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Snow-birding with Gus

Alex Lamoreaux|

Snow has been falling non-stop since last evening here in Hershey, PA where my parents live. We now have about 4.5 inches on the ground. Earlier this afternoon, I took my dog Gus out for a walk through the field, swamp, and forest edge to see what birds we could stir up. Gus is a Brittany and loves being out, sniffing around for birds and he is fairly well-behaved so I can usually still concentrate on birding while he walks/runs off his leash.

We walked over of my parent’s backyard and across the field to the first small patch of tall grass poking up out of the snow. Gus flushed up a few Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows as well as four Savannah Sparrows! My first so far this month! We cut over to the forest edge and followed than back to a small, cattail swamp area. A mixture of pishing and Gus walking through the cattails brought a few Swamp Sparrows up – always a nice bird to see, especially against the snowy background. We followed the small stream that runs along the far end of the fields and really got in to a lot of sparrows. There were good numbers of Song, Swamp, and White-throated and of course, Dark-eyed Juncos. About ten American Tree Sparrows joined into the mix and I spotted a lone Field Sparrow among them. Then an immature White-crowned Sparrow appeared with some White-throats. In just a short walk, I had managed to pick up eight sparrow species!

Gus looking for sparrows with me. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Gus looking for sparrows with me. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Other birds were in good numbers as well. Northern Cardinals would occasionally perch up in the distant, a striking species anytime but especially in a snow-covered landscape. Four different woodpecker species were making their presence known by calling loudly around the area and a pair of Red-tailed Hawks watched us walking from a nearby tree. A lone cedar tree in at the edge of the swampy area had a Northern Mockingbird protecting it. At the back corner of the fields, a Great Blue Heron flew past through the falling snow while a distant kestrel perched on a telephone wire, bobbing its tail.

The swampy area at the back of the fields, where there was a nice collection of sparrows. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The swampy area at the back of the fields, where there was a nice collection of sparrows. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

As I turned to walk back towards the house, I could see vultures beginning to gather along the forest edge. The neighborhood where my parents live has had a growing vulture roost for the past 6 years. It started out with just a few Black Vultures and about 20 Turkey Vultures but today there was an astonishing number of vultures gathered. I counted 120 Turkey Vultures and 16 Black Vultures!

Six Black Vultures were the first to arrive to the large vulture roost. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Six Black Vultures were the first to arrive to the large vulture roost. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

After a nice walk, Gus and I got back to the house. A few American Crows flew over with a lone Fish Crow calling among them and the bird feeders were covered in Dark-eyed Juncos, a Mourning Dove, and a few other species including the first Red-breasted Nuthatch I have ever seen in the yard. Tomorrow I am helping out on the Lititz Christmas Bird Count and today’s walk really got me excited for what we might find not to mention how fun it is to get out birding with my dog, Gus. We saw a total of 30 species (eBird list) but I bet there were a few things Gus knew about that I had no idea were there.

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

  • Nice mix of half-hardies.

  • Rex Rowan

    Looking at your photos makes me so, so happy that I live in Florida!

    • aslamoreaux

      Watch it, Rex – with all those Razorbills around FL you guys might also be in for some snow!