Waterfowl Fallout at Beltzville State Park

When Drew Weber posted about possible fallout conditions for Saturday, I was excited to check out the reservoir at Beltzville State Park. Unfortunately, I was unable to get out and had to wait until today, Sunday. Since the night had not been rainy, I figured some birds may have left. There was the possibility, however, that some birds would stick around until conditions improved even more. Before I headed out birding, I checked eBird reports for the day before. As I had expected, I had missed some great birds. One local birder had seen the following:

  • 39 Ring-necked Duck
  • 16 Lesser Scaup
  • 7 White-winged Scoter
  • 17 Long-tailed Duck
  • 125 Bufflehead
  • 1 Common Loon
  • 22 Horned Grebes

Although regular species in Pennsylvania, the Long-tailed Ducks and White-winged Scoters would have been state birds for me.

The state park has a few areas that are great for viewing the lake. The first is Pine Run boat launch. When I arrived, I noticed the number of motor boats in the water–not a good sign. With boats speeding up and down the lake, birds may be frightened and fly away. As I scanned the water, I noticed small groups of Buffleheads scattered around. Whenever a boat passed, the flocks would fly a little bit and then land. I walked along the marshy area along the edge of the lake and found several Swamp and Song Sparrows hidden in the cattails. Two Wilson’s Snipes also flew out of this area as I walked past.

 

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

 

As if out of nowhere, a sudden flurry of birds appeared in the sky to the west. First was a group of six Common Loons that were flying east, then made a sharp turn towards the north and continued flying. The second group of birds flying overhead was a small flock of Red-breasted Mergansers, a great bird for an inland lake! The final birds were gulls, four of which were Bonaparte’s Gulls. After these birds passed, the sky was empty again. The water around the boat launch was also fairly empty except for the scattered Buffleheads.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

 

From the boat launch, I headed towards the main entrance of the park which is just up the road. Along the way, I spotted two Pied-billed Grebes in a small inlet with a small group of Buffleheads. When I got to the main parking lot, I headed to the beach area where I could get a good view of this section of the lake. From here, I spotted a few more Buffleheads and a small group of Common Loons, but nothing new. Disappointed by the lack of birds, I decided to walk west along the edge of the lake towards the Beltzville Dam.

Buffleheads

Buffleheads

 

Once I rounded the corner and was able to scan the end of the lake, I found what I had been looking for: a large raft of ducks. From a distance, I spotted three large black ducks and what appeared to be a big group of Buffleheads. When I got closer, Horned Grebes and Buffleheads started popping up very close to shore and allowed me to get some decent photos. When I reached the end of the land (where the lake bends) I had a good look at the raft of ducks. While scanning through the Buffleheads, I began to find other species. Some Long-tailed Ducks (state bird for me!), Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teals were huddled in with the Buffleheads. The long-tails were extremely vocal and I could hear them calling as they chased each other around the rest of the birds!

 

Horned Grebes

Horned Grebes

 

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks (flying) with Buffleheads

 

The three larger ducks I had seen earlier were slowly moving closer. When they came into view, I realized they were White-winged Scoters, another bird I had never seen in Pennsylvania before. After photographing the scoters and other ducks, I scanned the swallows searching for anything other than a Tree Swallow. With no luck (I later found a Barn Swallow), I returned to the ducks and noticed that a new bird had joined the scoters. The bright white patches on the head identified this gorgeous (but very distant) duck as a Surf Scoter! This second scoter species was now the third new bird for my state list that I had seen in the last half-hour (and I was basically standing in the same spot).

 

White-winged Scoters

White-winged Scoters

 

Thanks to the weather conditions, a large number of ducks, including some unusual species, had ended up in the lake. Despite the motor boats racing up and down the water, the ducks were still present when I left. With more rain coming later this evening, I wonder what else will show up at Beltzville. If you live near a lake or large pond, be sure to look carefully for any misplaced migrants. Just looking at eBird reports from today, even some fairly small ponds had species like Buffleheads and scaup showing up!

Here is a full checklist from Beltzville: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S10323463

male Bufflehead

male Bufflehead