Spoonbills in Pennsylvania

by The King Family | Oct 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo © Darren Shank.

“Did you see this!?” Dad asked Mom when he got home from work and glanced at the newspaper.

“Yeah, let’s go see them,” she replied.

“Rare Roseate Spoonbills draw onlookers from near and far,” declared the headlines. The article went on to say that two Roseate Spoonbills were in a shallow millpond and wide creek that fed the Old Laughlin Gristmill. Also it said they are extremely rare outside their normal home range of the coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida—1,000 miles away.

“I can hardly believe they’re still here—this says July 11, and today is the 21st.” But Dad couldn’t get them out of his mind as he did chores…

“Don’t you need to go to Saylor’s Grocery before the campout anyway?” he asked at the supper table. “We could go shopping, take the family out for ice cream, and see if they’re still around.”

“It will be 7:30 till we’re done with supper and dishes, but we could anyway,” Mom replied.

“What do you think, children, are you willing to pitch in and help so we can leave as soon as possible?”

Dad knew the answer—we were on the road by 7:00.

Arriving at the Laughlin Mill, the first thing we noticed was cars lined up along the drive. “Looks like they’re still here!”
But they weren’t feeding anywhere we could see them, and after waiting awhile, we decided to go to Saylor’s first.

“They just flew over and went that way,” the other birdwatchers told us when we got back, pointing toward the glowing western sky.

We sat down beside the old limestone and log gristmill and enjoyed the misty roar of the waterfall, the clear water rippling beside us, and the frosty ice cream cones. Then we walked back the lane to where the birds were often seen and waited, lamenting our disappointment at missing the opportunity.

Finally, as dusk settled, fireflies lit up, and crickets chirped, the disappointed troop piled into the buggy.

“Here they come!” Mom exclaimed.

Moving in over the trees with undulating flight and necks outstretched, these were no normal Pennsylvania birds. Flying back to where we had just come from, they circled. For a moment, it looked like they might move on up the creek, leaving us with that fleeting silhouette of spoonbills against the moving clouds and full moon as our only glimpse.

But no! Turning, they flew just above the water and landed directly in front of us. Immediately they began their unusual-to-us feeding behavior.

Instantly, five children were out of the buggy, hurrying toward the millpond, binoculars in hand.

The spoonbills didn’t seem to mind us observing them from the water’s edge, less than 50 yards/meters away. Wading in shallow water, swinging this way and that, darting their necks out and back, their unique bills underwater all the while, they grabbed at bullfrogs, small fish, and other aquatic creatures. They brought their bills up only to gulp down a catch.

“God must have sent them just for us!” we exclaimed in hushed tones, as everyone else had already left. The wetland chorus, the evening breeze—what joy.

When it was too dark to see, we turned to leave. Dad stopped the horse with the headlights illuminating the foreign visitors. This got their attention, giving us a view of them with their heads up and unusual bills out of the water. We then settled in for a relaxing ride home, leaving the exotic strangers still groping and grabbing for their dinner.

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