Lycoming County Winter 2016-17 Summary
The season began with a December that was colder than the previous year, including some snow early in the month. Rose Valley Lake froze by mid-month. The second half of the month saw drier conditions and temperatures that were cold, but close to normal. Temperatures moderated a bit by the second half of January, but cooled off again for early February. The second half of February was unseasonably warm — even spring-like at times — and contributed to early migration for many species.
Christmas Bird Counts
Two C.B.C. circles fall primarily in Lycoming County: the Williamsport and Northern Lycoming counts.
The Williamsport C.B.C. was held on 12/27 after being rescheduled due to poor weather. 21 observers split into 11 groups that tallied 13,161 individual birds from 64 species, including Rufous Hummingbird, Eastern Phoebe and Evening Grosbeak.
The Northern Lycoming C.B.C. was held on 12/31. 16 observers in 6 groups counted 3,391 individual birds from 48 species, including Rusty Blackbird and Golden Eagle.
There weren't too many surprise species during the winter, but a few records do stand out. The best bird of the season was a King Eider found at Rose Valley Lake on 12/4, the first known record of any eider species in Lycoming County. King Eider is a PA review list species, and documentation was sent to PORC. The Rufous Hummingbird near Elimsport that was first observed in October continued to be seen through 12/27. A White-winged Scoter at the Williamsport Dam on 1/28 was another notable record. In total, 115 species were reported in Lycoming County during the winter.
Observer abbreviations include: Bobby Brown (BB), David Brown (DB), Deb Brown (DeB), Bob Brown (BoB) (BB, DB, DeB, BoB collectively as Browns), Jean Dalton (JD), Donna Groves Dawson (DGD), Maddi Dunlap (MD), Wes Egli (WE), Dave Ferry (DF), Norwood Frederick (NF), James Goetz (JG), Eric Hartshaw (EH), Evan Houston (EvH), Andy Keister (AK), Gary Metzger (GM), Ted Nichols II (TN), Steve Pinkerton (SP), Darryl Rebuck (DR), Fred Stiner (FS)
m. obs. = many observers
Observations of uncommon or unexpected species that were documented with photos include a ph. designation along with the observers. Most of those photos can be found on eBird.
No Snow Geese were seen in Lycoming County during December and most of January. A small flock was observed at the Williamsport Dam on 1/27 (BB), and on 1/28, migratory flocks were observed flying south over Montoursville (BB, DB, DeB) and Picture Rocks (WE). The first sighting of a flock migrating north was at SGL 252 on 2/19 (BB, DB, DeB), and other migratory groups continued to be seen through the end of the month. Canada Geese migrated north by the thousands during the second half of February, including more than 10,000 migrating past the Rt. 15 Overlook the morning of 2/21 (DB). Tundra Swans were recorded three times in December, including 53 on 12/9 flying over the Lycoming County Landfill (Browns), around 50 flying over Montoursville on 12/9 (Browns) and 36 flying over the Williamsport Dam on 12/16 (DB). A single bird in a flock of geese at Mill St. on 1/2 (BB) provided the only January record this year. As with the geese, swan migration picked up in the second half of February, including more than 200 birds that stopped at Rose Valley Lake on 2/26 (m. obs.)
Wood Duck sightings were fairly scarce this winter. One was seen in Nisbet on 12/18 (Browns). Spring migrants started appearing in late February, with several sightings scattered throughout the county. A Gadwall was seen at Indian Park on 12/16 (BB), and spring migrants began turning up around 2/20. Similarly, an American Wigeon was seen at Indian Park on 12/2 (BB, et al.), and spring migrants started being seen in mid-February. American Black Duck was recorded frequently at Indian Park during the entire winter (m. obs.). Like many other ducks, spring arrival was in the second half of February. Hybrid American Black Duck x Mallards were seen a few times in December and January at Indian Park (Browns) and one was seen at a pond in Montgomery on 2/24 (BB, DeB, BoB). 2 Blue-winged Teal were reported at the wetlands adjacent to South Williamsport Park on 2/20 (EH). The first spring sighting of Northern Shoveler was a pair at Rose Valley Lake on 2/27 (Browns, SP). Up to 3 Northern Pintails were seen at Indian Park throughout the winter (m. obs.), and one bird was recorded as a flyover at Montgomery Boat Launch during the Williamsport C.B.C. (BB, DB, DeB). Spring migrants began arriving in mid-February. Green-winged Teal was recorded at the Williamsport Dam three times in December: 12/12 (BB), 12/14 (BB, DB) and 12/18 (SP). Spring migrants began arriving in late-February.
