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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Birding on the Edge (of Centre Co)

Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph
Image Credit: Marcel Gauthier

I stopped by the Duck Pond this morning to get another look at the female Redhead (or is it a late-molting male) - as if I haven't seen it enough already. While I was there, I bumped into another birder (Steve lastname?) and we got to chating – about birds, of course. I mentioned that there was a Rough-legged Hawk sighting last week, along Rt. 220 near Bellefonte, in case he was interested in searching for it. He told me that there was a better and more reliable place to see them – out on the eastern edge of Centre County, near the Union County Line. More specifically, in the town of Woodward.

Woodward lies at the eastern end of Penns Valley, along Rt. 45 East. It’s mostly Amish farms out that way. According to Steve the birder, the Amish maintain hedgerows between fields, don’t plow the soil as often and refrain from the heavy use of pesticides. Taken together, this makes for a nice healthy population of rodents – primarily meadow voles. Sounds like good eatin’ for a raptor.

I asked for directions, and he kindly provided them. After lunch, I went out and spent the afternoon driving around Woodward Gap (map) tallying raptors. I made few loops around Cemetary and Jackson Hill Roads. I saw lots of raptors and other nice birds.

I spotted lots of American Kestrels along the power lines adjacent to Rt.45 (Penns Valley Rd.). I turned left at the second entrance to Cemetary Rd., and immediately picked up a Red-tailed Hawk. About a half-mile in, I spotted another hawk in a tree about 20 yards off the road (see "A" marker on map). It was a dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk. I observed it for about 1 minute or so before it took off and slowly glided across the field and set down in another tree about two-tenths of a mile off. I got a fantastic view! Might be the best look I have had of a Rough-leg.

I continued along Cemetary, spotted one Red-tailed Hawk after another. Also picked up a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a few Ravens. A lone Killdeer was observed hanging around a cattle feed station. Along the way, I spotted a handful of Goldfinches and American Tree Sparrows in an abandoned brush field.

It was getting late, so I started to make my way back to Rt. 45. I decided to sneak out the back way – along Pine Creek Hollow Rd. At the junction of Pine Creek and Jackson Hollow Roads, I spotted another Red-tail. While viewing it in my binoculars, I picked up another more distant bird to the northwest of Buffalo Mountain. To my surprise, it was a circling Black Vulture – somewhat of a rarity in Centre County at this time of year. Certainly the earliest I have ever seen one.

Black Vulture
Image Credit: Patrick Lynch

Woodward Gap looks like a promising place to pick up some good winter birds. I will definitely head back in February to search for more Rough-legs. I should also be able to find some Horned Larks, Snow Bunting, and perhaps even a Longspur. I'll keep you posted!

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