Spring days bring the promise of outdoor fun. The sunshine is warmer. The air smells fresh, with a soft scent of spring. Bird songs drift in the breeze. The forest lands of the Allegheny National Forest, located in northwestern Pennsylvania, reawaken with a blush of spring green.
Birding in the Allegheny National Forest
Birding is a popular and fun activity which can be enjoyed by all ages year round, but springtime holds a special gift as bird migration usually takes place for songbirds during mid-April to the end of May. More than 200 species of birds can be found in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), including American bald eagles and osprey. Most commonly found are wild turkey, and ruffed grouse, the state bird of Pennsylvania.
American bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are among the largest birds of prey. They may weigh up to 14 pounds and have seven-foot wingspans. Bald eagles are readily identified by their white heads and tails; however, they don’t attain this plumage until five years of age. They nest in large trees near water. Bald eagles have been sighted at the Allegheny Reservoir, Tunungwant Creek, Smethport’s Hamlin Lake, and north of Eldred along the Allegheny River and Oswayo Creek.
Osprey (Pandion halaetus), large fish-eating birds of prey, usually mate for life. Osprey nests may be viewed from Rt. 321, along the Longhouse National Scenic Byway north of Kane, Pennsylvania.
Avid birders suggest the following sites for birding within the Forest.
Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trail is named for the American woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle, a bird species that uses both open areas and forest woodlands for mating and nesting. This trail is wonderful for birding beginners. Informational and interpretive signage is located along both trail loops. The Woodcock Loop, 1 ¼ miles in distance, is marked with yellow woodcock insignia and features 12 interpretive stops. The shorter Bluebird Trail, ½ mile in distance, is suitable for parents with small children, and features six interpretive stops. Trailhead parking is located along Route 59, just west of the intersection of Route 59 and Route 770. From Bradford, travel south on Route 219, turn right onto Route 770 heading west, at the intersection with Route 59, turn right, then watch for the large brown Forest sign for trailhead parking.
Buzzard Swamp, south of Kane, includes a 11.2- mile trail system, with several loop and connector trails. Buzzard Swamp has fifteen ponds built to offer habitat for wildlife, making this one of the best wildlife-viewing trails in the ANF. With exceptional habitat diversity, numerous species of waterfowl, wading birds, forest and grassland songbirds, call Buzzard Swamp home. Bobolink, Field Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Eastern Meadowlark, Indigo Bunting, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Red-shouldered Hawk and Woodcock are within this area.
Big Bend Birding Overlook located along Route 59, just past the Kinzua Dam, between Bradford and Warren, offers an overlook of the Kinzua Dam spillway.
Rimrock Overlook, a developed overlook in the ANF, offers a canopy-level view of forest songbirds set among massive borders, with great views of the Allegheny Reservoir. Hermit Thrush is a common breeding species, and nests throughout the trails and picnic area. Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks soar above and around the overlooks, often flying below eye-level. Other breeding forest birds include American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Eastern Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Tracy Ridge Campground, is where you might glimpse a Northern Saw-whet Owl from March through July. Cerulean Warblers sing in the oak trees along the Tracy Ridge Trail. The Mourning Warbler will likely be seen in clear-cut areas. If you enjoy hiking, you can access both the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Bullis Hollow Trail from the Tracy Ridge Campground in the Allegheny National Forest.
The “National Audubon Society-Guide to Birds” written and illustrated by David Allen, is an excellent birding guide book.
- Peak migration period for song birds is mid-April to the end of May
- Generally, birds are secretive and shy. Learning bird songs will aid in species identification
- Observe birds when they are most active in the early morning, especially during breeding season
- Binoculars recommended for birding are: 6 x 32, 7 x 35, 8 x 40, 7 x 42, 8 x 42 or 8.4 x 44
- Buy binoculars that have a single focusing knob located between the two barrels that turns one to one-and-a-half times. Don’t buy binoculars with separate focus adjustments on the two barrels-they’re too slow to be useful for birding.
A variety of excellent nature and wildlife books are available at the Bradford Ranger Station, 29 Forest Service Drive, Bradford, Pennsylvania, located at the intersection of Route 59 and Route 321, in the Forest. Birding books sold at the Ranger Station through ENFIA (Eastern National Forest Interpretive Association) include: 1.) Peterson First Guides: Birds by Roger Tory Peterson; 2.) Peterson Field Guide – The Young Birder’s Guide Birds of Eastern North America by Bill Thompson III; 3.) Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America by Roger Tory Peterson; 4.) Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide by Stan Tekiela.
It’s More Fun if You Stay Over
Cabins, campsites, and tent only sites can be reserved by calling 877-444-6777 or on-line at www.recreation.gov. Other suggested accommodations near to the Forest and Buzzard Swamp include the Olmsted Manor Carriage House in Ludlow, PA, 814-945-6512. In the near the village of Kane, the Kane Manor, a Bed & Breakfast, 814-837-6522, and Spoonwood Inn, 814-561-1365.
Plan Your Trip
Spring is a wonderful time to enjoy birding in the Allegheny National Forest. To help plan, a full overview of all the lodging, restaurants and other exciting things to see and do in the region is available on-line at: www.VisitANF.com. You can also download a map of the Allegheny National Forest area here.
Photos courtesy of Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau.