Northampton Press

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PRESS PHOTOS BY BUD COLE A dark-eyed junco clings to a hemlock branch. PRESS PHOTOS BY BUD COLE A dark-eyed junco clings to a hemlock branch.

Bird survey completed Jan. 19

Thursday, February 14, 2013 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Local News

The Lehigh Gap Nature Center held its 16th annual Bake Oven Knob Area Bird Survey on Jan. 19.

The first survey was conducted by the Wildlife Information Center in 1997. The WIC grew from a small operation of volunteers working from a storefront in Slatington to the present day Lehigh Gap Nature Center covering about 750 acres along the west side of the Lehigh River north of Slatington.

Several groups of LGNC members traveled the same basic bird observation route, but in opposite directions. The route is somewhat rectangular and winds around Bake Oven Knob, covering both the south and north sides of the Blue Mountain. The overnight low had been 25 degrees, eventually rising to about 42 by the end of the survey.

One of the first stops on the southern route was near the Lehigh River where one group spotted and recorded its first birds, American crows. The next stop was downstream by the Lehigh Canal next to the restored stone lock house at lock 23. Many of the 250 total mallard ducks counted were congregated in a section of the canal just below the lock. The only two bird species to beat the mallards for the day's count were the 450 snow geese and the 771 European starlings.

Unfortunately, the restored Walnutport lock was badly damaged from the high waters associated with Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Donations for repairs are appreciated and can be sent to Walnutport Canal Association, 417 Lincoln Ave., Walnutport, 18088.

The bird observers moved to the west side of the Lehigh River passing through Slatington, turning right toward Emerald and stopping at several observation points along the way. The route included a number of trips up and back on side roads, west on Mountain View Road to Route 309, north to Snydersville, then east through Andreas to Bowmanstown and back to LGNC.

Each group turned in their counts and the highest count is used. They are not added together for a grand total. A few of the high totals included these woodpecker species: one pileated, five red-bellied, eight downy, two hairy and two northern flickers. Other totals included one ring-necked pheasant, one wild turkey, 77 mourning doves, 170 rock pigeons and 186 horned larks. Smaller species include 27 black-capped chickadees, 29 tufted titmice, 167 dark-eyed juncos, 21 house finches, nine American goldfinches, 61 house sparrows, two swamp sparrows, seven field sparrows, 17 song sparrows, one fox sparrow, 12 white-throated sparrows, six American tree sparrows, two red-winged blackbirds, one meadow lark, 26 northern cardinals, one robin and 23 bluebirds. Yet, not a single observer spotted a partridge in a pear tree.

"It's a research project, but it's also a fun way to spend a winter morning," said Lehigh Gap Nature Center Executive Director Dan Kunkle. "The birds recorded or not found in a specific locale become ecological indicators of what is going on in the area.

"The idea is to get a snapshot of the birds each year, so we can monitor the bird populations and in turn know what's happening in our environment," Kunkle added.

The total birds recorded during the 2012 survey were 2009 with 48 different species. This year set a record for different bird species with a total of 63. The overall total was 2,943. New species observed for the first time this year included one wood duck, two turkey vultures (a surprise that none had been observed before even though they are very common), two great blue herons, one fox sparrow, nine white-crowned sparrows and nine white-winged crossbills.

Anyone who has winter birdfeeders and is interested in joining the 2013 Lehigh Gap Area Feeder Watch can contact the LGNC website at www.LGNC.com.

The feeder watch is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, Feb. 15, 16 and 17. Participants may choose either one of the three weekend dates to complete a feeder watch count. Those who participate are also encouraged to report numbers to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.