In 2023, we’ve had no two consecutive days with similar weather here in northern Appalachia. Yesterday it was sunny and got above sixty; today it’s in the humid thirties with a steady drizzle. Here in Tyrone, the Song Sparrows and American Robins seem unfazed; the former sings first at 6:48 AM and doesn’t let up, while the latter has been singing and calling since before six.
Fish Crow Story
Today is the first day of 2023 I have been able to record all four local Corvids from my balcony: Common Raven, American Crow, Fish Crow, and Blue Jay. The Fish Crow is getting bolder by the day. At 7:27, it emits its odd, nasal call from somewhere out of sight behind my building. Fish Crows don’t migrate long-distance as much as withdraw downstream in the winter; they tend to frequent human settlements in the Susquehanna drainage and we only recorded them in the hotspot for the first time in summer 2018, though they must have been present for a few years prior to that. The latest Fall date we have is October 9, and their Spring arrivals have been consistently between 10 and 19 March.
In the area, according to eBird records, they began to be reported sparsely in the uppermost Susquehanna’s Bald Eagle Creek drainage in Centre County, in places such as Bald Eagle State Park and the environs of Penn State University, by the 1980s (up there, they are now year-round residents). In the upper Juniata River drainage basins, they appeared more recently, and by 2000 had reached a few miles downstream from Tyrone along the Lower Trail near Alexandria. The first Fish Crow record for Tyrone and the Little Juniata is 2008 while there are several records from 2006 and 2007 in the headwaters of this stream around Bellwood and Altoona.
I have recorded Fish Crows in small flocks in the Spring, up to 12, either flying up the river or over the mountain. Occasionally, they linger in the ridgetop trees, but mostly, unlike the much more abundant American Crows, they restrict themselves to riparian areas and town streets. American Crows are much widespread, being found in pretty much every habitat, and I have recorded congregations (‘murders’) up to 100 in recent years; numbers of this species seem to be rebounding after a population crash linked to West Nile Virus.
From the balcony, I was able to ID a single Fish Crow with some missing wing feathers during several weeks last year (pictured above, in the rain) and I’m hoping to be able to do the same this year. After the early Spring flocks dissipate I only record singles and pairs, so I assume at least a few nest locally—where, I have no idea.
Another Fishy Arrival
At 7:31, I hear that old familiar rattle, signaling the first Belted Kingfisher of the year. First from my balcony; you may remember that I sighted one in mid-February a couple times a bit downriver in the Gap. Before that, the last regular sighting was December 3, 2022. The high number for this stretch of river was four, during late summer migration last year.
Belted Kingfishers don’t leave the area in the winter, but they do tend to withdraw from the hotspot. Nevertheless, most members of this species do migrate, and I’ve seen them as far south as Honduras. Whether a pair nests somewhere close by in the hotspot I don’t know, but I can almost always find at least one individual during breeding season.
Speaking of fish-eaters, I should also note the rising numbers of Common Mergansers, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, and Ospreys in the hotspot. This is due in large part to the efforts of the Little Juniata River Association, a local non-profit, whose members have spent years cleaning up what used to be a highly polluted stream and is now one of the best trout streams in the state. Though we don’t have good records, I can hardly imagine these species thrived along the ‘Little J’ back when we moved here in the 1970s.
Thanks for reading Bird Mountain! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
My only fish crow sighting was long ago when we lived in Texas. If I’m correct, that happened when I drove to Louisiana to deliver a piece of furniture. I’m always surprised that that bird’s range extends up the Appalachians to NE Pennsylvania.