-Sat, Mar 18, 2023-
At 5:38 AM I leave Tyrone on foot, via the highway, this fine proto-Spring morning. I need to be at my powerline perch, nearly a three-mile walk, in an hour. American Robins are up and about town, but once I’m past the city limits, not even an owl breaks the silence, all the way to 6:44.
In the Hollow, I nearly tromp on this individual:
The rest of the walk is uneventful. I am sweating profusely by the time I reach my powerline right-of-way sit spot on Laurel Ridge overlooking Sinking Valley. Not a good call, as the weather is in the low 30s with flurries, and there’s no sunrise in sight. Plus I dressed for Spring, not winter.
I’m set up by 6:38, and six minutes later, the first Wild Turkey calls from a valley-side thicket. Their daily perambulations take them all over the mountain, to judge by their scat, scratchings, and Mom’s sightings from the last few days, but I think they’re still sleeping down below.
A Mourning Dove coos at the same time. They’ve become quite active and visible both on the mountain and in town, paired up and preparing to breed. One comes in close and perches on the wire for a bit.
Overall, this gray dawn is a bit disappointing (code for: I’m freezing my ^*# off). It’s nice to hear a Northern Mockingbird, though, going through its memorized choral routine and then adding a few loud ‘chucks’ of its own. Meanwhile, Dark-eyed Juncos are on the move, twittering through the nearby scrub oaks and then on down the mountain. Incongruously, a Great Blue Heron drifts by at eye level a hundred yards away, searching for some farm pond, I suppose, heading south.
Notably, no European Starling commuters whiz by today. I was wondering about this: in Tyrone these days, they seem to be emanating from the town and then later heading east to the valley, but not arriving from the east as they did in the winter.
But who needs starlings, anyway, when you have Icterids? I’m paying close attention to the clucks of random Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, heading over the mountain from Grazierville to Sinking Valley. At last, a solitary Rusty Blackbird flies over close, calling, and it almost seems as if I can hear a few of them singing from a tree not far below, but I can’t be sure. PH200 #75.
I head on at 7:40, with only 19 species.
What Lies Beneath
The woods are predictably silent for a bit in the raw weather, but a flock of juncos in Roseberry Hollow gives me some hope. Indefatigable White-breasted Nuthatches and Northern Cardinals are about and calling, and what I suppose is the self-same Hairy Woodpecker from all winter is still around the Far Field. The next good sign is a cryptic flock of sparrows, mostly White-throated Sparrows, in the Far Field barberries. These are new: they had dwindled to nothing by the end of February. (Later, I find out that the first WTSP nocturnal flight calls of the season were at 12:30 AM on Friday morning.)
I take a quick detour to the vernal ponds that sit on the very top of Sapsucker Ridge, and I’m not disappointed: Wood Frogs galore! Hundreds migrate to these ponds in March to mate and lay eggs in a deafening ritual quite dear to my Mom’s heart. I posted a mystery photo of one of their air bubbles on my Facebook feed, soliciting guesses of event horizon, electron clouds, Cthulthu, chocolate, methane, and herps. I suspect a few of these answers were flippant. Here are the photos:
And here are some of the amorous couples (throuples?):
Back in First Field, the spruce grove is alive with Mourning Doves and the field edges and woods thickets are bursting with sparrows and Black-capped Chickadees. There are mounting numbers of Eastern Towhees (7), Song Sparrows (28), Dark-eyed Juncos (151), and White-throated Sparrows (62), heading toward a Spring migration peak in a couple of weeks.
Best of all, Fox Sparrows (PH200#76) are moving through.
Today I record just seven, but at this time of year, I’ve gotten numbers as high as 59. On that occasion, March 24, 2020, I noted that the tally was likely a 50% undercount. The Pennsylvania record, set on March 17, 2007, is just 75, glimpsed along a 20-mile stretch of road, so it may be that Plummer’s Hollow gets one of the largest concentrations of this species in the state.
The typical crowd is hanging about the houses and the feeders. A particularly Downy Woodpecker shows me his eyelid:
Meanwhile, a Gray Squirrel takes time off from feeder-reaving to nibble on last year’s black walnut crop:
Later, on the way back down, I finally hear the year’s first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (PH200#77). It’s on a part of Sapsucker Ridge the species was last spotted toward the end of 2022, and I’ve spent very little time in this area in 2023, so it’s possible an individual has stayed through the winter. Otherwise, it is the first of many, drawn to the sap of certain hickories and other trees in the vicinity.
At the pond, the American Wigeons are now a pair, it seems. At least, when I first arrive, they are together, then they swim away and apart. Seven pairs of Mallards and one of what I presume are a continuing pair of Canada Geese are also in evidence. I don’t disturb them further: with rock-throwing teens this last week, they’ve no doubt had a bit of trauma to deal with.
Almost back in town, I stop at the White-tailed Deer installation piece.
I’m looking for evidence, and there it is: a Common Raven feather, probably from the junkyard denizen or its erstwhile partner whom I often see flying down toward this area.
Another clue is the hole in the skulls:
They’re ravens; they eat brains. Back in town, it’s all Irish jigs.
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