One of the things I love most about birding is that, no matter where you are, there’s the potential for some exciting birding. Case in point, there are few things that a person traveling to Scranton, Pennsylvania, has to be particularly excited about. Unless you’re a big fan of the American version of the The Office, and even that ends at about 45 minutes of “activities”, or you have an obsessive interest in the early 20th century iron industry in the northeast, Scranton is not a destination. That’s not a knock on Scranton, by all accounts a fine town, but it’s out of the way for most. But I still found myself there with my wife for the wedding of some great friends, and even so I was legitimately excited for the opportunities to go birding in a place I’d never been before.
Sure, northeast Pennsylvania is hardly considered a hotspot, but I still had an outside chance at a couple lifers, Black-billed Cuckoo and Alder Flycatcher and, according to eBird, the only spot in the area where both species has been seen in the not too distant past was Frances Slocum State Park in Luzerne County near Wilkes-Barre. So on Friday morning before the wedding, that’s where I went.
The park surrounds a decent sized lake, and since I didn’t know really where to go, I started following one of the trails that appeared to circumnavigate it. I had no real expectations, I was looking to spend an enjoyable few hours and maybe end up with something nice to put into eBird for Pennsylvania. Nothing big. My eyes were peeled and my ear were open for any sign of my targets, but I would have been happy with just about…. oh, look at the baby duckies!!!1!! How cute!!1
Migration has mostly dried up in North Carolina, but it was nice to see many of my migrant species on territory. There were loads of Yellow Warblers around. A resident bird down here to be sure, but not nearly in the numbers I was able to find in Pennsylvania. Every patch of suitable and marginally suitable habitat hosted one. They were impossible to miss.
Chestnut-sided Warblers are long gone, though. In North Carolina, they only nest in the higher reaches of the mountains. You can find them all summer along the Blue Ridge Parkway, for instance, but down in the lowlands they’re strictly a spring and fall bird. So it was nice to see them on territory in Pennsylvania, along with other spring only species like Veery, whose alien ray gun songs were a sound for sore ears considering how rarely they sing for me while they’re in passage.
I bush-whacked a little but down a very lightly used maintenance road into some habitat that looked good for both the Flycatcher and the Cuckoo. No dice, but I a wheezy song from a willow grove turned out to be a Blue-winged Warbler, a bird that would have been more exciting had I not found one a onth ago at my local patch.
Ah, who am I kidding? Blue-winged Warbler is a pretty exciting bird. And I’ve had two this year. That’s a good year for me.
As is the requirement in eastern woodland with a minimum level of low level vegetation, Ovenbirds were plentiful. I heard nearly a dozen but only saw one, a bird that came out of nowhere to perch not more than 10 feet from me causing me to scramble for my camera. Unfortunately, as also is the requirement for Ovenbirds, the light was so bad in the forest interior that I only managed to fire off a few shots, most of which were pretty soft. Oh well. So it goes with the life of a camera-toting birder. Who knew there were so many things that had to go right?
I ended with 45 or so species for the day, a solid morning for a fairly nondescript park in northeastern Pennsylvania and more than enough to consider it a “good” day in the field by any number of metrics. I missed my lifers, long-shots anyway, but I can’t complain. So if you find yourself in the Wilkes-Barre area, by whatever machinations conspire to get you there, you could do worse that Frances Slocum State Park. It’s as good as any in northeast Pennsylvania.