Big Day of Birding at Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge

Big Day of Birding at Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge

by Robert E. Hoopes

The following article is from Summer 2004 issue of Wildlife Activist.

From 6 p.m. Friday, May 7 through 6 p.m. Saturday, May 8 “Big Day” birders counted 79 species of birds on the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, including four species recorded for the first time.  The participants contributed various hours of birding, including two dedicated enthusiasts who spent the entire time on the refuge (including a few hours of sleep at the Osprey House!).  The event was scheduled to coincide with the peak of the spring migration of neotropical migrants, highlighting the avian diversity of the refuge.

Jeff Frantz, Jeff Hopkins, Ron Kline, Grant Stevenson, and I kicked-off the Big Day at the Kittatinny Ponds area Friday evening, recording the first Purple Martins seen at the refuge since the land was purchased by the Wildlife Center two years ago. Wood Ducks, Osprey and other expected species were recorded as the sun began to set. Jeff Hopkins and I then headed up to the LNE trail to record Common Nighthawk and Chimney Swift as night fell, along with the nesting Killdeer that performed its broken wing imitation.   After dark we unsuccessfully listened for owls and Whip-poor-wills.  The final leg of our night-time observation was planned for the ponds area but this was interrupted by weekend activities (people, music and lights) at the cabins located in this area.

At dawn Jeff and I were back at the ponds, joined again by Jeff Frantz. The warblers were few and hard to find but they were there (16 total species for the day), including a refuge first Northern Waterthrush, along with abundant Baltimore Orioles and a few Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  After thoroughly working the ponds, the riparian areas by the river and the wooded western end of the LNE trail, Jeff Hopkins and I jumped into the canoe we had transported from the Tannery Building and set out to bird the Lehigh River. We found a surprising number of Spotted Sandpipers feeding at different locations along the water’s edge.  About 30 took flight down river as our canoe approached, many obviously counted more than once.  At one point we did count three “Spotties” standing together on a log. Common Merganser, lots of Rough-winged Swallows and a surprising Red-shouldered Hawk were also seen on the trip.

Jeff and I reached the Osprey House around noon and then split up after lunch, with plans to re-unite back at the Ponds at 3:30 p.m.  I headed up to the wooded area above the Osprey House while Jeff birded the Osprey House grounds, the D&L trail out to the Bobolink Trail and then up to the LNE and back to the OH.  Ann & Fritz Brock and several others dropped off their sightings, which Jeff posted to the overall list.  I worked the woods over to the Devil’s Pulpit, stopping to enjoy the view, then continuing through the gap and the steep rocky areas recently seeded by airplane with prairie grasses.  Lots of Ovenbirds and Black & White warblers were observed, along with a needed Red-bellied Woodpecker, but not the elusive Turkey or Ruffed Grouse seen recently during the seeding operation by Frank & West engineer Jake Nims.

Jeff and I met up again back at the Kittatinny Ponds each picking up another refuge first along the way, Tennessee Warbler for Jeff and Nashville Warbler for me, making it a total of four new birds for the refuge’s “yard list.”  Jeff also added the beautiful “Necklace Warbler,” aka Canada Warbler. Ed & Judy Wanamaker and Ron Hillegas joined us around this time, sharing their sightings.  By 5:30 p.m. we headed back to the Osprey House, hoping to find early Blackpoll Warblers by the river, but the tiny long distant migrants were yet to arrive.  Jeff completed the final tally and announced the total of 79 Big Day birds, including four refuge “firsts.”   Perhaps next year this Big Day total can be made even bigger…surely the elusive House Sparrow or White-breasted Nuthatch are lurking out there along with who knows what other fun species!

Following is the current “Refuge List” with the “Big Day” birds indicated in italics.  Thanks to Jeff Hopkins and Jeff Frantz, list compilers.

Common Loon

Pied-billed Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Green Heron

Snow Goose

Canada Goose

Wood Duck


Black Duck

Common Goldeneye


Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture


Northern Harrier

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Coopers Hawk

Northern Goshawk

Bald Eagle

Red-shouldered Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Golden Eagle

American Kestrel

Peregrine Falcon


Solitary Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Ring-billed Gull

Ruffed Grouse

Wild Turkey


Palm Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

American Greater Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

Rock Pigeon

Mourning Dove

Black-billed Cuckoo

Common Nighthawk

Chimney Swift

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pileated Woodpecker

Eastern Wood Pewee

Least Flycatcher

Eastern Phoebe

Great Crested Flycatcher

Eastern Kingbird

Blue-headed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Blue Jay

American Crow

Fish Crow

Common Raven

*Purple Martin

Tree Swallow

No. Rough-winged Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Barn Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper

Carolina Wren

Winter Wren

House Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Eastern Bluebird


Swainson’s Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Wood Thrush

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Northern Mockingbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

*Tennessee Warbler

*Nashville Warbler

Northern Parula

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Pine Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Black & White Warbler

American Redstart


*Northern Waterthrush

Mourning Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Wilson’s Warbler

Canada Warbler

Scarlet Tanager

Eastern Towhee

American Tree Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Cardinal

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

Red-winged Blackbird

Common Grackle

Brown-headed Cowbird

Baltimore Oriole

Purple Finch

House Finch

Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Telephone: (610) 760-8889 | Mailing address: Lehigh Gap Nature Center, P.O. Box 198, Slatington, PA 18080-0198 | Contact Us | Entries (RSS)

Prairie Warbler: Painting by Brad Kunkle

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