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Crow’s Nest Preserve: Winter Bird Walk

January 15, 2014

By Debbie Beer, Engagement Manager

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Blue Jays squawked a noisy welcome as our group gathered in the parking lot on Sunday, January 12, preparing to embark on a winter bird walk. With relatively balmy temperatures, the weather was a pleasant change from earlier arctic blasts, and nearly 30 people joined us in the hopes of seeing the rare Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Protecting 612 acres of woodlands, meadows, and riparian habitat, Crow’s Nest Preserve is part of the Hay Creek/French Creek Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA), and hosts an impressive diversity of avian species. Red-headed Woodpeckers have taken up residence in the Preserve in unprecedented numbers, thriving on acorns from pin oak trees that grow in the wet, lowland woods adjacent to French Creek. Local birders are spearheading a citizen-science initiative to monitor the species, and have documented more than 35 individual birds on the Preserve at one time!

E.NORMAN CAM23438As we traversed the meadow and entered the woods, we paused to count a flock of Ring-billed Gulls flying overhead, and picked out one juvenile Great Black-backed Gull among them. Woodpeckers are numerous at the Preserve, and it wasn’t long before we heard the distinctive calls of Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker, along with one Hairy Woodpecker.

Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice flitted through branches as we walked along the narrow trail, looking and listening intently for Red-headed Woodpeckers. An exclamation arose from the group, “There’s one on the snag!” As one, we all lifted binoculars to our eyes and scanned the trees before us to find the target. We were rewarded with great views of an adult Red-headed Woodpecker clinging to the edge of a half-sized tree trunk, pushing acorns into an unseen crevice. It stayed several moments before flying off with chatter and flashing its black and white wing patterns.

Having seen our target early and well, we could relax and focus on other birds too. We decided to move on and proceed down the Creek Trail. It was slow moving, as the nearby French Creek had overflowed its banks and flooded our trail with several inches of water. Eastern Towhees, Swamp and Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, and White-breasted Nuthatches called around us, competing with screeching Blue Jays and raucous American Crows. When the trail became a flowing creek itself, we turned back to try a more upland route. We stopped on the boardwalk bridge, as we’d done on the way in, and were delighted to find three separate adult Red-headed Woodpeckers. The birds were well  admired with binoculars and cameras, as they put on a show for us stuffing acorns into dead snags! We also noticed several skeins of Snow Geese flying high overhead

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We spent the next hour walking along the hedgerows of farm fields, a drier route than the Creek Trail, with a slightly different assortment of birds. Carolina Wrens and towhees sang from thickets, and a half-hardy Brown Thrasher popped up briefly on a cedar tree limb. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings swirled in with robins moving quickly through treetops, followed by a number of flickers migrating through the field. Overhead, Black and Turkey Vultures circled lazily, providing good opportunity to study these two similar species. A Red-tailed Hawk soared across the field and alighted on a distant tree, proclaiming her territory with a tell-tale scream.

We ended our Winter Bird Walk with a tally of 34 species spotted and many good memories of an enjoyable experience at Crow’s Nest Preserve. Check the Natural Lands Trust events calendar for future bird and nature walks at the Preserve—we hope you can join us!

Photos: Jim Moffett, Ed Norman, Colleen Stepanic
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