Pink-footed fiasco turns into a great day of birding!

This morning, Ian Gardner and I joined up and drove from Hershey out to Peace Valley Park in Bucks County, PA to try our luck at finding the Pink-footed Goose that has returned for its second winter in the area. The bird would have been a lifer for the both of us and a species I REALLY want to see, especially in my home state of PA. Unfortunately this bird is notoriously difficult to catch up with, usually leaving the lake early in the morning and then disappearing until right before dark – leaving many birders empty-handed. We didn’t have high expectations, but gave it a shot anyway.

Ian and I arrived at Peace Valley Park at 8:30am to find 5000+ Canada Geese on the lake. The two of us went to work carefully scanning through all the geese on the lake with binos and my scope. We picked out 4 Cackling Geese, 3 Snow Geese, quite a few duck species, but alas – no Pink-footed Goose. A very loudly-calling flyover Purple Finch tried to cheer us up, but it didn’t quite work. The plus side is that I have some free time to try again hopefully. There is also a Pink-footed Goose occasionally showing itself just over the border in New Jersey. Incredibly, the New Jersey bird has been confirmed to be a second Pink-footed Goose based on timing of sightings and slight variations in bill coloration! I had figured it was just the Peace Valley Park bird jumping between the two sites.

Before leaving, Ian and I checked a dense pine stand and were rewarded with two Long-eared Owls roosting side-by-side, right over the path! We snapped a few photos, grabbed a few pellets to look through later, and left for our next target of the day. The owls were fluffed up and sleeping, never offering a decent photo opportunity but it didn’t really matter and there was no point in sticking around and potentially disturbing the birds. Ian had never seen a Long-eared Owl before (only ever hearing them) and I had never actually seen one in PA (although I have seen a few out west), so it was a nice consolation after dipping on the goose.

One of two Long-eared Owls that we saw fluffed up and sleeping in Bucks County. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

One of two Long-eared Owls that we saw fluffed up and sleeping in Bucks County. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Our  next  stop was to Babe Webster’s home very close to Peace Valley Park. Mrs. Webster is hosting PA’s 3rd Allen’s Hummingbird - an immature male! I had already stopped by to see this hummer back around Thanksgiving but it would be a lifer for Ian, plus who doesn’t want to see an Allen’s Hummingbird?!? We arrived at 10:35am, and within 15 minutes the hummingbird flew down to feed. The bird flew in twice to feed, giving us great views. The Allen’s has changed a bit since my last visit, with bright gorget feathers starting to appear.

Immature male Allen's Hummingbird - PA's 3rd state record! (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Immature male Allen’s Hummingbird – PA’s 3rd state record! (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Next stop was the Dorney Amusement Park pond, near Allentown. Ian had never seen a Greater White-fronted Goose in PA before, so we figured we would stop by and see if the goose was around. Sure enough, as soon as we pulled in we heard the distinctive call of a Greater White-fronted and were offered exceptionally close looks as it swam around, flapped its wings, and preened. This adult Greater White-fronted Goose has been returning to this pond for a few winters now. There is also usually at least one adult Lesser Black-backed Gull floating around the pond and we were fortunate to see that as well! To add to the fun, a Yellow-rumped Warbler was foraging along the edge of the pond.

The cooperative and beautiful adult Greater White-fronted Goose at Dorney Pond. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The cooperative and beautiful adult Greater White-fronted Goose at Dorney Pond. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

We were running a little behind schedule and Ian had to get somewhere, so we had to keep moving to our final two targets for the day – an adult Ross’s Goose in Berks County and some white-winged gulls in Lebanon County. We arrived at the Ross’s Goose location a little after 1pm and easily picked out the miniature goose among 200 Canada Geese. This was a lifer for Ian and a species I have rarely seen, in fact it was my first good look at a Ross’s Goose that wasn’t in flight! The bird was a little distant and private property blocked us from getting much closer, but we had great looks in my spotting scope! Some great info by David Sibley on IDing ‘white’ geese can be found at this link.

An adult Ross's Goose in Berks County, PA. Note this bird's small size, small and very round head, small and stubby bill, and lack of a 'grin patch' on the bill. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

An adult Ross’s Goose in Berks County, PA. Note this bird’s small size, small and very round head, small and stubby bill, and lack of a ‘grin patch’ on the bill. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Our final stop of the day was to Lion’s Lake (aka Ebenezer Lake) in Lebanon County. A first winter Iceland Gull had been reported here recently, which is turning into Ian’s top nemesis bird. There was also a first winter Glaucous Gull reported earlier in the day. We arrived at the lake at 2:30pm, and started scanning through the collection of gulls there. This lake is very small and most of the gulls congregate on a small wooden platform in the lake. The majority of the bird’s were Ring-billed and Herring Gull but there were a few Great Black-backed Gulls mixed in – about 90 gulls in total. After scanning through them all a few times, it was clear than there weren’t any Iceland Gulls present but I did spot a first winter Glaucous X Herring Gull hybrid (also known as a “Nelson’s Gull”). This was only the second time I have seen this hybrid combination and it was quite a treat (although a pure Glaucous would have been a little nicer). A typical first winter “Nelson’s Gull” is about the size of a Herring Gull but with a much bigger-chested look that is typical of Glaucous. The coloration is pale overall, much like a typical Glaucous but the bird’s primaries are dark brown to black. The bird’s head is primarily white with a large pink bill with black tip, typical of Glaucous Gull. Ian and I wondered whether the Glaucous Gull reported earlier in the day was actually this hybrid…??

"Nelson's Gull" (Glaucous X Herring hybrid) in Lebanon County, PA. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

“Nelson’s Gull” (Glaucous X Herring hybrid) in Lebanon County, PA. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Despite missing the Pink-footed Goose, Ian and I had a pretty great day of birding. We found 55 species today including 2 lifers for Ian, 5 species of goose, and we entered 29 eBird checklists (some of which can be seen at the links above). Hopefully I can swing another trip out to Peace Valley Park before the Pink-footed Goose leaves for the winter!