This section has my birding notes that I took during 2012.   I know that they aren’t very good and if you decide to skip past them, I won’t be offended.   In fact, the way this book appears to be shaping up, I think that it is possible to read the sections in any order that you feel like and it will still make sense.  So skipping around or skipping sections altogether won’t be a big deal.   If you listened to a friend’s honest response to “It’s been a while.  How have you been?” you realize that usually you’ll get a response in a somewhat chronological order, but sometimes not.


  Baby bluebirds in Exton, PA.


Winter, 2012

Gyrfalcon – most mornings about 8:30, on Swedesford Road across from the Church Farm School property.   Usually in a tree next to the farm house on the corner of Ship and Swedesford.  He was there in December and January and gone in March.  Mostly white with dark speckles.  There is a “white phase” for this bird and I ruled out all the other raptors in my guide.  (Warning:  this turned out to be a rookie mis-identification.  But the real id is still pretty cool.   The correction is many months ahead.)


July 12, 2013 – Blue Marsh Lake

Several sandpipers, Green Heron, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron – we followed the GBH (Great Blue Heron) around the lake for about 30 minutes.  Whenever we canoed close, he flew ahead of us.  The lake was full of small fish that he was eating.  As a side note, I’m underlining birds that I identify for the first time.   There’s a reason why Gyrfalcon is not underlined, but that identification will have to stay “up in the air” for now.

Same date, evening along the Brandywine River, Wilmington, Delaware – one Robin.  I see lots of robins at dusk in my neighborhood.  Probably they are picking worms in the dusk light, just like they do at dawn (I suspect, although I’m never up to check on this).  So it is apparent that not only does the early bird get the worm, but the late bird also gets the worm.

While I’m in the business of updating old, agrarian society based expressions, how about changing the expression “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” to “Late to bed and late to rise makes a person interesting and wrinkle free.”  


Friday, July 13 -- Meadowbrook Golf Course, Phoenixville, PA

Bald Eagle, Juvenile – flew across our fairway and landed in a tree in the short rough.  We walked right up to him, about 20 feet away, and he didn’t fly off.  At first we thought he was a Golden Eagle.  Smaller birds in the area were going crazy.   Dark brown, spectacled chest, dark head.   Huge heavy bird.

Purple Martins – catching insects


Friday, July 13 – 4 PM –  Back porch

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – no red throat, white breast, dark green wings and back.   It kept approaching and backing off the porch screens until it found the open door.  Then it took off FAST.


Monday, July 16 – 7:30 PM

Mockingbird – at the bottom of our hill, singing like crazy.  It let us get under his tree and only ten or fifteen feet away and he kept on singing.  It is amazing that so much sound can come from one little gray bird.

Grey Catbird – sitting on our front porch, we watched this guy hunt for insects.  Also saw a woodpecker with red on his head.


Bird feeder birds for June and July

Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chickadee (I don’t know if it is Black-capped or Carolina), House Finch, House Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Cardinal,  Eastern Phoebe (the field guide says these are insect eaters, but one came to our feeder)



July 31, 2012

Starlings- a flock of several hundred, on Route 202, south of West Chester

August 3 – Fifth Hole Meadowbrook Golf Course

Red Tailed Hawk – same spot where we saw the eagle.   White breast, speckled.  Dark brown back and head.  Tail was not red.  Much smaller than the eagle, but still a big bird.  


8/8 – Late morning

A cat bird took a bath in our bird bath.  Dunked itself.  Completely submerged several times.  Shook itself off.  Had a great time.


Sunday, 8/12

Red-tailed Hawk flew over our yard.  This time I could see the reddish brown tail.


Monday, 8/13 – Eastern Virginia Wildlife Refuge, Delmarva Peninsula just north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Chris and I took a break from driving to Virginia Beach to visit my cousin Sue and her husband, Matt.  Near the Visitors Center, we saw an all red bird flying across the path and into the forest.  Its wings were clearly red and it did not have a crest.    It flew very straight with rapid wing movement.  It was smaller than a Cardinal and definitely not a Cardinal.   Looked it up when I got home and found out that it was a Summer Tanager.


8/14 – Virginia Beach

Great Black-backed Gull – absolutely huge bird!

Lesser Black-backed Gull – lots of these

Boat-tailed Grackle –  about as tall as crows, but more slender.  Color was all purple or dark brown.  The females were smaller with a buff breast (or dirty white) speckled brown. 

Sandpipers – small – guessing Least Sandpipers, but I didn’t have a field guide and didn’t realize how many different kinds of sandpipers that there are.


Thursday, 8/16 – Exton, PA

Hairy Woodpecker (female) – last time I saw this bird at my feeder, I thought it was a Downy.  But this time there were three goldfinches at the thistle feeder next to it, so I could contrast the size.   At least double the size of the finch.  No red on the head.   It was back on Friday morning.


Sunday, 8/19 – State College, PA

The Penn State Arboretum and Botanical Gardens – goldfinches, hummingbirds, and house finches.  Some very plump catbirds.  Several Pine Siskins – scrufty yellow and greenish brown.  Or maybe these were goldfinches that were molting.


8/22 – Backyard

A Hummingbird was trying to sip from a basket of Petunias.


Thurs, 8/22 – Backyard

Flicker – by himself in the back

Blue Jay – eating seed on the ground by our feeder, chasing everyone else away.

Mourning Dove – also ground feeding, but getting along nicely with the other birds


October 12 – During September I saw a lot of birds that I didn’t recognize and couldn’t identify.  Most of them were grey and small.  I saw my flock of finches vanish.  So the fall migration is happening.  I’m hoping that by next year I will be better at identifying these brief September visitors.


Sunday, 10/14 –  Strouds Nature Preserve, West Chester, PA

Common Red Poll – saw a small flock of these along with some sparrows in bushes and trees on the edge of a field.  Distinctive red cap, white breast tinged with some red, brown back.  Smaller than a purple finch with no red on its back.

Also saw Martins, Crows, a raptor, vultures, more sparrows, lots of very small birds that wouldn’t stay still, and a crow-sized black and white bird.

Back at home, I saw at my feeder a White Breasted Nuthatch, a Red Breasted Nuthatch, a chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and an American Tree Sparrow.


Tues, 10/16 – in our bird bath

Pine Siskin – definitely – yellow wing bar, mottled breast.

A male and female Robin – both with color so washed out that I wasn’t sure what they were at first


Sunday, Oct 21 – Struble Trail, Downingtown, PA

Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese and a Belted Kingfisher -- the kingfisher was in a high, bare branch above Kardon Pond.  Crow-sized.  White breast, with a dark band across it.  Giant impressive crest.  His color looked black to me, but Chris said it was very dark blue.  This is the same species that we saw at Strouds doing a flyover of a field and wood.  So now we know what we saw then.


11/5 – Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware

This was right after Hurricane Sandy and the numbers of birds were greatly reduced, which is what we expected.   Sandy hit New Jersey on October 31 and drove a lot of birds inland and possibly killed a lot of them.  I have the official bird list and count from just before Sandy and it has 46 different species, some with impressive numbers.  We found a tiny fraction of that.   Still there were some good birds at Bombay Hook today.  Mike and Mike’s dog Eddie went with Chris and me and we all enjoyed the day.  

We saw:  Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Bald Eagle, American Coot, American Avocet, Cormorant, possible Marsh Wren.

We would have missed the Avocets, if an experienced birder hadn’t told us where to look.   Hundreds of them were mixed in with some geese across a large impoundment.  At such a far distance, their distinctive black and white horizontal bands make them look like beach rocks, until they move.

The eagles were Mike’s favorite sighting.  We saw two of these majestic soaring birds.  Mike clearly saw their white heads and tails in the binoculars.  My favorite sighting was the Bufflehead.  Mike and I got to look at it for ten or fifteen minutes as it floated across a pond.  Since we only had a picture of a male and the pattern of white on the head is so different from male to female, we convinced ourselves that it must be something different.  But I described what we saw to an experienced birder and he said female Bufflehead.  Looking back at the picture in the guide, the white patch on the side of their bird matched our bird.


Bufflehead, Bombay Hook, November, 2013 – “I took this a year later, but I thought you might like to see it now” -- Bill


11/30 – Backyard

Red-eyed Vireo – I was taking out some recyclables and turned my head to see a beautiful bird land in the Nyjer seed feeder.  I got to watch him for two or three minutes from ten feet away.  He was about 7 inches long, all green body, with a white, black, and brown head.  He had a black line from the bill to the back of the head which gave him two white stripes on either side.  His cap was brown or grayish.  It was a very intense looking bird.  I did not see a red eye, but I didn’t know to look for it.


12/2 – Backyard again

I wanted to go see the eagles at Conowingo Dam in Havre de Grace, Maryland today, but the adult in our family made me stay home to do something practical.  I still got a major treat!  A flock of Eastern Bluebirds flew through the backyard and landed around the feeder/birdbath station.  Chris had noticed flashes of blue in the trees on the west side of our property at ten AM.  Around noon, I was goofing off in the kitchen and talking to my daughter, Kathryn, on the phone, when I saw the distinctive red and blue birds drop in.  There were also three or four with little or no blue color.  These were entirely a pale orangey color, close to the breast color of the other birds.  If they had not been with the flock of obvious Eastern Bluebirds to compare their size/shape/look, I would not have been able to identify them.  These were probably a color morph, but my field guides don’t mention this possibility.

