George and Harry's Habitat Guide to Centre Area Birding


George Young   and   Harry Henderson

You can locate your own birding hotspots using topographic maps of the Centre area and a bit of back-road exploring.  The key to finding new birding sites on your own is an understanding of the relationships between birds, their favorite habitats, and the landscape features that most frequently harbor the appropriate habitat.  The bird species to be seen at a site generally reflect the local habitat, particularly the types of trees and undergrowth.  The vegetation at a given site reflects both human activity (clear cutting, strip-mining, etc.) and the landscape features (slope, creeks, etc.).  Thus we find hemlock/rhododendron slicks in the mountain valleys and grasslands on the reclaimed strip-mines.  The birding in these habitats reflects the plants:  the hemlock/rhododendron combination brings Canada Warblers in abundance, while the grasslands have Grasshopper Sparrows in good numbers.  The following guide lists the key birding habitats of the Centre area along with the dominant plants, typical birds, and characteristic landscape features.

To use this guide, look up the habitat type favored by the birds youíre after and then find likely locations to explore by examining a topographic map.  The wall-sized Centre County map from the USGS is ideal as are the USGS quadrangle maps for smaller sections of Centre County.  Unfortunately, the contours on the Pennsylvania Gazetteer are too coarse for that map to be of much use in bird site selection.  The Penn State Library map has all the USGS quadrangle maps for Pennsylvania so it isnít necessary to purchase your own set of maps.

Once youíve picked out some likely looking sites, drive out to them and have a look.  Many good sites can be reached with a conventional car, even those on dirt roads far off the beaten track.  If a road seems too rough for your car, try again after a couple of weeks of dry weather.  Drought does amazingly good things for central Pennsylvaniaís dirt roads.

Habitat List

1. Mature Hardwood Slopes
2. Gnarled Hardwood Summits
3. Barrens
4. Alder Swamps
5. Swamp Forest
6. Lakes/Ponds
7. Reclaimed Strip-mines
8. Abandoned CCC Camps

Habitat Details

1. Mature Hardwood Slopes

Trees:     oaks,  hickories, maples,  birches,  tulip poplar (the bigger the better)

Understory:     mountain laurel, blueberry, ferns, spicebush (limestone areas)

Typical Birds: Ruffed Grouse and Turkey
  Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpecker
  Eastern Wood Pewee and Great-crested Flycatcher
  White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, and Black-capped Chickadee
  Wood and Hermit Thrush
  Blue-headed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireo
  Ovenbird, American Redstart, and Common Yellowthroat
  Worm-eating, Black-throated Blue, and Black-throated Green Warbler
  Canada, Cerulean, and Hooded Warbler
  Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Indigo Bunting (near openings)

Topography: Steep slopes on the ridge-sides, the Allegheny Front, and canyon sides in the Allegheny Plateau

Example:     The hillsides southeast of the point where Shaverís Creek flows into Lake Perez at the Stone Valley Recreation Area.

2. Gnarled Hardwood Summits

Trees:     chestnut oak,  pitch pine,  sassafras,  sweet birch

Understory:     mountain laurel,  blueberry,  bracken

Typical Birds: Red-breasted Nuthatch
  Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers
  Hermit Thrush
  Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos
  Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers
  Black-and-white Warbler and Common Yellowthroat
  Eastern Towhee, Gray Catbird, and Dark-eyed Junco

Topography: Ridgetops and rockier areas of the Allegheny Plateau.  Flat areas on the ridgetops may be open and dry (with low blueberry) or open and boggy (with highbush blueberry).

Example: Big Flat Laurel Viewing Area north of Bear Meadows.

 3. Barrens

Trees:    Scattered oaks,  pitch pine,  trembling and big-toothed aspens

Understory:     Regenerating aspens,  bear (scrub) oak,  low blueberry  (the waterholes have a diverse flora of wetland shrubs, sedges and herbs)

Typical Birds: Woodcock
 Black-billed Cuckoo
 Screech Owl
 Alder Flycatcher
 Eastern Bluebird and Brown Thrasher
 Downy Woodpecker
 Black-and-white, Black-throated Green and Pine Warblers
 Nashville Warbler and American Redstart
 Blue-winged, Golden-winged and Chestnut-sided Warblers
 Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat
Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee and Gray Catbird
 Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Goldfinch, Field and Song Sparrows

Topography: Large, disturbed areas of sandy soils.  Found on both valley floors (The Barrens) and
 the Allegheny Plateau (such as State Gamelands 12/33)

Example:     The main road through "The Barrens"  (State Gamelands 176).  Barrens habitat can
 have some birds that are normally found in wetter areas (such as Nashville Warbler and Alder Flycatcher).

