Birding in the Spring Creek Watershed
The Spring Creek Watershed provides excellent birding opportunities and is home to an avid birding community. Below is a list of some of the more popular birding sites within the Spring Creek Watershed.
Baltimore Oriole (credit: D. Kiel)
1) Fisherman's Paradise and Spring Creek Canyon – Spring Creek Canyon is a great place to see birds associated with riparian habitats. It can be accessed by either the Fisherman’s Paradise parking area or the Shiloh Road parking lot from the south. The canyon is an easy walk along the stream and provides great views of waterbirds like Belted Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons. Over 135 species have been reported from these sites. Highlights include Bald Eagles which can be seen here year-round and nest near Fisherman’s Paradise, and Ospreys which can be regularly seen during spring and fall migration. A variety of warblers including Common Yellowthroats, Northern Parulas, Yellow Warblers, and American Redstarts can be found here during the breeding season. Baltimore Orioles are common breeders along this riparian corridor and nest in the large trees around the Fisherman’s Paradise parking area.
Bald Eagle at Fisherman's Paradise (credit: R. Crandall)
2) Millbrook Marsh -Millbrook Marsh is located near Houserville at the edge of the Penn State campus near the junction of Rt 26 and the Rt 322 bypass. This 62-acre site has 50 acres of wetland and is a real hotspot of bird activity and a favorite birding location. Over 180 species of birds have been reported at the marsh. It is a good spot for rails, waterbirds, and songbirds. Swamp Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Green Herons, Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats all nest here.
Belted Kingfisher at Millbrook Marsh (credit: R. Crandall)
3) Duck Pond (Centre Furnace Pond) –This small pond is located north of the Penn State campus at the intersection of East College Avenue and Porter Road. The pond was formed by damming Thompson Run, and it is usually ice-free during winter months. As a result, it is an excellent place to find wintering waterfowl particularly when all other waterbodies are frozen. Over 180 species have been reported from this site including over 30 species of waterfowl. Mallards, American Black Ducks, Canada Geese, and American Coots are common. Less common species that have been reported here include Cackling Goose, White-winged Scoter, and Tundra Swan.
Birds at the Duck Pond: Left, Great Blue Heron Right, Redhead (credit: R. Crandall)
4) Walnut Springs Park, Lederer Park, Thompson Woods – These small parks are located along Easterly Parkway and University Drive, and 137 species have been reported in Pennsylvania eBird from these three sites These parks are good for seeing winter songbirds and migrating warblers and particularly good for birding during Spring migration.
5) Penn State Campus – The Penn State Campus is a great place to see a variety of birds. Over 150 species of birds have been reported on campus and there are numerous campus “hotspots” which are described in more detail below.
Arboretum and Big Hollow – The Arboretum at Penn State includes the botanic gardens, Hartley Woods and surrounding fields. The avian education program at the Arboretum includes bird-banding during Spring and Fall migration as well as migration bird walks. Check the website for information on dates for walks and banding.
Penn State Retention Pond – The PSU retention pond is located on the north end of campus in the fields below Beaver Stadium. This is a good location to find migrating waterfowl such as Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal and shorebirds including Spotted Sandpipers, Killdeer, Solitary Sandpipers and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.
Beaver Stadium and Surrounding Fields – Look for breeding Common Ravens at the stadium. This is the ultimate cliff nesting site. During Spring rain events, look for gull flocks (and even a tern or two) resting on the parking lots. Grassy fields to north have breeding Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. These fields and the fields adjacent to Orchard Road are great places to see grassland/farmland species such as Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Savannah Sparrows, and Eastern Kingbird, particularly in late April and Early May.
6) Toftrees Pond – The Toftrees pond is located behind the Toftrees resort/golf range. It is a good site for waterfowl, herons, other waterbirds, and songbirds. It can be accessed from behind American Ale House or through the golf course. A total of 189 species have been reported in eBird from this site including unusual species such as Virginia Rail, Sora and American Bittern.
For up-to-date information on birding opportunities, check out the State College Bird Club website State College Bird Club. The club holds monthly meetings on the 4th Wednesday of each month and also holds monthly field excursions throughout the year. In addition, the club maintains a listserve where members report local sightings. If you are interested in birds, this is the group to join. Pennsylvania eBird is the place to record your observations as well as find out what birds are being reported from specific hotspots around Pennsylvania, including many within the Spring Creek Watershed. The database enables you to see what has been seen by others as well as to obtain directions to the hotspot.
Margaret Brittingham is a Professor of Wildlife Resources at Penn State where she teaches ornithology and an ornithology field lab and is a Wildlife Extension Specialist. She is an enthusiastic birder and particularly enjoys birding close to home in the Spring Creek Watershed.
Scarlet Tanager (credit: D. Kiel)