The club takes a field trip to Piney Run Park at least once a year. These are almost always led by Dave and Maureen Harvey. This is their turf and they know it well. I wasn’t expecting anything especially new and exciting though.
I got there early as usual. The gates were locked. The park is closed on Sundays in the Winter, however, there is a place outside where you can park before walking in. Nine other birders eventually showed up. That was a pretty good number for this trip. Almost half of them were from other clubs. Two of these were photographers looking for some nice photos. I thought to myself, “Good luck with that.” From what I remembered in the past, the best birds would be on the water and quite some distance away. But, I had been wrong before.
As our group assembled we heard or saw a number of species. These included Carolina Wren, American Crow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Darkeyed Junco, Blue Jay, Northern Flicker, Carolina Chickadee, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Tufted Titmouse.
Once inside the gate, we walked downhill across the first parking lot until we came to the water. Here, we set up on the dock of the marina. Scanning the surface with our binoculars and scopes, we recorded Ring-billed Gull, Bufflehead, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Hooded Merganser, and Great Blue Heron. We also located the Bald Eagle’s nest in one of the tall trees on the other side. With some fine focusing we could tell that the nest was occupied.
Returning up the hill, we walked by the nature center and down to where we had a view of another part of the lake. The Black Swan that Dave and Maureen had spotted earlier was still around. Can’t imagine where that one came from. There was also a Tundra Swan.
If the water here was relatively devoid of birds, the woods behind us certainly were not. A Brown Creeper attracted our attention with its high pitched call. The photographers spent quite a bit of time trying to photograph that one. Jerry Tarbell spotted an immature Red-headed Woodpecker and we all had nice views of that. Other species included Eastern Bluebird, Downy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, and Hermit Thrush. At some point, a Black Vulture flew overhead.
Working our way back to the Marina area once again, we added Ring-necked Duck, American Coot, and Red-shouldered Hawk to our list. Walking back up the hill in the direction of where the nature trail begins, we were attracted by the sight and sound of not one, but three Pileated Woodpeckers. These birds appeared not to even notice us as they flew from tree to tree. Most of the time, they were never more than ten to twenty feet off the ground. And sometime, they came down even closer.
The photographers were ecstatic. This was a real photo op and they certainly took advantage of it. I tried to appear removed from the whole paparazzi frenzy, but in the end, I couldn’t resist. Out came my own camera. “Click, click, click!”
It took us quite a while to get by the Pileated Woodpeckers, but eventually we were able to continue on the trail walk and realize that there actually were other species there too. These included Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Winter Wren, and Cedar Waxwing. We all got to see the Winter Wren rather than just hear it.
The Waxwing also presented another nice opportunity for the photographers. One bird sat in a tree full of berries of the most beautiful color.
Walking back, we took the path along the shore in the direction of the nature center. Looking across the water, we found another Bald Eagle’s nest. This one proved to be unoccupied, however. Species actually seen included Black Duck, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and Hairy Woodpecker.
On my way home in the car, I couldn’t help but think about what makes a successful field trip. How much fun you have with your fellow birders is, of course, a big part of it. You don’t necessarily have to see some new or rare species though. Being able to catch the “usual suspects” doing something interesting is just as good.