Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Almost didn't go

Roundtop on Sunday morning
I almost didn’t go hawkwatching on Sunday because when I went outside it was so foggy and overcast that I couldn’t even see the top of Roundtop Mtn. But since I’d planned the day for hawkwatching, I decided to go anyway.
Then just as I was getting onto the Pennsylvania turnpike to head towards the hawkwatch at Waggoner’s Gap near Carlisle, a few drops of rain sprinkled my windshield and I almost turned back. But I got on the road anyway. About halfway to Carlisle, it really started to rain, but then I couldn’t turn back because the next interchange wasn’t until I reached Carlisle. So I got off at Carlisle, figuring I’d turn around and come home, but I couldn’t turn around at the interchange, so I pulled into the first spot I could, turned around and decided to check the radar first.

Radar showed just a small blob of rain, a tiny little blob, only around Carlisle, so I decided that since I was almost already at the hawkwatch, I might as well drive up the mountain and see what the day looked like from there. So I got there around 9 a.m. to a semi-socked in view from the gap. I could see down to the ground but only just.

No one else but the site’s hawk counter was there. We talked for a few minutes. Dave hadn’t seen any hawks yet. He said there were a lot of grackles migrating and then we saw a whole flock of them, hundreds even, out at the far end of the hawkwatch. Since there wasn’t anything else to look at, we looked at those. Then we both saw a bird at the front of the grackle pack land in a dead snag. Dave stood up to look at it and said, “Does that bird have a yellow head?”

So I stood up and looked at it and just that quick “a yellow-headed blackbird!” Yellow-headed blackbirds are a western species, only rarely found in the east. We both got good looks at it but Dave didn’t have a camera and I didn’t have my camera unpacked (and it was too far for my lens, anyway). A yellow-headed blackbird was a first Pennsylvania sighting of the species for both me and Dave. I’d seen one years ago in New York at the Derby Hill hawkwatch and the times I’ve birded out west. Dave the counter said It was also the first sighting of the species on Waggoner’s Gap.

We didn’t see many hawks on Sunday—the clouds were really low, no wind, lots of overcast—but Dave, the few regulars who eventually showed up and I had a nice variety of hawks. I saw 5 Bald Eagles, a couple of Broad-winged Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Merlin, a Northern Harrier and some red-breasted nuthatches (non-hawks). Someone brought up a pound cake and shared it with everyone there. It was a good day all around.


Scott said...

Red-breasted Nuthatches already! Wow! I didn't have a single one last winter. And, of course, the Yellow-headed Blackbird goes without saying...

Carolyn H said...

It's hard to tell if this will be a good R-b nuthatch year or not. A fair number of northern hawkwatches have seen several already. It does seem early for them.

Scott said...

Carolyn: A few years ago, during an irruption, I saw some RBNs in a woodland on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in August!