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2023 was a year for rare birds in Berks County

Berks County birding enthusiasts were successful in finding 249 species of birds in the county in 2023. This is three short of the 20-year average of species seen.

The sightings can be sorted into categories. Species seen only a few times in the recorded history of Berks birding would be considered rare in the county. Species seen every few years are listed as casual. Birders had sightings of species that fit into both categories.

Rare in Berks 2023

In this category, a swallow-tailed kite was seen by Kate Harms on May 9 north of Reading. Ten days later another kite was photographed in Moselem Springs by me. This is a striking bird with black and white plumage and a deeply forked tail. The bird normally occurs in southern Florida and along the Gulf coast. There were three of these birds seen here in 1995 in southern Berks, but only twice since.

Swallow-tailed Kite. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
Swallow-tailed kite. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

In June, a kayaker at Blue Marsh noticed a large white bird sitting on the lake. He was able to identify it as an American white pelican. It is the first time it has been seen in Berks County. The bird was photographed and seen again at Breneman’s Quarry in Spring Township by several birders.

American White Pelican. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
American white pelican. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

Troy Herrel, a member of the Hawk Mountain staff, saw a Leconte’s sparrow at the Kempton Community Center in October. This bird has only been seen a few times in the county.

Another first for the county was a tropical kingbird that showed up in the vicinity of the Weber family Willow Run Farm north of Reading in early November.

Nelson and Grace Weber are local birders and members of the Baird Ornithological Club, and Nelson’s brother Lin and daughter are owners of the farm where the bird was first seen. With the help of Nelson and Grace’s son Drew, who is employed at the Cornell Ornithology Lab, they were able to get a recording of the bird’s vocalizations and identify it as a tropical kingbird.

This bird is fairly common in Central and South America but is rarely seen in the U.S. in the Southwest. The Webers were gracious hosts and welcomed many visitors to the farm to see this rarity.

In late December, Bill Uhrich was walking along the Schuylkill River near RACC looking for an unusually late warbler, an American redstart that he had seen on the Reading Christmas Bird Count. What he found instead was the first record of ash-throated flycatcher in Berks County, a bird of the Southwest.

Flycatchers usually leave the U.S in winter due to the lack of insects that they feed on. A few birders got to see this bird during the last days of 2023,  a fitting end to the birding year 2023 in Berks County.

An Ash-throated Flycatcher found along the Schuylkill River Trail near the Buttonwood Street Bridge in Reading is the first Berks record for this bird of the Southwest. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
An ash-throated flycatcher found along the Schuylkill River Trail near the Buttonwood Street Bridge in Reading is the first Berks record for this bird of the Southwest. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

Every year Berks birders find interesting and exciting species of birds in the county as they pursue their passion for adventure and new experiences. While these sightings are not considered rare, the birds are not seen every year in Berks and the documentation of their presence adds to the history of bird life in our area.

Early in the year, on Jan. 9, an orange-crowned warbler was photographed in the area of the Blue Marsh Lake Dry Brooks boat launch. This infrequently seen bird was found again late in the year in the same area by members of the Weber family.

Orange-crowned Warbler Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
Orange-crowned warbler. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

On the same day in the same place, a clay-colored sparrow was seen and photographed, a handsome bird not found every year in the county.

Clay-Colored Sparrow. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
Clay-colored sparrow. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

In May, L. Ingram heard a reverberating warbler song along the Schuylkill River Trail at Morlatton Village in Douglass Township that she recognized as a prothonotary warbler. The bird was confirmed by a photograph the following day. This warbler is fairly common south of Pennsylvania but not seen every year in Berks.

Prothonotary Warbler. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
Prothonotary warbler. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

Also in May, two of the more elusive flycatchers were seen at Angora Fruit Farm. T. Underwood found a yellow-bellied and many birders saw an olive-sided.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
Yellow-bellied flycatcher. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)
Olive-sided Flycatcher. Courtesy of Russ Hoffman
Olive-sided flycatcher. (Courtesy of Russ Hoffman)

In mid-July, J. and L. Spilde discovered a laughing gull at Blue Marsh Lake. While this gull is common along the Atlantic Coast, it rarely wanders inland and is scarce in Berks County. K. Grim heard and saw the secretive marsh wren in September at Kernsville Stilling Basin. The wren’s loud chatter is easily heard and recognized as it skulks among the cattails.

Long time birder J. Silagy was surprised to see a raft of goose-like birds called brant on Blue Marsh Lake at the end of October. Brant are smaller than Canada geese and sport a thin, white necklace. They can be quite common near the Atlantic Coast but rarely are found inland as far as Berks County.

In December, R. Keller was checking Breneman’s Quarry with a spotting scope looking for visiting waterfowl and spotted a small white goose. He was able to identify the bird as a Ross’s goose. These geese are fairly common in the western U. S. but scarce in the east.

Some other noteworthy sightings were reported in 2023 but did not get listed in the eBird database. A roseate spoonbill was seen and photographed along the Tulpehocken Creek in the Gring’s Mill area. This is a bird that rarely wanders north from the extreme southern part of the country.

An experienced bird counter at Hawk Mountain watched a wood stork sail by on the Berks County side of the lookout. This is another bird of the deep South, but it is more prone to wander.

Overall, the 2023 birding year was exceptional. Local birders were able to add interesting species to their Berks County life list. We look forward to the new year with anticipation of new and exciting experiences.

The local Baird Ornithological Club is the second-oldest club of its kind in Pennsylvania and is open to the public. Check out the website https://bairdornithological.club for more information.

Russ Hoffman is a long-time member of the Baird Ornithological Club and has photographed birds throughout the world.

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Source: Berkshire mont

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