• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Help with Eastern USA hit list (1 Viewer)

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
I'm looking to spend the last three weeks of August in the eastern USA, travelling around in a hired car (with partner and child), and probably flying in and out of NYC.

Although it's my first visit to the eastern USA, I've got what to most US birders might look like a strangely unbalanced list of potential lifers, that I figure might be in range within a 'few days' drive of NYC in August. Any help with specific sites to see some of the harder ones would be really helpful for the early planning stages, so I can even start to decide on a route, and which directions to head in ,, and which directions (and birds) I should realistically forget about! Particularly useful would be sites where more than one of the harder ones are likely in the same area.

So, what would you do, if you wanted to see the maximum number of these in August?....

Audubon's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel, Madeiran storm Petrel, South Polar Skua....
(worth doing a pelagic for these, or would it be more likely a big expense for small chance of sightings?)
Trumpeter Swan .......(too far, and are nearest one introductions?)
Canada Goose.......(are all birds within range introduced?)
King Rail
Yellow Rail.....(too far and too hard?)
Piping Plover
American Woodcock
Ruffed Grouse
Spruce Grouse....(too far?)
Greater Prairie Chicken....(too far?)
Wild Turkey
Barred Owl
Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Red-bellied Woodepecker
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodepecker.... (too far?)
Eastern Phoebe
Acadian Flycatcher
Blue Jay
Fish Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Winter Wren ..(too far?)
Sedge Wren
Veery
Bicknell's Thrush
Brown Thrasher
Blue-headed Vireo
Kirtland's Warbler (too far?)
Pine Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Henslow's Sparrow
Le Conte's Sparrow.... (too far?)
Saltmarsh Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Bachman's Sparrow....(too far?)
Field Sparrow
Rusty Blackbird....(too far?)
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle

I realise that many of these would probably mean going too far one way, at the expense of others. But it would be good to know some sites. I also realise I could probably get a lot of information by spending hours sifting through ebird, but I also know that if someone wanted to visit the UK and western Europe for the first time, and had a similar sized hit list, I (and plenty of others) would be able to provide some good site advice much more quickly than hours spent on ebird, simply because we happen to know the sites already. Any site gen massively appreciated :)

Yours hopefully

Larry

PS, one thing that is a given at some point in the trip, is that we will be heading south at least into Virginia to hook up with an old friend
 
Last edited:

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Perhaps I should add that sites with picturesque camping opportunities, and sites near dinosaur theme parks would be an added bonus!
 

McMadd

You should see the other bloke...
Perhaps I should add that sites with picturesque camping opportunities, and sites near dinosaur theme parks would be an added bonus!

Pretty sure you'll be sleeping in the car with that geographic spread of targets Larry...
 

Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
Pretty sure you'll be sleeping in the car with that geographic spread of targets Larry...

Agree, although try not to do it while the car's still moving :eek!:.

A good strategy to prioritise would be to consider which species the north-eastern states are best for. Some of your birds would be better targetted on a trip to another part of North America, so I would focus on the ones that the east is best for or that are fairly easy there.
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Agree, although try not to do it while the car's still moving :eek!:.

A good strategy to prioritise would be to consider which species the north-eastern states are best for. Some of your birds would be better targetted on a trip to another part of North America, so I would focus on the ones that the east is best for or that are fairly easy there.

Hmmm, interesting thought...but difficult to know which ones to write off from that list :smoke: I guess there's a chance I might one day do a Canada trip, or a Florida trip or a Colorado trip, where some of those would be easier.... I think the majority of them though might be at least as easy within a few days drive of NYC, except for a few that I might as well have a go at??

Starting to think that there won't be time to go too far northeast, given that we will be going south, and will be going to Niagara Falls.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
As you know, that's a big and varied hit list, Larry. I live in western North Carolina (Asheville) and could easily get you 10 of those with more on the way here but this area is probably at the limits of what you'd be willing to travel. If you don't know, late August is just a little early for passerine migration, good for shorebirds (of which there are few on that list) and potentially pretty warm for all day activity. Many of those species will be much harder to find since they won't be singing anymore or at least, singing much less.

