 2011. I have never birded in Centre County during the spring or summer. During the two fall semesters that I have been in the county for, I have managed to rack up a Centre County species list of 221. Of all the counties I have ever birded in, I love adding species to my Centre County list the most. Three hundred and two species have been reported into eBird for Centre County, so I still have a lot of potential species to try to add to my list, however I have gone through the remaining species and narrowed the list down to my 25 Most Wanted. Below are the 25 species in order of taxonomy, with some comments concerning their respective history in Centre County.

1 – Cackling Goose

This species is seen regularly in other parts of the state, particularly the southeastern corner, but is quite rare in Centre County. Cackling Geese are most often found during spring migration mixed in with large groups of Canada Geese. Bald Eagle SP and the Duck Pond seem to be the two most likely locations for me to be able to see this species within the county. In addition, I bet a Cackling Goose mixed in with the thousands of Canada Geese I see pass over Jo Hays Vista during fall migration, would also be reasonable.

2 – Trumpeter Swan

As far as swans go, only Tundra and Mute Swan have been reported in Centre County, however I think we are due for a Trumpeter Swan. This is a species I have seen a number of times in other areas of PA and feel like its only a matter of time before we find one here in Centre County. Bald Eagle SP and Colyer Lake would be the most likely locations for this species in my opinion.

3 – Greater White-fronted Goose

Another rare goose, especially in central PA – there have only been a handful of records in Centre County. My chances for this species are even less than my chances for the previous two waterfowl species, but I am going to keep my hopes up and wait for the day that I drive over to Colyer Lake and see a Greater White-fronted Goose mixed in with the Canada Geese.

4 – Eared Grebe

Horned Grebes are quite common during both spring and fall migration through Centre County but their western counterpart, the Eared Grebe is very rare. There have only been three records of this species in the county – one at the Duck Pond, one at the PSU Retention Pond, and one at Bald Eagle SP. I think its quite a long shot that I should get this species, but it seems reasonable to hope, especially if I put in enough hours at Bald Eagle SP during migration.

5 – American Bittern

This species’ absence on my Centre County life list is due entirely to the fact that I have not been in the county during the spring and early summer, when American Bitterns are most commonly-encountered. I don’t think there should be any problem finding this species this spring.

American Bittern (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

6 – Cattle Egret

This species is uncommon to rare in PA and is only casually seen in Centre County. The most recent sighting was of a handful of birds that spent at few days at the Polled Hereford Farm last spring. With more and more birders out in the county on a daily basis, I believe reports of Cattle Egrets will increase and hopefully I am around to go see one.

7 – Glossy Ibis

This species is pretty much in the same boat as Cattle Egret – they are rarely seen in the county, although we do have quite a bit of decent habitat that could lure them into stopping, and hopefully a birder will be there to get the word out. Most reports of Glossy Ibis are single birds during the spring months, with a record high count of eleven birds seen by Merrill Wood in 1983!

8 – Northern Goshawk

Of the regularly occurring diurnal raptors in Centre County, the Northern Goshawk is the only one I have not yet seen. Goshawks are rare in this part of the state and are typically only seen during migration when they pass by hawkwatches. I make sure I spend lots of time up at Jo Hays Vista during fall raptor migration, so I think one of these days I am bound to be sitting up there in the bitter cold and snow, and get lucky enough to see a goshawk cruise past.

9 – Common Gallinule

This is a rare species in Centre County, but is often reported a few times during spring migration, with the most recent sighting at Scotia Pond last spring. I think with all the wetland habitat around the county, this is a very reasonable species to try to find and add to my list this spring.

Common Gallinule (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

10 – Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail is an uncommon, but widespread species in Centre County and is most often reported in May. I believe that if I go out in search of this secretive species enough, I should not have any issue with at least hearing one respond to playback…but we will have to wait and see.

11 – American Avocet 

12 – Short-billed Dowitcher

13 – Stilt Sandpiper

Last August 8th, while I was baking in the hot sun of southwestern Arizona, I got a text alert from the SCRBA that said there was an American Avocet, multiple Stilt Sandpipers, and a whole flock of Short-billed Dowitchers foraging alongside other shorebirds at Colyer Lake. Needless to say, I was jealous. I am very proud of my shorebird list for the county so far, but adding the above three species would be amazing.