      Anyway, right after the Bluebirds landed, a flock of about thirty Robins joined them in the yard.  Then a nasty Bluebird fight happened.  Two of the red/blue birds went at each other while the others just watched.  The winner got the loser on the ground and clawed him with his talons from above.  The loser was obviously hurt and had trouble flying and hopping after the fight.  Chris came up the driveway a few minutes later, which scared off the flock.  I think the loser of the fight got left behind in the bushes.  So after fifteen years of not seeing a Bluebird, I see a lot of them, but one of them gets hurt in a fight.


12/3 – same tree where I saw the Gyrfalcon last year, near the corner of Ship and Swedesford in Exton

Bald Eagle – my raptor skills are awful, but this big bird had a black body and a white head.  So it was an adult Bald Eagle.   That’s cool that you can see them in central Chester County.


12/8 – Conowingo Dam, Maryland

There were at least a hundred on the towers and in the marsh below the dam.  They were catching and eating fish, flying, or just standing around.  There were fully mature birds and juveniles.  Chris and I also saw thousands of Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, and a few Greater Black Backed Gulls.  Also there were about fifteen Great Blue Herons and fifty Black Vultures.


Christmas Day, 2012

Joining our family for a very pleasant day in Exton were six or eight bluebirds mixed in with Purple Finches, and Dark-eyed Juncos.   I have seen the bluebirds at least one other time since the bluebird fight.   I told my cousin Joe about that and he said that when he was a teenager near Scranton, the bluebirds would dive bomb him while he was mowing the lawn.   So they are aggressive birds.

We have seen a lot of chickadees and juncos the last couple of weeks.


12/27 – Exton Park

Red-tailed Hawks – a pair were flying over us.  We heard their screams for the first time and got a real good look at their red tails.

We also saw:  Great Blue Heron, Crows, Blue Jays, Cardinals, a tiny brown Winter Wren, Hairy Woodpecker, Mallards, American Black Duck, a grey robin-sized bird, and chickadees.


12/27 -- Backyard

Pine Warblers – I had time to get a really good look at two birds, find my bird guide, look them up, and compare them to pictures in the guide.   That took ten to fifteen minutes.   They had bright yellow throats, yellow chests, white bellies, striping on their wings, striping on their face from beak to eye, and I think maybe a yellow eye ring.  At first I was sure that they were Yellow-throated Vireos, which would have been huge news because they are wintering in Mexico now.   To me these two species look really similar, but to experts, this is probably a ridiculous rookie mistake.  But anyway, I’m excited to see Pine Warblers too!


12/30 – All the chickadees that I have been seeing in my backyard are Carolina Chickadees.  I grew up in Upstate NY where they are all Black-capped.  Either way they are nice birds.


12/31 – Marsh Creek State Park

Chris and I took a hike in the park from 2:30 to 4:30.  There was about eight inches of snow on the ground.  We walked from the parking lot, past the boat dock, along the road, and followed the path to the end of the bay.   The water was at least five feet low, so that end of the lake was a large mud flat.  On the mud and in the woods and grass around it, we saw:  Cardinals, Blue Jays, Bluebirds and Robins together in a high tree, Starlings, Great Blue Herons, a Belted Kingfisher, a solitary Canada Goose on the mud flat, about 200 gulls on the shore and on the lake, a big flock of geese on the lake, Killdeer, Golden-crowned Kinglets, sandpipers, and Mourning Doves.

Killdeer – two black bands on their throats.  Other plover-like birds have at most one band.  Small black bill, grey/white on bottom, dark brown on their backs

Golden-crowned Kinglet – tiny, wren sized or smaller.   Greenish back.  Horizontal black and white bars across their shoulders.  Yellow cap.  Flitting about on the forest floor, under bushes away from the snow.   They were not particularly bothered by us and they were very, very busy.    


We plan to go back tomorrow morning to start the New Year.  I bet we see a lot of birds.  About the walk and finding the kinglets, Chris said, “These birding trips a treasure hunt.  It’s not a scavenger hunt because you aren’t finding junk.  You’re finding something that is beautiful and valuable.”  I wish I had said that.  That is the summation of our birding experiences for 2012.  Happy New Year!


Bombay Hook, November, 2013 -- "It's a pretty spot, with or without birds."