Cheyenne birders search Pennsylvania and New York woodlands for eastern birds
By Barb Gorges
Mark and I couldn’t hear any birds over the sound of wind in the leaves. That’s not unusual for Wyoming, but we were in Pennsylvania where the trees will grow a complete canopy without anyone planting them. Finding birds is dependent on hearing them, even more so than here.
We were at the Churchville Nature Center in Bucks County, my favorite place to bird when visiting my aunt. The goldenrod and purple asters were in full bloom in the little meadow and robins were picking fruit from all kinds of shrubs. But in the trees, it seemed birdless until we reached a little swale protected from the wind and suddenly there was a swarm of chickadees, titmice and warblers for a few minutes.
There were no birds to be seen on the reservoir. The waterbirds and shorebirds must have already tucked in for the coming storm, waiting for the afternoon’s deluge.
We counted only 11 species altogether. For the Saturday morning bird walk before our visit, 19 local birders listed 64 species. Timing and experience make a big difference. I keep forgetting to look into hiring local bird guides when we travel.
In the Ithaca, New York, area, we had the help of our son Bryan and his wife, Jessie, both avid birders. They have experience identifying birds we rarely see in Cheyenne, like black-throated green warbler. They pointed out the sound of a Carolina wren, unseen in the brush. They also pointed out that sometimes one-note calls in the trees are chipmunks or tree frogs.
The Finger Lakes region has a plethora of public land to explore and bird. We hiked the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park our first morning, as early as Jessie could get us on the road. It is black shale sculpted by water, dim and deep and deafening—no birds could be heard over the numerous waterfalls full of rain. The sun rarely reaches into the gorge at 9 a.m. but later the steep trail is crowded with people.
Have you heard of Finger Lakes National Forest? It’s a scattering of parcels between Seneca and Cayuga lakes, tiny compared to any of the national forests in Wyoming, but then again, with all those trees in the way, the boundaries are not very noticeable. We hiked the Potomac trails where in late September fall color was just beginning to show.
Our second day of birding hikes began with the Dorothy McIlroy Bird Sanctuary northeast of Ithaca. A creek and wetlands attract a lot of birds to this property owned and managed by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. It commemorates a woman who had a significant role in the early days of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The shrub fen and peat swamp were bordered by hemlock trees, unusual for the immediate area, but old friends of mine from my central Wisconsin days.
Next, we hiked and birded nearby Bear Swamp State Forest Park. Didn’t see any bears but found interesting mushrooms and Jessie found a red eft, the teenage stage of the eastern newt.
I’ve read that the overpopulation of deer has affected eastern forests, browsing the shrub and young tree understory layer of vegetation to the point that you can see quite a way through the tree trunks. It must negatively affect birds that specialize in that layer.
Where there was normal understory, I made a new friend, a small tree, striped maple, named for the vertical ridges on its stems. It is also known as moosewood. It’s a favorite moose food and the name of my favorite Ithaca restaurant.
One stop we made between Philadelphia and Ithaca was to see the Rodale Institute, a proponent of organic gardening and farming beginning in 1947. Back in 1978 I contributed a story to their magazine, an interview with the designer of a safer bluebird house. Mark and I opted for the self-guided tour of the fields and greenhouses, which you can hear at their website.
Rodale is now a proponent of organic regenerative agriculture, as well as planting for pollinators. However, they apparently haven’t banned outdoor cats yet, so they aren’t entirely bird-friendly. Ironically, in the shrubbery by the creek there were a lot of catbirds.
While we wistfully compared the unwanted extra precipitation the East has had lately with our western drought, we are still happy with our choice to live in Wyoming, where the horizon stretches much farther.