A single Redhead was at the Williamsport Dam on 12/14 (BB, DB). 4 Ring-necked Ducks were seen along Pond Road in Pennsdale on 12/9 (Browns). Spring migrants began arriving in late-February. A male Greater Scaup was recorded for the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 at the Williamsport Dam (Browns, MD, JD). Another was observed beginning on 2/25 at the same location, and stayed through the end of the month (Browns, et al.). Lesser Scaup was reported at Rose Valley Lake several times during the winter, including 12/4 (m. obs.), 12/10 (EvH), 2/25 (SP, Browns), and 2/28 (EH). Additionally, one was seen on the river in Nisbet on 12/18 (Browns).
The first Lycoming County record of King Eider was found at Rose Valley Lake on 12/4 (BB, DB, SP, et al., ph.). That sighting appears to be the first Pennsylvania record away from Lake Erie since 2002. Another decent waterfowl record was a White-winged Scoter at the Williamsport Dam on 1/28 (MD, JD, et al., ph.).
As is typical, Buffleheads were fairly common along the river, especially at the Williamsport Dam. The species was also seen at Rose Valley Lake when it had open water. Common Goldeneye sightings were relatively frequent along the river, especially at the Williamsport Dam and Nisbet, with more than 20 combined sightings at those locations. Other locations the species was recorded were Susquehanna State Park on 1/11 (NF) and 1/12 (AK) and Mill St. on 2/4 (BB, SP). Hooded Mergansers seemed more abundant than normal, with many sightings throughout the winter, especially at the Williamsport Dam. A Red-breasted Merganser was seen at the Williamsport Dam on 1/5 (DB) and 2 were reported on 2/26 at Rose Valley Lake (EH, NF). Ruddy Ducks were scarce during the winter, with sightings at Rose Valley Lake on 12/4 (m. obs.), 12/10 (EvH) and 12/11 (BB, DB, SP).
Small numbers of Pied-billed Grebes were seen in December at Rose Valley Lake and the Williamsport Dam, including a sighting during the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 (Browns). Horned Grebes were recorded fairly regularly from late-December through the end of February at the Williamsport Dam, including a high count of 5 during the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 (Browns). An additional sighting was on 12/4 at Rose Valley Lake (m. obs.). A single Double-crested Cormorant was seen at Rose Valley Lake on 12/10 (EvH) and 12/11 (BB, DB, SP), which was the only record of that species during the winter. Great Blue Heron sightings were scattered throughout the season, mostly along the river, which remained completely unfrozen for a good portion of the winter. All American Coot sightings during the winter were at the Williamsport Dam, each consisting of a single bird. Those sightings were 12/17 (Browns), 12/23 (DB), 12/24 (DB), 12/25 (BB, DB) and 1/6 (DB).
Raptors and Owls
The number of wintering vultures in Lycoming County seems to have increased in the past few years. Turkey Vultures were seen regularly for the entire winter, especially in the area around the Lycoming County Landfill. The species became more scattered throughout the county by the end of February. Likewise, Black Vultures were seen frequently near the landfill, with as many as 39 being observed at a known roost site in that area on 1/22 (BB, BoB, DeB). The species was also regularly seen in the Montoursville and Loyalsock area, and even as far north as Rose Valley Lake on 1/29 (BB, DB, DeB).
Golden Eagles sightings during the winter were fairly scarce. There were records from the Rt. 15 Overlook on 12/7 (AK), Gap Road in the southern part of the county on 12/16 (Browns), Trout Run on 12/31 during the Northern Lycoming C.B.C. (BB, DeB, BoB), Muncy on 1/6 (AK) and Rose Valley Lake on 2/26 (SP). Northern Harriers were regularly seen in most of their normal areas, especially Nisbet, Mill Hill Road and Cogan House Twp. Red-shouldered Hawks were pretty uncommon, with the few reports coming from SGL 252, the Rt. 15 Overlook and Rose Valley Lake, all in February. Red-tailed Hawks are common year-round in Lycoming County, with nearly all of them being the Eastern borealis subspecies. During winter, a small number of the Northern form abieticola are recorded in the county. One particular bird has wintered at the Fairfield exit of I-180 for at least 4 consecutive years, with its first record this winter on 12/17 (Browns, ph.). The other two records from the winter were in the Montgomery area on 12/16 (Browns, ph.) and in the Muncy area on 12/17 (Browns, ph.). Rough-legged Hawk numbers were strong this winter, particularly in the second half of the season.
