Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Short trip to a long river

View from Brunner Island to Lancaster County

July is not the best time to go birdwatching. In fact, July may be the worst month of the year for birdwatching if you are interested in finding new species for a year list. However, my birdwatching this year has been sadly limited, and many common species have not yet found their way onto my 2011 list. So I spent the early morning of July 4 down along the Susquehanna River looking for species of birds I should have seen back in April or at least in May.

The good news for me is that I found several of those resident birds, and my 2011 list, while still paltry, has at least now climbed up out of the shameful category. So it was a successful trip, if not one that found anything unusual or even half-rare. It’s hard to find anything unusual or even half rare in July. Maybe next month when the shorebirds start to migrate.

I visited Brunner Island in eastern York County, Pennsylvania, where I can see birds that like the river and birds that like the woods. Oddly, it was the woodland birds I found more of on this trip, not the river birds. Brunner Island is land owned by a local power company, and birders and anglers have to contend with trains filled with coal holding up traffic or the release of water from the power plant. That said, the power company has also created boat landings and wildlife areas around the island, so a few obstructions are well worth the free access to the island and its environs.

On this trip my best bird was apparently an osprey. I say apparently because when I went to enter my trip sightings in Cornell’s EBird, the site said I’d seen a rare sighting for July, which is almost laughably wrong. Ospreys are reasonably common in summer along the river, and last year in either July or early August I found a pair just a half mile south of where I saw this one.

To my way of thinking, my best birds were two of the three species of swallows I found. Bank swallows used to be common river birds. They nest exclusively in tiny holes they make in a steep bank along a river. The power company has built the swallows a very nice bank in one area of their island. I didn’t see the birds in the bank, but I saw them not far from this spot underneath a railroad bridge. Three of them swooped about the spot with a larger group of rough-winged swallows. More than a few of the rough-winged swallows were the paler juveniles, which is always good to see. It looks as though these birds have had a decent nesting season.

So with my little trip to the river, I feel like a real birder again, not some wannabe birder or a fair-weather birder (though the weather on this trip was fine). I just hope I can keep my birding up to par for the rest of the year!


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Susquehanna River - now that's a beautiful name.
It's the same in England, nothing much about in July. Still no time spent out in the natural world is really wasted, is it?

LauraHinNJ said...

Glad you found the swallows you needed for your year list... I have such a hard time with them beyond barn and tree.

Carolyn H said...

John: Many of the place names around this area come from the Native Americans. Susquehanna is a good one. I think my favorite is Kishacaquilas. i just like saying that word. (pronounced pretty much like its spelling - kish-a-ka-quill-as)

Laura: oddly, at least to me, my area's swallow species seem to be shifting their abundance since I first started birding, lo these many years ago. Barn swallows used to be nearly the only species I ever saw. Now I'm starting to think the rough-winged swallows are actually more common.