November Gold

The colors have vanished with the fallen leaves, the birds have moved south, and the cold is here. It’s so easy to stay inside watching Netflix all day during this seemingly dull time of year. Fortunately I’ve had enough motivation to bundle up and do some exploring during November. After successfully chasing Maryland’s first sighting of Couch’s Kingbird, I traveled down several Huntingdon dirt roads, leading me to some golden moments.

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A winding road south of the Mason Dixon Line
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The rare Couch’s Kingbird from Texas was seen for several days along the banks of this pond in Allegany County, Maryland

Since nearly all migrant birds have passed through, November is a good month for studying common species that stick around through the winter. Several chickadees and sparrows landed within 4 feet of me.

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A curious Black-capped Chickadee

Yellow-rumped Warblers (Top Left) are some of the last warblers to frequent Pennsylvania in the fall. The colorful Fox Sparrow (Top Right) is always exciting to see as they arrive during November. Several duck species can be found in November, including the aptly named Northern Shoveler pictured below.

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Most of the valley in Huntingdon County is a dead zone for cell service. Without my iPhone for navigation, I often venture down random roads in search of my destination. One of these “wrong turns” lead me to this scene below.

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Did I say that the colors are gone? November is full of Gold!
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This Red-tailed Hawk put on a show for me

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After a good hike on the Mid State Trail, a couple friends and I made a spontaneous decision to spend the night in a cave we found. We arrived just in time to build a fire before a soft rain serenaded us to sleep. With two hammocks hung and a warm fire, the cave quickly felt like home. The excitement of the wild came to a halt early in the morning when we traded our camping gear for books and schoolwork.

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The fire was a warm welcome to any weary traveler, caveman or black bear
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The s’mortilla. A wonderful camping dessert

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I wish everyone a Happy (white?) Thanksgiving! There’s golden moments in every month so get outside and enjoy this beautiful creation!

A Sliver of Fall

Now that we’re midway through October, autumn has arrived. I am welcomed by crisp foggy mornings and the smells of fallen leaves. The mass of warblers have passed by, with their absence being filled by hoards of sparrows. Recently I’ve gotten off campus to simply enjoy the fall colors and spend some quality time outdoors. Now all that’s missing is a little bit of FallFest with friends. Here is my photo story. Enjoy.

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Alan Seeger Natural Area

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White-crowned Sparrow
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Juniata River

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Cape May Warbler
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The Little Juniata River at Sunset

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From FallFest 2011

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Central Pennsylvania: First Impressions

Now that it’s been just over a month since I’ve moved into my new home at Juniata College, I thought I’d share about some of my first experiences. So far, I’ve been loving the area. Although it is only a short two hour drive from my home in Lancaster County, the landscape is surprisingly different. The endless rolling mountains covered thick in trees of all kinds are already beginning to feel like home.

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After moving into JC on August 17, I participated in an Inbound group where we backpacked for 2 days to meet some new people and get comfortable. We hiked along the Standing Stone Trail, which followed a ridge overlooking Huntingdon and Mifflin Counties. We also hiked the 1000 steps, which was a fun experience.

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After getting settled in to college, I finally began to drive around by myself and do some exploring and birding. One of my first stops was the Old Crow Wetlands just a few minutes from town. It is a little gem of swamps and wetlands which has hosted many rarities in the past. I have high hopes, and it has already proved its value by allowing me stunning looks at my life bird Sora.

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Old Crow Wetlands
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Sora

I also made it down to the huge Raystown Lake at the Aitch Boat Launch and the Dam. Both areas look great for winter and spring waterfowl. The dam has a long road that climbs up along the side of it, so it provided great downhill speed skating. At nearly all of these locations I’ve seen lots of deer, even a couple nice buck.

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Sunrise at Aitch Boat Launch

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The woodland habitat is what most excites me about Central PA. There are many opportunities for good hikes in State Game Lands and trails. Shaver’s Creek Environmental area provides some great looking migrant traps. The Peace Chapel trails are within walking distance of campus, and have been great for warblers and vireos this fall. Highlights so far have been Philadelphia Vireo (life bird), Mourning Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, Hooded Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush and Wilson’s Warbler. The area also a exceeds Lancaster in the Flycatcher department, where Least Flycatcher is an easy find and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are fairly abundant. I was also within 100 yards of some other birders that had an Olive-sided Flycatcher, but it left before I got a glimpse.

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Hooded Warbler
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Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Enough about the birds, what about the fishing? I have to confess, I have yet to hit a trout stream. My fly rod did get some use today, however, where I fished with a friend for bass along the Juniata River. Also, I’ve done some research on nearby trout streams such as Standing Stone , and I’m planning on checking them out in the near future. Apparently the East Branch of the Standing Stone has native brookies, which is nice to hear.

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Spider Web in one of the State Game Lands

Overall, I’m quite excited with exploring the area here. It should be a fun four years.