Continuing the recent trend, all 3 of our typical falcon species were seen regularly throughout the winter. Peregrine Falcon sightings were mostly contained to the areas near the nest sites at the Market St. Bridge and Muncy Boat Launch. Additionally, an adult bird was observed just across the river from Montgomery in Northumberland County during the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 (Browns). That bird could possibly be associated with a rumored nest on the Lycoming County side, which has cliffs. Confirming a nest site has proven difficult for the past several years. One other notable sighting of that species was an immature bird seen on 12/17 along Rt. 654 Hwy, a few miles west of the Arch St. Bridge (Browns). Merlin sightings were quite regular in the Montoursville and Williamsport areas. American Kestrel reports were widespread in the southern part of the county during the winter, with a few scattered reports farther to the north.
Mill Hill Road continued this year as a hotspot for Short-eared Owls. The species was reliably seen throughout the entire season, with a high count of 6 on 2/12 (SP). A Northern Saw-whet Owl was recorded from the parking lot at SGL 298 on 12/7 (Browns). Our other owl species were found in most of their normal locations.
As is typical for winter, shorebird sightings were scarce. 2 Killdeer were observed in Nisbet on 12/9 (Browns). The species was also found at both Lime Bluff Recreation Area and the Williamsport Dam on 2/17, with both sightings consisting of a single bird (DB). Others were recorded soon afterwards as well, making it likely that these were, in fact, spring migrants. That spring arrival date is about 10 days earlier than prior years. American Woodcocks arrived back early as well, with the first sighting near Williamsport on the morning of 2/21 (DF).
It was a mostly-quiet winter for gulls. The only report of Bonaparte's Gulls was 2 birds seen at Rose Valley Lake on 12/8 (DB). There were a few December reports of Herring Gulls, including a bird at the Lycoming County Landfill on 12/9 (Browns), another at the Williamsport Dam on 12/24 (DB), and 2 birds recorded for the Williamsport C.B.C. at the landfill on 12/27 (Browns). The species was also observed many times during February. The first major spring migration push for gulls was on 2/19, with thousands of Ring-billed Gulls seen along with several Herring Gulls throughout the day.
The adult female Rufous Hummingbird near Elimsport that was first seen on 10/25 continued to visit hummingbird feeders throughout December. The bird was recorded on 12/27 for the Williamsport C.B.C. (Browns, ph.), which ended up being the final sighting. The species had been recorded on only one prior Williamsport C.B.C., in 2003.
There are typically few flycatcher sightings in Lycoming County during winter. With no previous December eBird records in the county, Eastern Phoebe was recorded at three different locations during December. The first was 12/4, which was a continuing bird at Rose Valley Lake (BB, DB, SP, ph.). Another was observed along Commerce Park Dr. in Williamsport on 12/7 (AK). The third was recorded for the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 along the river just downstream from the boat launch at Mill St. (DF).
Warbler reports were scarce this winter. 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers were reported from the Mill St. area during the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 (DF), and another 2 were reported on 2/15 in the same area (EH).
American Tree Sparrows reports were widely scattered throughout the county, with the largest groups being reported in Jackson Twp., SGL 252 and Mill St. Field Sparrows wintered in a few spots, and were relatively easy to find at SGL 252, where they were observed on numerous occasions. Fox Sparrows were seen a few times in December, including Rose Valley Lake on 12/4 (BB, DB, SP) and 12/31 (SP), and at the Williamsport Water Authority on 12/28 (BB, DB). The spring migrants of that species began arriving around 2/24, with many sightings coming immediately afterwards. White-crowned Sparrows were reported near SGL 252 on 1/3 (JG), in Nisbet on 1/28 (Browns) and 2/13 (EH), and at Lime Bluff Recreation Area on 2/17 (DB). 2 Savannah Sparrows were photographed foraging along the side of a road in Nisbet on 2/11 (BB, DeB, BoB). Swamp Sparrows were fairly difficult to find this winter. December sightings included 12/4 at Rose Valley Lake (AK), 12/25 at SGL 252 (BB, DB), and 12/9, 12/26 and 12/27 at a pond in Montgomery (Browns). The species was also seen at Rose Valley Lake on 1/21 (BB, SP) and at SGL 252 on 2/19 (BB, DB, DeB).
It was a fairly active winter for the blackbird family by Lycoming County standards.