American Avocet (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

14 – Buff-breasted Sandpiper

There are only a few records of this species from Centre County and all were birds pushed down by storms during fall migration. With the hundreds of acres of plowed fields around Centre County, I think it is only a matter of time before we are able to find Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The fields along North Nixon Rd look ideal for this species during the fall, but despite nearly daily checks last year we could not turn up a Buff-breasted Sandpiper – hopefully this year things will be different.

15 – Wilson’s Phalarope

Of the three phalarope species, Wilson’s is the most commonly reported in Centre County. The most recent report was of a bird that hung out at Julian Wetlands for three days last May. I think chances are pretty good that we should be able to find one again this spring.

16 – Any interesting gull species

I am not going to be picky for this one – I just want some sort of gull that isn’t a Herring, Ring-billed, or Bonaparte’s. The problem with gulls in Centre County is that we don’t have any location that draws in gulls. There are no massive landfills in Centre County and we don’t have a major river flowing through the county. Occasionally during the winter, decent numbers of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls gather at Bald Eagle SP, so I think my best bet for finding anything out of the usual would be there.

Would it be too much to ask to see a Lesser Black-backed Gull loafing on the swimming beach at Bald Eagle SP??? (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

17 – Eurasian Collared-Dove

With this species successfully spreading to more and more parts of the country, I believe that the one bird seen last spring here in Centre County (representing a new county record) won’t be the last. The many small towns surrounded by farmland throughout the county seem like ideal locations to find Eurasian Collared-Doves – I’ll be on the lookout!

18 – Snowy Owl

The winter of 2011/2012 has so far been an incredible invasion year for Snowy Owls into the lower 48 states. Pennsylvania has already had a number of reports during the past few months, including at least four birds that were spotted south of Centre County. It would be a shame if we couldn’t find one here in Centre County.

19 – Rufous Hummingbird

With more and more people being informed to leave their hummingbird feeders up during the late fall and winter, reports of Rufous Hummingbirds (and other western hummingbirds) have sky-rocketed. It is not at all unreasonable to think that Rufous Hummingbirds are no longer ‘vagrants’ to Pennsylvania, but more likely regular migrants through the state – although very unlikely detected without luring them in to a feeder. I pretty much guarantee that if each member of the State College Bird Club would put up and maintain a hummingbird feeder throughout the late fall and winter, we would have at least one Rufous Hummingbird reported in the county every year.

Rufous Hummingbirds migrant through Centre County - we just need to keep feeders up and lure one in. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

20 – Ash-throated Flycatcher

This species is probably the most outlandish and unlikely one on this list. There are no records of this species in central PA however, I think that with enough birders out in the field around Centre County, searching carefully through our best hotspots, we could definitely stumble into one of these beautiful western Myiarchus flycatchers with a bit of luck.

21 – Purple Martin

Not much to say about this one – should be pretty simple to get once summer comes around. Only birding in this county during the fall months has meant that I have not yet had the opportunity for a Purple Martin and I can’t wait to fix that.

22 – Marsh Wren

The Marsh Wren is considered regular though uncommon in Centre County. Millbrook Marsh and any of the various wetlands around the county seem like very reasonable locations for this species during migration and even breeding season. With some effort, I think this shouldn’t be a hard species to pick up.

Marsh Wren (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

23 – Orchard Oriole

Another one of those species that I have not yet seen in the county because I have never birded here during the spring and summer. I should have no trouble finding this species in May and June at a number of local hotspots, particularly Millbrook Marsh.

24 – Cerulean Warbler

This is the only regularly occurring warbler species I have left to see in Centre County. Cerulean Warblers are very difficult to find during fall migration however they are found yearly during spring migration and quite a few breed in the county. I am hoping to add this beautiful but declining warbler to my list as soon as possible.

25 – Grasshopper Sparrow

The large expanses of reclaimed strip mines in the northern portion of Centre County have created wonderful breeding habitat for Grasshopper Sparrows. Grasshopper Sparrows are present during fall migration but are difficult to find and their migration patterns through the county are a mystery, however during spring and summer when the bird’s are singing and defending their breeding territories, I have heard they are fairly easy to find.