My First National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count At The Montour Preserve

My First National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count At The Montour Preserve

Motntour Preserve (3 of 41)
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I  visited the Montour Preserve  in Montour County for only the second time last Sunday. I was here once before, about ten years ago, to visit the Fossil Pit  at the preserve with my niece and nephew. I was invited to join a group of birders on Sunday participating in the 124th annul National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

It was an foggy and overcast morning when I arrived at the Environmental Center around 8 a.m. I meet a small group of birders who were anxious to look for the birds still residing at the nature preserve in mid-December.  They ranged in ages form college students in their early  20’s to old timers in their 70’s. This was the first time I participated in the count that takes place throughout the United States and 20 other countries in the Western Hemisphere  every  December.

The bird counts take place in exiting circles with a  diameter, of about 15 miles.  . There are about 2100 circles throughout the United States.  Each circle has an organizer or compiler. I took part in the Bloomsburg Circle. After discussing the  “hot spots’ for birds in the Montour Preserve the group separated into smaller groups. I was hiking around the  lake by myself, a supposed 3.9 mile hike and set off walking past the historic  home that is part of the preserve.

I have learned  a little history of  the Montour Preserve  and the surrounding communities since my visit. The  Preserve is located a few miles from Washingtonville one of the oldest towns in Montour County. It was settled in the 1770’s. A lot of history here, which I hope to research and learn more about soon. There is also a large Mennonite population in the area.  I learned this as I left the Visitor Center ands walked along Route 54. At least a dozen  Mennonite horse drawn carriages galloped past me as I  walked toward the lake in the center of the Montour Preserve. There was a Mennonite Church nearby and I soon heard the church bells as they welcomed the Congregation to Sunday services.

It was a pleasant experience as the occupants of the carriages,  many of them small children, waved as they drove past me. I was still focused on my mission to locate birds and I saw a red-tailed hawk fly over the road, I also saw and heard some song sparrows and white-throated sparrows but couldn’t get good photos because of the poor light and  the overcast sky. I did see, and photograph this northern mocking bird on a utility line.

The road soon took me to Lake Chillisquaque, a 165 acre lake that was built in 1972 to provide backup cooling waters for the nearby Montour Power Plant.

As I approached the shores of  the lake a large flock of Canada geese left the waters of the lake, honking loudly

as they flew above me in the overcast skies.

On the lake were large flocks of common mergansers. I counted over 60  in one flock. I could only photograph the few close to shore. 

And there were smaller flocks of mallard ducks on the lake too. 

A bald eagle soared across the lake. The overcast skies were not the best photography conditions but I always enjoy seeing the splendor of our National bird flying in our skies again.

I also saw, and heard a few  American crows  fly over the lake, cawing loudly as they did.

As I walked along the desolate shores of the lake I noticed the familiar signs of a “Planet Walk” which depicts the distance between the planets of the solar system and our sun. There is a similar “Planet Walk” at the Susquehanna  Riverlands in Luzerne County. This is now one of my favorite nature hiking trails in the area and I visit almost every week. I now realized the connection of the two nature preserves, both developed by PPL  Corporation and now owned by the Talon Corporation. I am glad they continue to support these wonderful nature preserves.

I was now hiking on the Chillisquaque Trail as it followed the shores of the Lake.

I soon came to the Heron Cove a picnic and bird observation area

and continued on the trail past another trail , the Hummingbird Trail.  I hope to explore this and some of the other trails in the preserve on another day. I had to hike fast on Sunday  since there was heavy  rain in the forecast around noon and I wanted to finish my hike before it started.

The trail now entered a wooded area with a lot of small trees and shrubs.

  Here I saw a few swamp sparrows,

a golden crowned kinglet,

and a small flock of tufted titmice.

I also met a few of the birders in our group and we had a pleasant chat about our observations. I continued on the trail, The December woodlands were drab and lifeless. A few green intermediate  ferns  provide  some colored,

as did a few withered mullein plants, but the rest of  what was once lush green vegetation was brown and gray. I imagined that this would be a great place  to look for migratory song birds, butterflies and insects in the Spring and  Summer months.

The trail crossed a branch of the Chillisquaque Creek, which was dammed to create the lake.

In the woodlands on the other side of the creek I saw a few  white throated  sparrows.

American trees sparrows,

American goldfinches,

a red-bellied woodpecker and

a noisy winter wren.

I followed the Chillisquaque Trail as it continued along the lake,.

After I had walked about two miles. I left this trail and took the Ridgefield Point Loop Trail  that took me into a thick white pine forest.

Unfortunately, I did not see a single bird on my  hike under the pines. I heard there may be owls living here but I didn’t see any. The trail took me down to the lake were I saw another  large flock of common mergansers. I am not sure if it was the same flock I had seen earlier on the other side of the lake.

I finished the loop and was again hiking on the Chillisquaque  Trail. It continued up a ridge with an older hardwood woodland, mainly old oaks.

Here I saw dozens of woodpeckers, including  more red -bellied woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, this downy woodpecker,

and my favorite a pileated woodpecker. I love seeing these woodpeckers the largest of the seven species of woodpeckers in the Commonwealth. The downy, above, is the smallest.

I was surprised to see a flock of red-winged blackbirds in the treetops. Many migrate further south in the Winter, but our mild weather may have kept them here.   I was seeing and hearing other birds too but I wasn’t able to photograph all of them.

The trail took me  back down the ridge,

where I found this mock orange oysters growing on a log. They are not edible but I always enjoy finding mushrooms growing in the Winter. I enjoy looking for birds and other wild critters, but my true passion is searching for edible wild mushrooms.

I followed the trail which next took me back along the lake,

and eventually to the crest of dam that creates the lake.

Here I saw some more members of my birder group, the younger folks, I think they were college students. We  again discussed our bird  sightings.

I was able to photograph one more bird, a Carolina wren. I heard them singing throughout my hike but this was the first I was able to photograph, I love hearing their cheerful songs in the woods on my hikes. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the birds I saw on my 5 1/2 mile hike in the preserve. Montour Preserve birds December 17 2023.

I finished up my 5 1/2 mile hike back at the parking lot of the Environmental Center. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos from  my 5 1/2 mile hike in the preserve. Montour Preserve  December 17 2023.

I had been texting my bird sightings to my friend John who has been in the group for many years. I saw  around 23 species of birds, this is my list. Mourning dove, white-throated sparrow, red-tailed hawk, northern mockingbird,  song sparrow, common merganser, Canada goose, bald eagle, mallard duck, red bellied woodpecker,  great blue heron, swamp sparrow, golden crowned kinglet, American tree sparrow, American goldfinch, white breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, American crow, blue jay, red-winged blackbird, Carolina wren, winter wren. eastern bluebird. Our group observed 49 different species of birds at the Monroe Preserve.

It was near noon when I arrived at the parking lot. The  group were having tea and refreshments at the Center. I had to get home so I said my farewells. It was a wonderful experience. I was glad to participate. The count helps scientists and researchers monitor, understand and help preserve  our bird population.  And our feathered friends play an important role on this wonderful planet we share. I hope to return next year. And I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

“Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”-Sir David Attenborough

“In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” -Robert Lynd

 “Birds are an ecological litmus paper.”- Roger Tory Peterson.

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