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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Steve Kacir

January 9, 2010
DVOC Photography Field Trip to Peace Valley Park, Bucks County, PA


Participants:
Sue Eberhart
Katie Eberhart
Mike Lyman
Steve Mattan

On the morning of Jan 9, the parking lot at the Peace Valley Nature Center was jumping with birders, as three different organizations were holding field trips to the park that day: DVOC, Wyncote Audubon and Peace Valley. I had run a quick scouting tour of the park by way of New Galena Rd, and presently Sue, Katie and Steve appeared. The weather was brutally cold and breezy. I explained the situation on Lake Galena in terms of ice coverage, goose population and lighting. Afterwards, we hit the bird blind at the nature center. The bird blind area was lacking in two things: light and birds. It did have the dubious distinction of being the absolute coldest place we would visit that day. After a few obligatory photos of Northern Cardinal and American Goldfinch, we decided to tour the Mini-loop Trail, which often provides access to a number of birds in a short period of time. Soon we were watching an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk that was cooperative for viewing, though not so much for photography. We also easily found Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Field Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow.

After the Sharp-shinned Hawk abandoned the area, we found ourselves near the field habitat, which was a generally bird-free zone. As we turned in to the woods, we found more birds, though most were distant. The sound of feeding flocks had me encouraged and eager to return to the feeders at this point. Nevertheless, the appearance of an Eastern Bluebird overhead was reason to pause and take some (painfully bad) photos despite the poor lighting.

Upon returning to the bird blind, we found both higher diversity and increased numbers of birds in the area. Already, good numbers of White-throated Sparrows were foraging below the feeders. Northern Cardinals were making close approaches, and brief close encounters with Tufted Titmouse and Blue Jays kept us in the bird blind despite the bone-numbing temperatures. Meanwhile, Katie, who was not burdened with a camera, made a few loops around the woods. The rest of us trained our cameras on the feeding scene, hoping for close shots of small birds – especially shots where we could minimize the appearance of feeders and other evidence of human activity, what Sue referred to as “the hand of man.” The longer we stayed, the better the lighting became, and the colder we got. Our patience and persistence paid off with close shots of Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, White-throated Sparrow, House Finch, Eastern Gray Squirrel and more. Though, for my own work, the hand of man was certainly evident in a few shots. What can you do, though? When a bird is that close, you need to photograph it!

When we couldn’t take the cold any longer, we took a break to look for Long-eared Owls at an undisclosed location. Eventually, I was able to locate one roosting Long-eared Owl. I took a photo of the owl to let the other participants see the shape they were supposed to look for and soon everyone was getting nice looks at the owl. No flash photography was performed and we kept a respectful distance from the bird. Steve Mattan thought he saw a second Long-eared Owl in the same tree as well. Happy with our owl sightings, we moved on to look at geese.

Most of Lake Galena was frozen. As a result all the waterfowl was concentrated around a few patches of open water. At one of these sites, I was able to locate a Lesser Canada Goose, which everyone got to see through the scope. Of course, the bird was too distant, too crowded by Canada Geese and in light that was not conducive to photography, so we have no photos of that bird. Katie found a juvenile white morph Greater Snow Goose in the same area, but the only other waterfowl we saw were Mallards and domestic Mallard hybrids. Some tracks in the snow afforded us some photographic subject matter, though.

After the geese, we moved on to the feeders at Sailor’s Point. I have since learned that a new feeder was constructed at the point, but didn’t realize it at the time. The feeder before which we stood vigil lacked seed for the most part, and was not the right one. Even so, we got to see a very nice adult White-crowned Sparrow. Of course, I dutifully took bad photos of that bird. Where, the bird blind was our coldest locale, we had the worst winds at Sailor’s Point. Nevertheless, we spotted what could arguably be called our best bird at that site as well: a flyby Killdeer. Considering the near concrete quality of the frozen ground, I was surprised to see a Killdeer that day, which goes to show how relative the rarity of a species can be. After we’d had enough wind, we called it quits, and the participants went their separate ways.

I took a break for lunch, then met up with Mike Lyman for the afternoon extension of the field trip. We hit many of the same locations as the trip had visited earlier that morning. At the bird blinds, we enjoyed seeing the gray phase Eastern Screech-owl sunning itself, while a chickadee scolded it from the roof of the owl’s Wood Duck box. The feeders only held our attention for so long, though. Mike and I wound up spending most of our time watching waterfowl. Mike located a Greater White-fronted Goose, and we enjoyed taking some documentary shots of the bird. Eventually, a Cackling Goose came into view and some Hooded Mergansers swam and dove in the open areas. Presently, Mike left for the day, and I stayed on to shoot some flight shots of Canada Geese and some icy landscape shots. Truth be told, I was hoping that the Greater White-fronted Goose might fly or do something interesting, but that never happened. Even so, I was happy to burn up the last of the daylight at Lake Galena, snapping landscape shots as the ice on the lake glowed in the pink and orange of sunset.

For photos and more accounts of the trip, check out these sites:

Steve Mattan’s Blog & Photos:
http://recycledphotons.blogspot.com/2010/01/winter-birding-i-went-on-birding.html

Sue Eberhart’s Photos:
http://flickr.com/gp/grammygirl2/485p52

Steve Kacir’s Photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sekacir/sets/72157623514101016/