Date: 10/6/19 9:22 pm
From: Alan Buriak <a_buriak...>
Subject: Fairwell to Allegheny County
After 10 years living in Gibsonia, Allegheny County, my wife and I have begun the process of fulfilling our dream and moving our family to a 100-acre former farm northeast of Kittanning, Armstrong County. I will be sharing more of this experience in the near future, however I wanted to share some of the data that I compiled over the last 4 years of yard birding at our former home in Gibsonia. Below is a link to the bar chart for my personal eBird yard location, which even though it is a personal location in eBird, I hope everyone will still be able to view the bar chart via the link:
(if the link doesn't work, please let me know!)

Our home was in a suburban neighborhood and although it was quite a small piece of land at around 0.4 acres, we were fortunate to be blessed with 6 mature oak trees over our back yard and a small stream which flowed into a ravine that contained the west branch of Deer Creek, hence my eBird personal location name "West Branch Deer Creek Ravine". Over the last 4 years, through mostly casual yard birding with a heavy emphasis on ear birding while I was in the yard with my family or doing yard chores, I was able to tally 88 species, 257 complete checklists, and countless other incidental reports. If I'm correct, the folks at eBird have stated that patch birding is the most valuable type of data that they obtain through the eBird database because it essentially produces a stream of data across the year that keeps certain variables the same, namely the birder and their own personal skill level and style and also a constant location, so in this case myself and my yard are the constants. Over time I was able to compile enough complete checklists so that when I produce a bar chart for my yard, every time period on the chart has at least one checklist and so the bar chart is entirely populated. While 88 species and 257 complete checklists are both minuscule numbers compared to the scale of data that eBird collects, I was surprised at how, even with this small sampling of data, the migration timing for certain species still shows up pretty accurately on the bar chart. Also I found it fascinating how the characteristics of the specific habitat of our neighborhood reflect in the species and timing of the species. A glance through the chart and some specific things stand out:

---Red-shouldered Hawks nest in that neighborhood and are a constant presence. On most days we could hear groups of crows and Blue Jays constantly mobbing the Red-shouldered Hawks, seemingly determined to make the hawks' entire existence in that neighborhood under constant challenge. After awhile, I started to feel bad for the hawks, as it seemed terrible for anything to be chased and harassed as much as they were by the crows and Blue Jays! It also seems that when a group of Blue Jays gets to constantly hear Red-shouldered Hawks calling nearby, those same local Blue Jays get even more practiced and more proficient at mimicking the Red-shouldered Hawk call! I thought I would never be fooled again after getting to hear the authentic Red-shouldered Hawk call so often, only to be duped on multiple occasions by a particularly proficient copycat Blue Jay.
---The five species of breeding woodpeckers were some of the most regular visitors to the yard, especially with the large oak trees just outside our back windows. Occasionally I was able to get a Pileated Woodpecker to eat from a suet feeder by hanging it flat against the trunk of a huge northern red oak tree.
---The chickadee situation in our old neighborhood was quite muddled. When we first moved there 10 years ago, all the chickadees were apparently pure Black-capped by both appearance, song type, and call pace. However about 4 years ago, the intrusion of some Carolina attributes began as the hybridization zone moved northeast, and a couple of years ago I began calling every chickadee in the yard a hybrid because at that point call paces were consistently fast and all of the birds I was seeing appeared to have mixed characteristics, in essence the hybridization zone had apparently moved to engulf our area. Interestingly, up until the day that we moved (about 6 weeks ago), over 95% of the song types that I would hear would still be of the Black-capped type, however call pace was quite fast. It seems that as the zone moves, the Black-capped song type remains dominant amongst the hybrids for at least a period of time.
---Eastern Bluebirds were present most of the year but the reports of them actually drop off and disappear in spring and into summer. This likely was because our yard and corner of the neighborhood was too far under the forest canopy and not open enough for them to want to nest there, however other areas of the neighborhood not too far away were more open and did have nesting bluebirds. After the nesting period was over however, the bluebirds readily moved into our yard and throughout the winter we had great success with feeding them mealworms. A group of 4 bluebirds spent most of the last winter seeking out mealworms from a hanging platform feeder just outside our window.
---We had a decent showing of migrating warblers (15 species) for a small yard. Of particular note was the extreme regularity of Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, and Tennessee Warblers passing through in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th weeks of May each year. Even though Blackpoll Warblers appeared to be a somewhat less commonly found migrant in other areas of Allegheny County, I got used to hearing their distinct song right on cue the last few years as they foraged high up in the tops of the oak trees. I'm not sure if its just a coincidence over the 4 year period or if the Blackpolls (and Bay-breasteds and Tennessees) favored something about the mature oak canopy that our neighborhood sat under.

I hope you found this all to be mildly interesting!

Good birding,
Alan Buriak, (now) Armstrong County
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