Camping in that season would be better at higher elevations to escape the heat and, in some places, insects. A number of the species you seek are coastal, including the pelagics, which doesn't work well with cool camping. Possibly staying in the northeast/New England area would be your best approach. I can't help much with information on the birding there.

Dinosaur theme parks are something I'll leave to others to comment on!

Sorry if this sounds too negative or vague!

Steve
 

Jim M.

Choose Civility
I really think your best bet will be to spend some time on eBird. It will give you information not only on sites, but also the likelihood of seeing birds at specific times of year. The eastern U.S. is a big area, and few of us have intimate knowledge of all of it. But I give you some reactions off the top of my head below. Also note that your travel times start in the post-breeding doldrums and end at the beginning of land bird and shorebird migration. Think you will probably also want to decide whether you want to go for northern birds or southern birds. Going both to the boreal forests of the north and then to the South for, e.g. Bachman’s Sparrow, would probably mean you would be spending most of your time driving rather than birding.

As for specific sites, you might start looking at national wildlife refuges and other protected areas along the coast. Jamaica Bay in New York; Brigantine & Cape May New Jersey (especially towards the end of August); Bombay Hook in Delaware; Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be another place to consider.

Audubon's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel, Madeiran storm Petrel, South Polar Skua....
(worth doing a pelagic for these, or would it be more likely a big expense for small chance of sightings?) [I HAVE SEEN MOST OF THESE ON TRIPS RUN BY BRIAN PATTESON FROM COASTAL NORTH CAROLINA. THESE ARE THE BEST PELAGIC TRIPS OFF THE EAST COAST. BUT YOU SHOULD CHECK THEIR WEBSITE AND/OR EBIRD TO CHECK THE LIKELIHOOD OF SEEING THESE IN AUGUST]
Trumpeter Swan .......(too far, and are nearest one introductions?) [WRONG TIME OF YEAR FOR MOST OF THE EAST]
Canada Goose.......(are all birds within range introduced?) [IN AUGUST, MOST OF THE BIRDS WOULD BE NON-MIGRATORY DESCENDANTS OF FERAL BIRDS. BUT ALL BIRDERS COUNT THEM AS WILD BIRDS. WIDESPREAD IN THE EAST.]
King Rail [WIDESPREAD BUT UNCOMMON IN FRESHWATER AREAS; BUT NOT EASY TO SEE OF COURSE. CHECK EBIRD]
Yellow Rail.....(too far and too hard?) [I THINK THE RELIABLE SPOTS FOR THESE ARE IN LOUISIANA; AND NOT EASY THERE]
Piping Plover [SHOULD BE EASY IN PROTECTED AREAS ALONG THE COAST, E.G. PLUM ISLAND MASSACHUSETTS, OUTER BANKS OF NORTH CAROLINA, FLORIDA]
American Woodcock [I HAVE NEVER SEEN ONE IN AUGUST]
Ruffed Grouse [RESTRICTED TO THE NORTHEAST AND/OR APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS]
Spruce Grouse....(too far?) [THINK YOU WOULD HAVE TO GO TO MAINE FOR THESE]
Greater Prairie Chicken....(too far?) [THINK YOU WOULD HAVE TO GO TO ILLINOIS FOR THESE]
Wild Turkey [WIDESPREAD AND FAIRLY COMMON]
Barred Owl [WIDESPREAD AND FAIRLY COMMON]
Eastern Screech Owl [WIDESPREAD AND COMMON]
Eastern Whip-poor-will [[NOT SURE THESE WILL BE CALLING IN AUGUST]
