Date: 5/26/19 6:17 am
From: Ian Gardner <gardnie07...>
Subject: Swatara Creek Birds - Dauphin County
Yesterday afternoon, my girlfriend Jess and I took a double kayak down the
Swatara Creek from Pine Rd to Sand Beach Rd. It started out as cloudy and
cool, but eventually opened up to a clear warm day, warm enough to leave my
knees the color of a male House Finch’s head. Kayaking gives me a different
perspective because I feel more connected to nature and animals are less
likely to flee as quickly as when I’m walking. We share the same current.
The time of year has an impact on what I see as well. May 25th means I’ll
hear many local breeding birds, some just setting up territories and others
with fledglings, and a few lingering migrants as well. The leaves are out
on all the trees. Hickories and Walnuts are just about done blooming.
Silver Maples and Box Elders are setting seeds. And Northern Catalpas
haven’t started blooming yet, but their long split seed pods are still
hanging from last year.

We started out at Pine Rd, adjacent to an active Blad Eagle nest that has
been occupied for several years now. One adult flew right over the creek as
we put in our kayak. That also gave us Baltimore Oriole and American Crow
as both were in active pursuit in order to defend their nearby nests. Gray
Catbirds, Northern Cardinals, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, Song Sparrows,
American Robins, and Common Grackles were ubiquitous throughout the
riparian corridor. As we settled in to the landscape we could see toll the
heavy spring rains left on the stream banks. After 4-6 days of clear skies
the water level dropped at least a foot and the tree roots looked like
knuckles of hands clinging to the soil and rocks to prevent them from
washing away. We passed a few adult Mallards and a family group of Wood
Ducks with hatchlings in tow. One great highlight was a mother Hooded
Merganser with 7 chicks weaving in and out of those exposed tree roots. The
further we traveled, the more songs started popping out. American Redstarts
sang in choirs, rarely solo. More of a call and response. Louisiana
Waterthrushes released a few clear whistles followed by a jumble that
reminds me of several notes bouncing off rocks as they drop over a
waterfall. Eastern Wood-pewees and Wood Thrushes let their soothing songs
drift out from the forest pockets and a migrant Blackpoll Warbler let loose
its high-pitched staccato number. At our second island split we took the
lesser channel and ended up in the shade of several surprisingly lush
Eastern Hemlocks. Not much further we were serenedaded by the tinkling and
melodious song of a Winter Wren, most likely convinced to stay by the
Hemlocks and a tumbling spring. They typically breed further north or west
in steep wooded valleys that prominently feature narrow rushing streams. In
between his songs we could also hear a Yellow-throated Warbler with a
descending series of notes that rises at the very end. We rounded a turn
that swept along a high steep mud bank and suddenly Northern Rough-winged
Swallows darted out from their burrows. A Belted Kingfisher, likely another
occupant of the bank, chattered from the far shore. Once out of the side
channel and into the main current the sun finally came out and the stream
broadened. Painted and Map Turtles were out sunning themselves on exposed
rocks, logs, and vine tangles. As we paddled closer to an exposed Map
Turtle to see its swirling topographic and namesake skin pattern, a
Yellow-billed Cuckoo sallied out from a grape vine that latched itself in
the canopy of a Sycamore. Another cuckoo sang about half a mile further
down the stream. And every so often we would flush a Spotted Sandpiper from
the bank and watch it flit low across the water with its wings barely
lifting above its body. Before we knew it we were at the boat take out
point near Sand Beach Rd. There’s a Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
rookery just downstream that has hosted Red-headed Woodpeckers and
Prothonotary Warblers in the recently lifeless Ash Trees. Another trip for
another day.

Full ebird checklist:

Ian Gardner,
Harrisburg, PA
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