4. Alder Swamps

Trees:     smooth and speckled alder, highbush blueberry

Understory:     sphagnum,  sedges, spirea sp., leatherleaf (more acid areas)

Typical Birds: Red-shouldered Hawk
 Alder Flycatcher
 Black-throated Green and Yellow Warbler
 Common Yellowthroat
 Swamp and Song Sparrows

Topography: Upstream ends of marshy areas in the ridge and valleys, along slow moving streams in
 flat areas of the Allegheny Plateau.

Example:     The parking lot at Bear Meadows

5. Swamp Forest

Trees:     Hemlock,  red maple,  yellow birch,  white pine.

Understory:     Rhododendron (denser is better).

Typical Birds:    Barred Owl
 Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers
 Acadian Flycatcher
 Hermit Thrush and Veery
 Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos
 Ovenbird, American Redstart, and Northern Waterthrush
 Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers
Canada, Hooded, Blackburnian and Magnolia Warblers,
Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Topography: Flat areas of poor drainage in the valley floors, poorly drained areas on the Allegheny Plateau, locally in some gaps in the ridges.

Example:     Just upstream of the point where Shaverís Creek enters Lake Perez in the Stone Valley Recreation Area;  along the Jean Aron Trail at Bear Meadows.  (The swamp forest along the northern edge of Bear Meadows is much cooler than most of the swamp forests of the Center Region, and contains considerable amounts of black spruce in addition to the tree species mentioned above.)  Golden-crowned Kinglets use spruce groves for nesting.

6. Lakes/Ponds

Trees:     None to speak of Ö

Understory:     Seaweed and algae.

Typical Birds: Loons, grebes, herons, ducks, geese, swans, gulls, terns, sandpipers, swallows, Osprey, Bald Eagle and Belted Kingfisher

Topography: Extensive open water with minimal boat traffic.

Example:     There are four major lakes in the Centre area (Blanchard Reservoir in the Bald Eagle
 State Park, Black Moshannon Lake, Lake Perez in the Stone Valley Recreation Area, and Colyer Lake).  Smaller ponds that are accessible are found at Toftrees, Whipples Dam, Scotia Pond in The Barrens, Poe Valley Lake and the Gatesburg Farm Ponds.  Keep to the edge of the road at the Gatesburg Farm Ponds and use the State Gamelands at Toftrees ? stay off the golf course.

7. Reclaimed Strip-mines

Trees:     Small, scattered exotic evergreens

Understory: Grasses,  legumes,  composites  (weeds!)

Typical Birds: Eastern Kingbird
 Prairie Warbler
 Horned Lark, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark
 Grasshopper, Vesper, Savannah, Henslowís, Field and Song Sparrows

Topography: Marked on maps as strip-mines, but reclaimed as relatively open grassland or savannah

Example:     Clarence strip-mine (near Snowshoe)

8. Abandoned CCC Camps

Trees: Mature groves of exotic spruces, firs, and pines

Understory: Exotic garden shrubs

Typical Birds: Least Flycatcher
 Eastern Phoebe
 Golden-crowned Kinglet
 Black-capped Chickadee
 Blackburnian, Pine, Parula, and Yellow-rumped Warblers
 Chipping Sparrow

Topography: Could be anywhere in the state forests ? just look for the characteristic non-native
 evergreen plantings.

Example:     Near the intersection of Strawband Beaver Road and the Julian Pike at Black Moshannon State Park.


McElroy, Thomas P., Jr., 1974:  The Habitat Guide to Birding.  A Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY, 257 pp.

Wood, Merrill, 1979: Birds of Pennsylvania. University Park, College of  Agriculture, Pennsylvania State University, 133 pp.