Red-bellied Woodepecker [HARD TO MISS ALMOST ANYWHERE IN THE EAST EXCEPT THE FAR NORTH]
Red-headed Woodpecker [LOCALLY RELIABLE IN SPECIFIC AREAS]
Red-cockaded Woodpecker [ENDANGERED AND VERY LOCAL; I KNOW OF AREAS IN VIRGINIA AND ALABAMA, BUT THERE ARE OTHERS]
Black-backed Woodepecker.... (too far?) [YOU WOULD HAVE TO GO TO NEW HAMPSHIRE OR FARTHER NORTH FOR THESE; LOCAL AND UNCOMMON]
Eastern Phoebe [WIDESPREAD AND COMMON]
Acadian Flycatcher [COMMON IN SOUTHERN LOWLAND FORESTS, E.G. MARYLAND AND FURTHER SOUTH; BUT NOT SURE IF THEY ARE CALLING MUCH IN AUGUST]
Blue Jay [HARD TO MISS]
Fish Crow [EASY NEAR THE COAST]
Tufted Titmouse [HARD TO MISS]
Carolina Chickadee [HARD TO MISS IN THE SOUTH (MARYLAND/NEW JERSEY AND FURTHER SOUTH)]
Brown-headed Nuthatch [LOCALLY COMMON IN SPECIFIC HABITAT IN THE SOUTH (SOUTHERN MARYLAND AND FURTHER SOUTH)]
Winter Wren ..(too far?) [IN AUGUST YOU WOULD LIKELY HAVE TO GO MASSACHUSETTS OR FURTHER NORTH]
Sedge Wren [CHECK EBIRD; HARD TO SEE]
Veery [WIDESPREAD IN THE NORTHEAST]
Bicknell's Thrush [BREED LOCALLY NEW HAMPSHIRE AND FURTHER NORTH]
Brown Thrasher [WIDESPREAD]
Blue-headed Vireo [BREEDER IN THE NORTHEAST]
Kirtland's Warbler (too far?) [YES, YOU WOULD HAVE TO GO TO MICHIGAN FOR THESE]
Pine Warbler [WIDESPREAD, MORE SO IN THE SOUTH]
Connecticut Warbler [FORGET ABOUT THESE IN AUGUST UNLESS YOU WANT TO GO TO MINNESOTA]
Henslow's Sparrow [RARE AND LOCAL but reliable in interior grassland areas in, e.g. western Maryland, Pennsylvania]
Le Conte's Sparrow.... (too far?) [IN AUGUST WOULD PROBABLY HAVE TO GO TO E.G. MINNESOTA]
Saltmarsh Sparrow [RELIABLE IN APPROPRIATE HABITAT ALONG THE COAST]
Nelson's Sparrow [NOT A GOOD TIME OF YEAR FOR THESE IN MOST OF THE EAST]
Seaside Sparrow [RELIABLE BUT LOCAL IN APPROPRIATE HABITAT ALONG THE COAST]
Bachman's Sparrow....(too far?) [LOCAL IN APPROPRIATE HABITAT IN THE FAR SOUTH; I HAVE ONLY SEEN THEM IN FLORIDA]
Field Sparrow [COMMON AND WIDESPREAD BUT NOT SURE ABOUT AUGUST]
Rusty Blackbird....(too far?) [NOT SURE ABOUT THESE AT THIS TIME OF YEAR]
Common Grackle [COMMON AND WIDESPREAD]
Boat-tailed Grackle [COMMON IN APPROPRIATE HABITAT ALONG THE COAST FROM NEW YORK SOUTH]
 
Last edited:

nartreb

Speak softly and carry a long lens
There's a fair few on that list that are "Maryland or further south"...

August in the eastern US tends to be hot and humid, fine beach weather and there are fine beaches all along the coast, but you'll have to search a bit for picturesque camping (whereas, crowded and noisy shouldn't be hard), and the heat in a tent can be trying, especially as you go south.

Minor corrections to Jim M's more northerly stuff:
-you should be able to find Bicknell's thrush in the Catskills, as I mentioned in the other thread. You will need to hike up high enough to find some spruce/fir forests (or ride a ski lift?)
- spruce grouse is non-migratory and can be found in the Adirondacks (New York state) and in the Whites (New Hampshire), but breeding season should be over by August. They can be aggressively territorial in breeding season but otherwise they've very shy and hard to find. Would need a long hike in very quiet territory (again, you have to reach the spruce forest) and a lot of luck. The Adirondacks would certainly provide opportunities for picturesque camping, though.

