Big Day Birding

by Lyndon Anthony Erb | Oct 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Canada Warbler
Canada Warbler. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

On May 13, 2022, my brother and I, along with five others, joined my grandfather on a big day birding trip. My grandfather, Andrew Troyer, keeps an annual big day birding trip in the first or second week of May. We always have a good time and usually get 120 or more species of birds. This year was no exception!

We started at 4:00 a.m. listening for owls. We didn’t hear any then, but got the Barred and the Great Horned Owl later. Our first bird was a House Sparrow, heard in the neighbor’s barn. By 4:15 we had seven species. We birded around Grandfather’s place until 6:00 sharp, then piled into the van to head over to his 95-acre woodlot.

We stopped along the road beside a creek with woods around it to listen for the Louisiana Waterthrush. We all jumped out of the van and immediately heard a Tennessee Warbler singing its best! When it was almost time to go, we still had no Louisiana Waterthrush. We were all ready to hop back into the van when Nathan exclaimed, “Got him!” Sure enough, loud and clear came the Louisiana’s sweet voice! We added a total of fourteen species at that location.

We then headed on to Grandfather’s land. Our goal was to hike back to the far corner to listen for the Mourning Warbler and the Dark-eyed Junco. As we hiked back, we got four more warbler species. We were almost to the corner of his property when Grandfather signaled us to stop. We waited maybe ten seconds, then, there he was! The Mourning Warbler! The Mourning Warbler is usually one of the harder ones to get, but not so this year! Then after about five minutes, the Dark-eyed Junco sounded its fast song. But the real surprise was still coming!

Grandfather spotted a vireo perched on an open tree limb. “I think it’s a Philadelphia Vireo. What do you say?” he asked. We studied for a bit, then all agreed that’s what it was. We ended with twenty-two species, five being warblers, at that location.

We hiked out to the van and headed to another local hotspot, Inlet Road. Grandfather had birded there earlier and reported a lot of warbler activity. We arrived there and jumped out of the van. We soon heard and saw that location’s specialties—the Cerulean Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler. We then prepared to head to our next location, but not before adding another nine species to our list. That put the list up to 76, and it wasn’t even 8:00 yet!

We then headed to Conneaut Lake, and there got three more species. After Conneaut Lake, we were all ready for the next hotspot, Brown Hill Road, a huge marsh with small lakes scattered throughout. We soon picked up our most expected species—the Sora, Common Gallinule, and Virginia Rail. Probably the highlight for that location was a beautiful pair of Prothonotary Warblers. We added another sixteen species before heading to the next location, Miller Ponds.

It was 10:28 a.m. when we arrived. The Miller Ponds consists of three ponds that usually hold many shorebirds, and also has a narrow road that runs through a great warbler woods. We got out at the first pond and scanned it with our spotting scopes, but no shorebirds were seen. We drove to the second pond, and again saw no shorebirds. We were hoping they were all at the last pond, and sure enough, tiny “peeps” and yellowlegs scurried here and there. We quickly confirmed Solitary Sandpipers and both the Yellowlegs. We ended with six shorebirds for that pond, including the Semipalmated Sandpiper, one that we sometimes don’t get.

We continued on up the narrow road and stopped once we got partway into the woods. Nathan and I decided to walk the rest of the way to the end of the road and have them pick us up there. Warblers were everywhere, but most of them we already had on our list. Suddenly we both stopped! A very high-pitched song sounded about 10 feet (3 m) into the woods. After listening a bit, we both agreed it was a Cape May Warbler!

We saw or heard nothing more for our list, so at 11:00 we headed to our next destination, the Pymatuning Spillway. We soon found Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s Gulls. After scanning the lake for awhile, we also picked up a Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, and Double-crested Cormorant.

We then headed to our next destination, Miller’s Food Factory, for lunch. We ate in anticipation of our next and most exciting destination yet—Presque Isle!

It was about an hour’s drive there. While we didn’t see any birds for the list on the way, we immediately added a few more species once we arrived.

We birded at a variety of places and then went to the best warbler spot on all of Presque Isle, Fry’s Landing. Thick bushes and trees hold many birds. I trailed behind as we slowly walked down the path. Stopping to check a warbler flitting around, I immediately recognized it, even though it was a life bird for me. “Wilson’s Warbler over here!” I announced excitedly. Immediately everyone came back, and they all got to see it!

The next warbler came a little later. We had just rounded a bend when “Canada Warbler ahead!” was announced. Everyone got to see that one as well, and we were all getting excited!

After hiking a little farther, Grandfather signaled all of us to stop. “Look hard, guys. I think we have a Golden-winged Warbler ahead,” he announced with a note of excitement in his voice. Just then the bird moved, and immediately two of our group trained their binoculars on it and exclaimed, “Golden-winged Warbler for sure!” The Golden-winged then flew, and we lost track of it. I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen it, but a little later, some of the others and I heard it singing.

At 6:00 we turned and headed back, but not before adding the Nashville Warbler to the list. We then headed to Pine Tree Trail where a Pine Warbler was reported. We arrived there and walked the trail a ways and soon spotted a Lincoln’s Sparrow. We did get the Pine Warbler, but at a different location. Grandfather had seen a warbler and was not sure what it was, but after we got home, he researched it and found it was a Prairie Warbler.

We then decided it was time to head for home, as it was getting late. We added three more species before arriving home at 9:00 p.m.

The last two years we had 139 different species, but our totals for this year came to 141, with 29 of those being warblers!

We all had a good and blessed day, being together and observing nature!

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