Centre County birds 186-188: Red-necked Grebe, Red-throated Loon, and Northern Shrike; Dec 4th 2009

During Thanksgiving break, in between food and train trips to Connecticut and New York City, birders back home in State College were finding some rarer winter birds and Bald Eagle State Park in the northern part of the county. On the lake itself, they found some Red-throated Loons and Red-necked Grebes, and a Northern Shrike took up residence in a brushy area near the Environmental Education center. On December 4th, a Friday afternoon, I made the trip out to the park to try and see these birds for myself.

The park has a couple of areas where waterfowl tend to congregate. One is near the PA 26 bridge, also viewable from Lower Greene’s Run boat ramp to the south. The area offshore from the beach is also productive, usually holding large rafts of scaup and mergansers in season. Deeper water near the dam usually has some ducks as well though in lower numbers than other parts of the lake from my experience.

The loons and grebes were seen near the dam, so I made that my first stop. A little bit of wind and the fetch over the lake caused some waves and between that and the distortion through the scope at a distance, I had trouble seeing much at first. But perseverance paid off and I finally found some swimming birds near the far shore. One Red-necked Grebe stood out well in its dusky winter plumage and two Red-throated Loons kept a lower profile in the waves but were still recognizable. With those birds found, I headed to see the shrike.

The species has a distinctive thick and yellowish bill (photo from azfo.org)

This grebe is more striking in breeding plumage (photo from aknhp.uaa.alaska.edu/loonwatch/index.htm)

I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk near the shrike spot and pulled off to the side of the road. As I did, a gray bird dropped down from a perch on a tall tree. I drove up into the boat parking area (probably wasn’t supposed to do that according to the signs) and got out. It took a little while but I spotted the Northern Shrike atop another tall tree. I followed the bird around a little bit, getting some great views, although it tended to fly as soon as I got the scope on it.

Northern Shrike with prey (image from wikipedia)

A shrike has been a regular winter resident at the park for the past few years, but I was very lucky to find it on my first try.

My county list was up to 188. 12 more to go!

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