-Rusty blackbird: in August, only found in the Adirondacks, Greens (most of Vermont), and a bit of the Berkshires (Massachusetts), plus extreme northern Maine and New Hampshire (and adjacent Canada of course).


Here's some dinosaur-related activity, about two hours from New York City:
http://www.dinosaurstatepark.org/
(Also has small trails and gardens that are good for "backyard" birds, e.g. titmouse)
There are other dinosaur tracks scattered along this same geological formation (i.e. near the banks of the Connecticut River, mostly free and open access), but the link above is the largest and best site in the East, plus it's air-conditioned.

If going northeast, e.g. Massachusetts or Maine, consider a whale watch. I guarantee the kid will be entertained, and you may pick up a few pelagics.
 
Last edited:

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Thanks Nartreb, some useful stuff there.

And Jim, that recommendation of Smoky Mountains is just the kind of thing I was hoping for :t:, as I could then look at ebird hotspots in that area, and saw that quite of few of my "need-a-site-to-stand-a-chance" targets look possible there, albeit maybe tricky in August.

Notably: Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Veery, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Winter Wren, Acadian Flycatcher. I doubt any of them are easy there, but at least it's a start! Anyone think of other specific sites I could try for any of those?

In the spirit of ABA, I decided to loosely code my targets, those above being code 2's and 3's ;)

code 1: - hope to bump into them without specific sites, in decent looking habitat
code 2: - widespread but need to know sites to stand a decent chance
code 3: - few sites and/or difficult to find, but not requiring long distance travel
code 4; - as code 3, but in far flung places
code 5: - ok, I give up...(eg Connecticut Warbler and Trumpeter Swan)
 

nartreb

Speak softly and carry a long lens
wild turkey: They're absolutely everywhere, and they're common. Like deer, they thrive in suburbs: a mix of deciduous woods and open grass. They travel in flocks usually of around a dozen, so when you see one you usually find the road blocked with them (they have no fear of people, except in places where hunting is practiced). They roam around enough that it's hard to predict exactly where they'll be on any given day, but just by dint of spending three weeks in the US, anywhere except Manhattan, you're sure to find some.

(Also, be extremely cautious when driving at night. Deer are numerous and seemingly suicidal.)


ruffed grouse: this bird exists in most of the East, but it's uncommon and extremely stealthy. Your best bet is to take a walk in some remote woods, either in the Northeast (New York State + New England) or the Appalachian highlands, starting before dawn. You'll find it when it explodes from right under your feet. (See a cardiologist first.) Easier to find than spruce grouse, because it prefers lower elevations and has a much larger (and more southerly) range.


whip-poor-will: widespread but uncommon and TOTALLY INVISIBLE during the day. Your best chance, if they're not calling, is to watch the edge of dry pine woods at twilight or moonlight, to catch one in silhouette as it leaves its nest.
 
Last edited:

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
I live in eastern PA (Allentown), and can give some thoughts on what you might find in the mid-Atlantic.

