If you’ve been out birding recently, you’ll know that there are signs of spring everywhere you look – especially if you are looking at birds! Snow Geese just staged their massive showing at Middle Creek WMA, Ring-billed Gulls are flowing up our rivers by the thousands, and Eastern Phoebes are popping up all over! Spring migration is in full swing, and the second half of March has some great opportunities for PA birders. Check out this summary, based on eBird bar charts, which breaks down when certain species will be arriving, increasing in numbers, reaching peak levels, or are leaving PA to migrate to their breeding grounds to the north of us. Not all species possible are mentioned, just a few that I found particularly interesting or symbolic of the state of spring migration.
Increasing Spring Arrivals –
Blue-winged Teal: This small puddle duck is on the increase throughout the state, look for them in small farm ponds and other shallow-water habitats, especially where there is emergent vegetation.
White-winged Scoter: This uncommon seaduck is on the increase throughout the state, peaking later this month. Check large bodies of water and rivers before, during, and after rainstorms.
Bufflehead: Increasing to its peak numbers during the second half of March.
Common Loon: Currently rising in numbers until their numbers peak in early April. I suspect hawkwatches throughout the state as well as large bodies of water checked during storms will turn up a few in the next few days.
Double-crested Cormorant: Same as Common Loon.
Great Egret: On a slow, but steady increase throughout southeastern portion of the state.
Osprey: On the increase throughout the state, and spring hawkcount sites should be recorded their first-of-season any day now.
Broad-winged Hawk: Watch out for some earlier than usual arrivals of this small buteo, particularly at hawk watches through the southern portion of the state in the last week of March.
Yellowlegs: Both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs should be arriving around the state during the next two weeks. Look for them in shallow ponds and flooded fields.
Interesting Small Gulls: Bonaparte’s Gulls as well as state rarities such as Black-headed and Little Gull should be increasing in numbers throughout the month. The third week of March is the peak time for Black-headed Gulls whereas Little Gull peaks during the last week of March and first week of April. Bonaparte’s Gulls will peak in April, but could be found on our major rivers daily.
Northern Flickers: Although flickers overwinter across most of PA in small numbers, there will be many migrants moving through the state during the rest of the month.
American Pipit: This species is becoming more abundant, and more widespread. Look for them in open, wet areas and muddy fields. Their flight call is distinctive.
Eastern Phoebe: This week Eastern Phoebes started popping up everywhere! Over the next few weeks their numbers will increase further.
Tree Swallows: Started popping up in small numbers around the state last week, and are now beginning to arrive at nesting hotspots such as small marshy ponds and fields.
Chipping Sparrow: Should be showing up in southern portions of the state and increasing as the month progresses.
Vesper Sparrow: Same as Chipping Sparrow. Listen for their singing on open/agricultural habitats.
Fox Sparrow: Peak numbers move through in the second week of March, look for them to be following flocks of White-throated Sparrows or listen for their calls in overgrown pastures and forest edge.
Various songbirds: During the last few days of the month, it will be possible to find migrant songbirds such as Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in southern portions of the state.
Species Currently at their Peak Levels –
Ross’s Goose: This small goose is currently at its peak levels in PA and will only decline from now on – if you don’t go out looking for them in large goose flocks soon, you may lose your chance for the year.
Ring-necked Duck: Currently at peak levels in most locations throughout the state. Rainy days could result in massive fallouts on our ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Hooded Merganser: Same as Ring-necked Duck.
Ruddy Duck: Same as Ring-necked Duck.
Red-necked Grebe: From now until mid-April is the peak of this large grebe throughout the state, check large bodies of water especially before, during, and after rainstorms.
Sandhill Crane: This month is statistically the best month of the year to see a Sandhill Crane in PA. Check fields were large congregations of waterfowl are or spend time at a hawkwatch and hope for a flyby flock. There are also plenty of chaseable Sandhill Cranes around the state right now.
American Woodcock: This month and the first week of April is the peak time to actually see American Woodcocks. This plump forest ‘shorebird’ will be present for the rest of spring, but is very difficult to detect. Luckily during these few weeks, males will be displaying anywhere there is a patch of open ground in damp forests or brushy fields.
Species on the Decline –
Rough-legged Hawk: This winter raptor is declining rapidly throughout the state and will be gone from most regions by the end of the week. If you haven’t gone out to see some yet, check overgrown fields in the northern half of the state. The Woodward area in eastern Centre County is your best bet.
Golden Eagle: The spring migration of these massive raptors is coming to a close. Large numbers of Golden Eagles will not occur again throughout the state again until November. Visit Tussey Mountain or the Allegheny Front Hawkwatches this week if you see southerly winds predicted!
Interesting Large Gulls: The larger gull species such as Lesser Black-backed and Iceland Gull that only visit our state during the winter months will soon be leaving to head to their breeding grounds in the arctic. Check out any large landfills or large bodies of water this week, before its too late!
Short-eared Owls: Same as Rough-legged Hawk, but there has been at least one seen regularly at Middle Creek WMA.
Please leave comments or suggestions, and make sure to let me know if these predictions seem to hold up in your area of the state!