Centre County birds 196-199: Forster’s Tern, Wilson’s Phalarope, Bank Swallow, Sora; May 3rd 2010

Not two days after the Shaver Creek Birding Cup “big day”, I was out again to check many of the same spots to see what shorebirds and waterfowl migrants were still hanging around. The Centre Furnace duck pond and the PSU retention pond held very little, though some of the Lesser Yellowlegs we recorded on Saturday were still there.

Digiscoped Forster's Tern at Bald Eagle State Park.

I found my way up to Bald Eagle State Park later in the afternoon. I can’t recall where I went in the park or if I immediately noticed my next county bird at the Lower Greene’s Run boat launch. But there were 6 Forster’s Terns flying about or sitting on floating pieces of wood in the lake. I sent a text to Joe to report this to the State College bird email list and spent about 30 minutes enjoying these pretty birds. At one point, almost the whole group flew overhead, calling. I was able to get some digiscoped photos and a video of the birds flying around. This isn’t a species that needs a lot of documentation, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Plus, I could enjoy some rare inland terns more than I could on the big day.

Digiscoped Forster's Tern in the upper right

Here’s a much better photo of a Forster’s Tern:

Flying Forster's Tern in California. Photo by Alan Vernon at http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanvernon/4810768030/ (Creative Commons 2.0)

There are two ways to get back to State College from Bald Eagle State Park. One is to drive through Bellefonte to PA 150 and come in from the north, and the other is to drive down Bald Eagle Valley along US Alt 220. The latter is longer, but goes right past Julian Wetlands, a great spot for migrating shorebirds and the occasional breeding rail.

I didn’t expect to see much interesting at Julian Wetlands. On the weekend’s big day, we had Least, Pectoral, Spotted, and Solitary Sandpipers, both yellowlegs, and some Cliff Swallows mixed in with the Trees and Barns. I first noticed a Great Egret way out in the marsh but then some brightly colored sandpipers feeding with the other, drabber birds. Most sandpipers, especially the ones we get in North America, are various shades of brown or gray or both, so any colorful one is bound to be exciting.

Wilson's Phalaropes on left and right with yellowlegs sp. in the middle

Two birds out in the marsh had a red-orange streak on the neck going onto the back and a black streak down the neck–a male and female Wilson’s Phalarope. Wilson’s Phalaropes are striking birds in the spring. In most bird species, the male is brighter colored; female phalaropes have the brightest plumage and also hold breeding territories while the males raise the young. These pictures don’t do the birds justice nor can they show how excited I was about these birds. None had been reported in Centre County in a decade or so. Wilson’s Phalaropes breed in the Great Plains and at lakes throughout the West, but are uncommon to rare migrants through the eastern US. Most of these birds show up along the coast or along the Great Lakes, and are especially rare inland. The weather during the first week of May must have been good for phalaropes because many were seen across Pennsylvania. At this point, I called Joe to get the word out quicker and I also called Clay and Kris.

Wilson's Phalarope on right and Least Sandpiper in the left

Female Wilson's Phalarope. Photo by Dominic Sherony at http://www.flickr.com/photos/9765210@N03/741288885/ (Creative Commons 2.0)


Bank Swallow. Photo from wikipedia

In addition to all this excitment, I spotted a Bank Swallow flying with the other swallow species. The smallest regularly seen swallow in the US, this species has a different flight style from all the others anc can be separated from Northern Rough-winged Swallows by a brown band across the breast. Bank Swallows are found world-wide and are called Sand Martins in the rest of the world because they build tunnel nests in sandy banks.


What a Sora looks like. Photo taken in California. Photo by Michael "Mike" L. Baird bairdphotos.com by Michael "Mike" L. Baird is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/2328438496/ (Creative Commons 2.0)

I also heard a Sora, a small rail. This species is regular at Julian Wetlands in the spring and sometimes in the summer. I’d probably heard it call before but just didn’t recognize that it was a rail.

I had to gt back home for dinner with Melissa, so I wasn’t around when other local birders showed up. I passed Clay and Kris on the road up to Skytop. Many birders from State College got to see this rare bird. Only the male phalarope remained by the next day and I think it stayed at least another day.

199 species! I always enjoy seeing unusual or rare birds for an area, but finding them myself felt even better. Only two of these species were on my list of potential new ones and I was already so close to 200.

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