Audubon's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel, Madeiran Storm Petrel, South Polar Skua...Most likely a NC pelagic, though an overnight DE, NJ or NY pelagic might get you some of them.
Canada Goose....Rats with wings. You'll trip over them.
King Rail ...tough to locate in August. There are populations in S. Jersey and Delaware.
Yellow Rail...Not in the east.
Piping Plover ... There are protected areas in New Jersey. Sandy Hook and Cape May for example.
American Woodcock ... Not gonna find one in August
Ruffed Grouse ...They're around here, but tough to find when they're not drumming.
Spruce Grouse....NH or Maine (or north)
Greater Prairie Chicken....Midwest and prairies.
Wild Turkey...Common, but you have to be in the right place to find them.
Barred Owl ...They're around here, but far more common in the SE US.
Eastern Screech Owl ...Common, but hard to find in August.
Eastern Whip-poor-will ...Not calling. I know a couple places where they breed, but I honestly never looked for them in August.
Red-bellied Woodpecker ...Common.
Red-headed Woodpecker ...Very local in the mid-Atlantic.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker ...Southeast US. If you do a NC pelagic, there are areas near there.
Black-backed Woodpecker.... Adirondacks, NH, and north.
Eastern Phoebe...Common
Acadian Flycatcher ...Very local around here. I know one or two territories near me.
Blue Jay ...Common
Fish Crow ...They breed here in PA, but in summer are easier at the coast.
Tufted Titmouse ...Common
Carolina Chickadee ...You can get them in SE PA (Philly suburbs) and S. NJ.
Brown-headed Nuthatch ...Southern Delaware is the northernmost population.
Winter Wren ...They show up here in October.
Sedge Wren ...A hotline bird in the NE
Veery ...Easy to find in the right habitat.
Bicknell's Thrush...Catskills, Adirondacks, or NH.
Brown Thrasher... Fairly common, but trickier when they're not singing
Blue-headed Vireo...Very local breeder in the Poconos.
Kirtland's Warbler....Michigan
Pine Warbler...They breed in the Poconos
Connecticut Warbler ...September migrant
Henslow's Sparrow...Western PA and NY
Le Conte's Sparrow....Not here.
Saltmarsh Sparrow ...Delaware Bayshore.
Nelson's Sparrow ...October migrant along the Jersey Shore.
Seaside Sparrow...Delaware Bayshore.
Bachman's Sparrow...Another one you might get if you do a NC pelagic
Field Sparrow ...Common.
Rusty Blackbird...October/November migrant around here.
Common Grackle...Common
Boat-tailed Grackle ...Jersey Shore
 

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
And I just saw your other thread. To give you an idea of driving distances from Newark Airport

- Niagara Falls is 400 miles
- Cape Hatteras is almost 500 miles
- The White Mountains in New Hampshire are 380-400 miles
- Great Smoky Mtns. National Park is almost 700 miles

That's a lot of driving with a partner and child.
 

nartreb

Speak softly and carry a long lens
To expand on that last point:

Speed limits on major highways vary from 55 mph to 75 mph, but there is an unwritten rule that you won't be ticketed until 10 mph beyond the limit, so traffic frequently flows at 65 to 80.

With reasonable breaks for meals and bathrooms, and anticipating minor traffic delays, you can plan on a 60mph highway average (except during "rush hour" of course), which conveniently means a minute per mile. So 400 miles = 6 hours 40 minutes, or longer than you spent crossing the Atlantic.
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Thanks again guys, and
Birdbrain for the PM :t:

Jeff, you mentioned you knew a couple of sites for whip-poor-will. Would you mind pinpointing them for me, and any recommended spots for Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows at Delaware Bayshore? PM if you prefer?
 

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Hi Larry,

Port Mahon Road in Little Creek, DE is good for Seaside Sparrow. In breeding season they're common. Slaughter Beach Rd. off of Rte. 1 between Milford and Lewes has both Seaside and Saltmarsh. Again, they're harder to find in August, but they're there. My local Audubon Society usually runs an outing to Bombay Hook and Port Mahon in August, and we usually get one or two Seasides.

The best spot I know of near me for Whips is a place called Hell Hollow Road, in the Penn Forest area of Carbon County, PA. The other spot which has fewer birds, and requires a fairly steep uphill hike, is Translater Rd. on the Kittatinny Ridge, just west of Lehigh Gap (between Palmerton and Slatington, PA). I also think they're in the Brigantine area of coastal New Jersey, but I never have a need to go down there for them.

All of these locations have at least a few checklists in eBird and all but Translater Rd. are hotspots. But definitely do some species searches in eBird. There may be other places along your route.