A small group of Red-winged Blackbirds was seen in Nisbet on 12/17 and 12/18 (Browns). An additional December sighting was in Montgomery on 12/9 (Browns). The species was seen twice in Montoursville during January, with a single bird on 1/2 (DeB, BoB, BB) and 2 on 1/10 (DeB, BoB). Like many other species, they started showing up in good numbers during mid-February, with many observations scattered around the county.
Rusty Blackbirds were seen in Nisbet on 12/16 through 12/18 (Browns) and again on 1/2 (SP). The species was also recorded for the Northern Lycoming C.B.C. on 12/31 (DB, TN). The spring arrival date was on or near 2/26, when a single bird was seen in Ralston (NF) and a small flock observed at SGL 252 (BB, DB, DeB).
Common Grackles were also seen in elevated numbers during the winter. 3 were seen in Montoursville on 12/24, providing the first December eBird record for the species in Lycoming County. The species was also recorded in Montoursville several times during January along with a single bird just off of Rt. 15 in the southern part of the county on 1/2 (BB, DeB, BoB). The spring migrants had arrived by mid-February, after which, sightings were frequent.
There were a few scattered reports of Brown-headed Cowbirds during December and January, and reports increased in frequency during mid-February, like many of the other blackbird species.
Eastern Meadowlarks were reported on 1/28 in Cogan House Twp. (DF) and 2/1 in Piatt Twp. (NF).
Surprisingly, photos of an apparent Baltimore Oriole visiting a backyard feeder in the Haneyville area were posted on the Lycoming Audubon Society Facebook group on 1/9 (DGD). The observer confirmed that it was a current sighting. The bird was not seen in subsequent days.
There were not too many notable finch reports during the winter. A male Evening Grosbeak was reported on a side road off of Rt. 87 just north of the Slabtown Bridge during the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 (GM, FS, DR). 4 Red Crossbills were reported in a remote area of the Williamsport Water Authority on 2/25 (DF), near the location of a sighting of the species in November. Pine Siskins weren't terribly pervasive, with reports before late-January coming during snowstorms, but reports became more regular towards the end of the season. Like the previous winter, the feeders at Rider Park were a reliable site for the species. Purple Finches were relatively scarce, with just a handful of reports.
Other Sightings of Note
Fish Crow numbers were much lower than the previous winter. There were no reports at all in December, and scattered reports in January and February. The large flocks in Nisbet and South Williamsport did not appear to be present this year.
Red-breasted Nuthatches maintained their elevated number of reports from the fall, being seen regularly throughout the winter.
Winter Wrens were observed at the Lycoming County Conservation Trail on 12/28 (BB, DB) and 1/7 (BB), recorded for the Northern Lycoming C.B.C. at Powys Wetland on 12/31 (BB, DeB) and reported at the Williamsport Dam on 1/14 (SP).
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets were heard singing at the Williamsport Water Authority on 2/25 (DF), and one was reported at Rose Valley Lake on 2/26 (EH). The species is very uncommon in Lycoming County during the winter.
A Hermit Thrush was seen at the Williamsport Water Authority on 2/4 (BB).
A Gray Catbird was reported during the Williamsport C.B.C. on 12/27 (EH).
American Pipits were seen in a few locations during the winter. Small groups were seen at Mill Hill Road on 12/4 (Browns) and 1/1 (Browns, SP). The Williamsport Dam had 3 sightings during December, including a flock of 36 on 12/12 (BB). The species was also observed in Nisbet and the Hughesville area during December.
Horned Lark sightings were widely scattered, and as in past years, were found in large numbers in Cogan House Twp. Snow Bunting numbers were pretty low throughout the season, with only a handful being seen in Cogan House with the flock of larks. Sightings away from Cogan House included a bird at the Williamsport Dam on 12/12 (BB), 2 in Nisbet on 12/24 (SP) and 3 just south of Liberty on 2/4 (SP). A species that is usually difficult to locate in the county, at least 2 Lapland Longspurs were seen in Cogan House at the end of January and beginning of February (m. obs.).
While the Lycoming County rarity flood of 2016 mostly dried up for winter, King Eider is an amazing record for the county, and it's tough to complain about any season with a record of that magnitude. Elevated numbers of common-but-not-in-winter species kept the season interesting, and early spring migration has everyone ready for the push of migrants that surely can't be too far away. Onward to spring!
The Winter 2016-17 report was compiled and written by Bobby Brown. Our seasonal reports cover March-May (Spring), June and July (Summer), August-November (Fall) and December-February (Winter) to better line up with migration, breeding and wintering timings. All photos used by permission.