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Harlequin Duck and Presque Isle Migrants

Alex Lamoreaux|

The continuing odd couple - immature male Harlequin Duck and female Long-tailed Duck. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

With a Sunday free from obligations and spring migration kicking into full swing, I joined up with Chad Kauffman and Mike Dreibelbis to head up towards Presque Isle State Park. We planned to meet up around 6am and drive west, stopping in Armstrong County for a rarity and then spending the rest of the day at Presque Isle. Since February 2nd, an immature male Harlequin Duck has been hanging out with a female Long-tailed Duck in the Allegheny River near Loch and Dam 5. Harlequin would be a new PA state bird for Mike and me, and we had been putting off chasing it for so long that we knew we had to take advantage of the fact that the bird has been there for over two months, and finally go try and see it. We arrived at the river a little before 9am and Chad spotted the two ducks almost immediately! They were quickly floating downriver, but then stopped and began diving and foraging fairly close to the bank. The lighting was terrible for photos (had to shoot into the sun) but I was able to get the photos below, showing this cute couple. How much longer will these birds stay? Why do they like hanging out with each other so much?

The continuing odd couple - immature male Harlequin Duck and female Long-tailed Duck. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The continuing odd couple – immature male Harlequin Duck and female Long-tailed Duck. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

After a quick stop by Moraine State Park, to try and pick up a few new Butler County birds, we drove up to Erie. Along US 79, we spotted our first Osprey of the year for Pennsylvania! At 1pm, we had made it to Presque Isle and pulled in to the Vista 1 parking lot. The water out in front of the vista was loaded with birds – coots, ducks, and gulls were all over! We pulled out our scopes and starting scanning through the birds…at least 11 species of waterfowl were foraging, some in very high numbers such as Red-breasted Merganser and Lesser Scaup. Among 500+ Bonaparte’s Gulls, we picked out at least two adult Little Gulls. This spring has been unusually incredible for Little Gulls at Presque Isle, with a high count of 52 seen at one time back in March! Little Gulls are one of my favorite species, so it was great being able to see them flying around with the Bonies harrassing mergansers for their fish. Although the Little Gulls were a little too distant to get any worthwhile photos of, I did get a few nice shots of Bonaparte’s Gulls.

Adult Bonaparte's Gull flyover (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Adult Bonaparte’s Gull flyover (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Our next major stop was to Beach 11, were an Iceland Gull had been reported the day before. Chad needed Iceland for his state list, so we really wanted to try and find it but after an hour and 15 minutes of searching, we decided it was either not there or at least out of view. Luckily there were a ton of other birds to keep us happy – 15 species of waterfowl including Surf Scoters, Pennsylvania’s first-of-year Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, five species of gulls including at least 4 Lesser Black-backs, Caspian Terns, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and at least 30 Song Sparrows foraging along the beach.

Two flyover pairs of Redhead and one pair of Lesser Scaup at Beach 11 (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Two flyover pairs of Redhead and one pair of Lesser Scaup at Beach 11 (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

A Greater Yellowlegs wading in a little too deep....? (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

A Greater Yellowlegs wading in a little too deep….? (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

A little after 3pm, we joined up with a few local birders to see what passerine migrants were hanging out along Pine Tree Trail. The trail was inundated with newly-arrived migrants, including at least 10 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Northern Flickers, Eastern Phoebes all over the place, Hermit Thrushes, and Fox Sparrows. Large migrant groups of Dark-eyed Juncos were quietly trilling around from the understory, and I was able to pick out a stunning adult male ‘Cassiar’ Junco! A Barred Owl also flushed out of a tree along the trail.

One of my personal highlights of the day was the shear number of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers around the park. This male allowed close approach as it drank sap from a birch. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

One of my personal highlights of the day was the shear number of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers around the park. This male allowed close approach as it drank sap from a birch. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Nearby Long Pond Trail was also full of activity, with a similar assortment of species as the Pine Tree Trail. Highlights here were Great Egret, more Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes, even more phoebes, a Great Horned Owl nest with two chicks and the adult watching from a distance, and at least 10 Golden-crowned Kinglets!

One of two small Great Horned Owl chicks peeking our of their snag-nest along Long Pond Trail. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

One of two small Great Horned Owl chicks peeking our of their snag-nest along Long Pond Trail. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Newly-arrived Eastern Phoebes were abundant throughout the park. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Newly-arrived Eastern Phoebes were abundant throughout the park. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

It was getting late in the afternoon and we still had a long drive back to State College, so we made one last stop by Vista 1 again on our way out. At least two adult Little Gulls were still present, plus a Forster’s Tern and Barn Swallow flew past – a great way to end a fun day of early-spring birding!

Did you get out birding this weekend? What new migrants were around in your neck of the woods?

About the Author

Alex Lamoreaux

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Alex Lamoreaux has been an avid birder and naturalist since he was a youngster, growing up exploring the farmland and forested ridges near Hershey, Pennsylvania. He attended Hershey High School and Penn State University. Alex has worked on wildlife research projects, ranging from Whimbrel along the coast of Virginia to Yellow-billed Cuckoos in the desert southwest. Alex loves to share his knowledge of nature, as well as help to bring the birding community together to share the enjoyment that spending time in nature has to offer. Alex has helped to organize and coordinate birding events in his home state of Pennsylvania and beyond. He has traveled extensively throughout North America, Central America, and South Africa and is currently pursuing nature tour guiding, as well as continuing to refine his passion for wildlife photography.Contact Info for Alex Lamoreaux: aslamoreaux@gmail.com (717) 943-7086

  • Jim Hausman

    Seems like Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were out in force yesterday! Bob Mulvihill and I had at least 7 in Frick Park in Pittsburgh though they weren’t our target birds for the day. A concerted effort to search for them could very easily have turned up double that number as they seemed to be at every stop we made. Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Dark-eyed Juncos made quite a showing as well. The star of the day though was finding Allegheny Co.’s 2013 FOY Louisiana Waterthrush!