JH
 
Last edited:

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
To expand on that last point:

Speed limits on major highways vary from 55 mph to 75 mph, but there is an unwritten rule that you won't be ticketed until 10 mph beyond the limit, so traffic frequently flows at 65 to 80.

With reasonable breaks for meals and bathrooms, and anticipating minor traffic delays, you can plan on a 60mph highway average (except during "rush hour" of course), which conveniently means a minute per mile. So 400 miles = 6 hours 40 minutes, or longer than you spent crossing the Atlantic.

To add, that unwritten rule really only applies to major highways, i.e. motorways. Local two-lane roads can have speed traps where they drop the speed from 55 mph to 35 mph or 25 mph with a local police officer sitting right after the sign to catch people (and fill the town's coffers). This is rather common in Delaware, especially on roads that lead to the beach resorts in the southern part of the state.

Also note, that several of the major roads in the northeast US are toll roads, e.g. the PA turnpike, NJ Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, and NY State Thruway. The tolls are not nearly as high as the ones in Europe, but they're not insignificant.

And for the record, you need to pay to get out of New Jersey. Pretty much every bridge or tunnel leaving that state charges a toll other than a couple tiny ones off the beaten path. The toll varies by location. NYC area is the highest, then Philly, then the other Delaware River bridges into PA. There is no toll going into New Jersey on those same bridges.
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
This is great guys, thanks. Bit scary though re the tolls :eek!:. Hopefully we'll still decide we can afford the trip, once we look a bit deeper into the likely cost.

Anyone suggest anywhere a bit nearer than the Smoky mountain NP, where the range of spp mentioned earlier (Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Veery, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Winter Wren, Acadian Flycatcher) are gettable?

On a lighter note, I've just realised I've overlooked one: Eastern Towhee, which I'm guessing is likely to be a "code 1, bump-into-it-without-trying" bird (?)
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
This is great guys, thanks. Bit scary though re the tolls :eek!:. Hopefully we'll still decide we can afford the trip, once we look a bit deeper into the likely cost.

Anyone suggest anywhere a bit nearer than the Smoky mountain NP, where the range of spp mentioned earlier (Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Veery, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Winter Wren, Acadian Flycatcher) are gettable?

On a lighter note, I've just realised I've overlooked one: Eastern Towhee, which I'm guessing is likely to be a "code 1, bump-into-it-without-trying" bird (?)

All of them are gettable in NY state, if you decide to head north or west rather than south. An itinerary idea would be to head north up the Hudson valley (I don't have detailed knowledge of the area, but more southerly species such as Acadian Flycatcher would be more likely in that region), visit the Adirondacks (boreal specialties), and head west to Niagara Falls, and return to NYC - maybe include an overnight pelagic trip with Sea Life Paulagics. I've been on several of his trips and thoroughly enjoyed them - Black-capped Petrel is reliable far off the NY coast in August, and Audubon's Shearwater is a possibility (but far more likely off NC).

The catch is most of your boreal targets (Spruce Grouse, Rusty Blackbird, Bicknell's Thrush) are localized in the Adirondacks (Spruce Grouse would require extreme luck) or quiet in August (Bicknell's). Black-backed Woodpecker is also a possibility - I would recommend checking ebird for recent sightings, but Sabattis Bog is one of the reliable areas. Whiteface Mountain is the easiest spot for Bicknell's because you can drive up to their habitat - if you try for them, learn their call notes and arrive at dawn, but they won't be singing.

Winter Wren and Blue-headed Vireo breed in a variety of coniferous and mixed woodlands in upstate NY - I've had them both at Happy Hollow Wildlife Management Area, but there should be many other possibilities. You could also hit Fort Drum, just west of the Adirondacks, which is the most reliable spot I know of in upstate NY for Eastern Whip-poor-will (though again, August would be difficult). IIRC there are also late summer records of Sedge Wren there, but they are sporadic and not to be expected but worth keeping in mind. A couple years ago a few Henslow's Sparrows showed up in a field outside Ithaca, I don't know if they continued to return since I moved away but worth checking in ebird.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top