Our third annual “Bird The Ridge” event was our best yet! The outing took place on May 9th, at the peak of bird migration season and just as bird breeding season was getting underway in earnest. The forest was alive with bird song for the entire duration of our 5 mile hike, from the Route 222 A.T. parking lot on Peters Mountain, Dauphin County, north along the A.T. and finishing at the Victoria Trail along Route 325.
Six early-bird hikers/birders took to the trail at 8:00 a.m. and finished up about 1:00 p.m. It was a foggy, gray, and cool start to the day, which kept the birds singing throughout the morning. Eventually a breeze blew in, which pushed the fog away and brought blue skies and sunshine.
We were rewarded with some lovely sightings and songs of numerous deep blue Indigo Buntings, the flashy red Scarlet Tanager, the bright yellow breast of the Yellow-throated Vireo, and reveled in the flute-like song of the Wood Thrush.
The colorful little jewels perched on branches, threw their heads back, and sang their little hearts out – setting up territories and calling out to find a mate. Looking through binoculars, we could see their tiny bodies quiver with the effort to get their song out there for their most important job – to reproduce and keep their species going strong.
Gary LaBelle, Susquehanna Appalachian Trail and Appalachian Audubon member, who is adept at birding by ear, as well as sight, was able to help identify 28 species of birds this year; up from 19 species which we observed on the Kittatinny Ridge on June 1st 2013, and 15 species which we observed on the Kittatinny Ridge on May 31st 2014. Moving our date up to the peak of birding season made a difference.
The insistent call of the Oven Birds allowed us to identify at least 30 of them – the most numerous of the birds we counted. Indigo Buntings seemed to be everywhere at 27. At least 18 times we heard the buzzy insect-like trill of the Worm-eating Warbler, which became easy to recognize. For a full list of birds observed, contact Lorrie Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of particular note is our identification of 9 Cerulean Warblers – a species of special concern due to their plummeting populations. One of the smallest warblers, this blue-gray bird stays hidden in the crowns of tall deciduous trees and is usually identified by its call. It has suffered loss and fragmentation of forest habitat where it nests, as well as loss of forest habitat in northern South America where it overwinters – a 2,500 mile migration, including a crossing of the Gulf of Mexico. The Kittatinny Ridge is a globally significant flyway for the Cerulean Warbler and 149 other species of songbirds and raptors.
We observed some beautiful woodland wildflowers as well. Soloman’s Seal was fresh in bloom, Wild Geranium was just opening, Mayapples were in full bloom and HUGE, but their umbrella-like leaves were beginning to fade, as they do every spring when their reproduction phase is over.
We all came away filled with the beauty and sounds of nature. Hiking by itself is invigorating, but stopping to see what we are hearing and what we are surrounded by takes it to another level completely. Take time to get out there and witness it.