Migrants are Here!

This past Friday, I was off school and my dad was off work so we decided to go bird a few local spots looking for migrants that have just arrived in the area. Our first stop was going to be Wingfield Pines (owned by the Allegheny Land Trust). The yellow-throated warblers that breed there every year are back in the area and I wanted to go and see them.

So we left at around 7:15 to go and see them. We pulled into the parking lot at Wingfield and I got out to start birding. I was quite excited, as I had high hopes to see some of the first neotropic migrants of the year.

I wasn’t halfway down the road into the property itself when I heard a yellow-thrated warbler singing from a sycamore tree near the creek that runs through Wingfield. I hurriedly followed the sound until I saw two warblers near the very top of the sycamore. They were the yellow-throateds I was looking for. What made it even better was there was also a brown thrasher singing from the undergrowth nearby.

Moving on I walked onto the boardwalk that runs through an area of wetland. There had been a report of a sora from here a few days ago but I did not see it; nor did I see the swamp sparrows which can sometimes be found here. I did however, get to see two wood ducks (a male and a female) swimming in the far side of one of the pools next to the wetlands. For some reason I have not seen many of these beautiful ducks this year despite that they have been in the area for a while. As such, I was quite glad to get good looks at such a beautiful species.

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Wood Ducks (a terrible photo but you get the idea)

Walking farther along, I entered into an area of woodlands that surrounds a pond. The first birds I noticed were a large number of blue-gray gnatcatchers foraging and calling. While these were not the first gnatcatchers that I have seen this year, I got far better looks at these than at the other one I have seen this year.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Near the first few gnatcatchers, I also saw an American tree sparrow. This is a very late individual that should have left Western PA a long time ago.

Rounding the other side of the pond, I was able to see three more yellow-throated warblers, a single yellow-rumped warbler, and a singing white-throated sparrow.

I then walked back to the car to go to the next place we planned on birding.

This next place is Imperial grasslands, an area of grasslands to the west of Pittsburgh which usually holds at least one good bird. Today I was hoping for prairie warblers as well as any grassland sparrow which has come into the area.

We pulled into the main pond at Imperial and found a single solitary sandpiper with the killdeer usually present here. As we got out of the car we could hear a large number of field sparrows singing away from the nearby grasslands. We started to walk down the road towards another pond where our target warblers usually breed.

We weren’t 100 feet down the road when we heard a prairie warbler faintly singing from the brush. We stopped to listen hoping to locate it. However, despite it singing a few more time we couldn’t find it.

Moving on down the road, the field sparrows were everywhere. As soon as one stopped singing, another would start giving a nearly constant sound of their bouncing ball song.

As we rounded a bend in the road and entered and the grassland began to change into a more forested area, I spotted another American tree sparrow! I don’t know what it is about this year and these birds but something seems to be making them stick around.

At that point we turned around to head back towards the main pond, hoping for a look at a prairie warbler on the way back. None were obliging (though we did hear a bird singing again) but as we neared and reached the main pond, we were treated to good looks at two singing vesper sparrows.

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Vesper Sparrow

Then, as we were getting ready to leave, a surprise came flying over the trees towards us. At first I thought that they were great blue herons but as they banked, it became clear that they were actually sandhill cranes! This is quite a good bird in the county and I bird that I was very happy to find. Sadly, the didn’t stick around for long as they continued off east and away.

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Sandhill Cranes

Happy about this great find, we got back into the car and drove on to another spot to access the grasslands.

We checked two spots for good birds with only limited success so we quickly moved on to a third site. There had been savannah sparrow reports from this area and so we were hopeful that we could catch up with these birds. We pulled up to this location (known to birders as the Truck Stop) and scanned the pond that is nearby. A greater yellowlegs on the pond was a nice surprise but we were here for sparrows. It didn’t take us long however, before one of our quarry started to sing from a nearby field. We then saw a sparrow flush from the overgrown grass that covers much of the truck stop. Walking towards the grass we saw another bird fly up and land within view. Sure enough, it was a savanah sparrow! Walking around the truck stop, we managed to flush up at least 13 of these sparrows providing us with quite good looks.

We checked one more area of ponds in the area (American coot and blue-winged teal being the highlights) before we headed back towards Pittsburgh, happy with a good day of birding.

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