Yesterday, my dad and I went up to a state park called Cook Forest for an outing with my local birding club. There are a large number of pines in the forest so part of the idea was to find irruptives in the pines. However, none had been seen and our chances of finding any seemed slim so the outing was diverted to other areas around the forest (mainly various reclaimed strip mines). This was nice though because it allowed me to pick up a couple of winter grassland species for my 2013 year list. Another attraction to the area was that there was a huge flock of evening grosbeaks coming to a feeding station in a nearby town.
So, we left Pittsburgh and headed north towards the park. When we pulled in, we found the Clarion River (whose banks the park headquarters are located on) to be mostly frozen. We quickly found the rest of the group and waited for the others to arrive. Not long after a guy pulled up in his truck to tell us that the park naturalist had found two river otters on the ice downstream. When we were sure that everyone had arrived, we headed down towards where they had been seen. Sure enough, there they were! These were my first wild river otters and it was very cool to see this majestic member of the mustalid family.
When everyone had gotten good views we moved on. The next spot we would be stopping at was the house that the grosbeaks were gracing with their bright, noisy presence. As soon as we stepped out of the car we could hear them. They are loud birds I am telling you. They were awesome to see though. Evening grosbeaks are one of my favorite birds and it was great to see these charismatic, unibrowed finches.
More Evening Grosbeaks
After enjoying the grosbeaks (and also the redpolls that were at the feeders [awesome birds but I do admit, they get a bit overshadow but large yellow finches]), we went to a spot where snow buntings are usually seen. We didn’t find any snow buntings but we did find two beautiful rough-legged hawks.
We then moved on back to Cook Forest to eat lunch in a cabin that the trip leader had rented for that purpose. Lunch was delicious and we soon moved on to the next location.
The next spot was a well known piece of reclaimed strip mine/grassland known as the Piney Tract. Though I have never been, this stretch of grassland apparently is filled with sparrows in the spring. A few people in the group saw a northern shrike. I didn’t see that though I did see three ravens.
The next spot would be the second to last of the day. It was another reclaimed strip mine. Here all of us were able to get good views of a northern shrike, perched in the shrubbery on the side of the road.
We then continued on to the last spot of the day. Here short-eared owls are usually found but due to the snow storm starting to move in, we didn’t find any.
It was still a very cool and successful day.