Saturday, February 13, 2016

Arctic Eagle Watch: PA Codorus State Park

Our first real Arctic front arrived overnight with a near-continuous blast of wind throughout the day today. The windchill temperatures were easily -10' to -20' below 0 F' and windblown snow drifted over the roads making driving particularly hazardous. But I went out anyway! I took the day at Codorous State Park near Hanover, York County, PA, about 30 minutes from home. With the blowing snow and covered roads it took me an hour. But the excitement surrounding the Hanover eagle pair preparing to lay their first egg of the season kept me focused.

My friend Linda was on duty! Hugs, hot coffee, eagle updates, - 18'F at the watch site.

I had checked the PA Game Commission site for today's eagle cam before I left and I noticed that even with nine fresh inches of snow a few days ago (on top of what remained of 30"!) the female eagle was arranging fresh leaves and grass her mate was bringing to her. Last year this pair laid the first of two eggs on February 14. I thought, what the heck - head over and see if any one is watching and do a little hiking in the sub-zero woods. As I pulled up to the eagle watch site I was tickled to find one lone eagle watcher - a friend from near Frederick, MD who made the drive for the same reasons. Linda began following this eagle pair on eagle nest cam last year and became hooked. She now travels with the local birding group, administers the eagle watch Facebook page, and does quite a bit of time at the site helping to interpret for park visitors. "I never knew a thing about eagles before last year," she said, "but once I became addicted, the whole world of birding and photography opened up for me!" We met on a kayak trip years ago and it was really great to find her here, weathering the fierce winds, smiling and excited about 'egg day.'

The nest is visible only in winter from across the mile-wide lake.

I stayed with Linda for as long as I could stand it, which wasn't too long. We both dove back into our cars after ten minutes! The wind driving across the open lake was brutal. She stayed on site as I continued around the park. The staff had been hard at work keeping all lots and roads open, so it was safe to explore even the out-of-the-way places. The wind carried the snow high into the air, piling it into big airborne banks of rolling snow that darkened the sky. 

Rolling waves of airborne snow darkened the sky at the marina, locked in ice.

I pulled out of the wind to take a look at the lake at the marina. Cormorants and ring-billed gulls were hunkered down on the floating docks. Juncos and white-throated sparrows dove under my car for warmth and a windbreak. 

Red-shouldered hawk watching my car as I watched her.

I noticed a flash of red to my side and there in a nearby tree was a red-shouldered hawk watching my car intently as flocks of little birds gathered underneath. Hungry to hunt, she got bored waiting for potential snacks to emerge, so she flew off towards the eagle watch site. I hope Linda got to see her!

Driving Arctic winds turned the lake into a roiling green wavescape.

I left the little birds to shelter at the marina while I pulled up and over the hill. My car was pushed sideways at the crest just as the duty ranger was coming the other way. He stopped and threw both his hands up as if to say "What the heck?!" then rolled up to me and put his window down. We both laughed into the snowy gusts coming through our cars and I think I heard him say "What a great day!" before he quickly put his window up again.  I hoped to find some shelter from the wind in the woods at the campground. I wanted to hike in the worst way!

Scott the Hermit! Another friend out on this crazy cold day!

I parked in the woods at the closed campground gates next to a familiar yellow truck and grabbed my binocs and camera. The wind was wailing over the tops of the trees but on the ground it was calmer. A herd of deer bolted in front of me and I thought what could have possibly frightened them to be charging through the woods like that. Then a shout - "Heeeeeyyyyy!" How could I not recognize the growly but happy voice of another friend, Scott The Hermit.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Scott is pretty much a hermit and lives in the Trails not far from me in a small cabin down by the river. "I love this place in the winter!" Scott can tell you anything about anything. He's a prolific reader. He also hunts moose, elk, bear, and deer and travels quite a bit through northern states and Canadian provinces on his long hikes and hunts. He's a talented woodcarver and is presently working on a raven that he showed me on his phone.

White-throated sparrow.

It's been a very tough week for some us in the southern York County region for reasons I won't go into here, but it was nice to talk to Scott about it. While we stood talking he noticed a few birds that had gathered in our boot tracks on the road. They were snagging wind-blown seeds caught in the hollows of our tracks. I told Scott about the birds diving under my car earlier. "Birds look to us and much as we look to them," he said. He did a few raven calls.

Pigeon Hills woods showing off some of its young chestnut root sprouts.

He went on to explain how these woods were once called the Pigeon Hills because of the millions of Passenger Pigeons that roosted here when there were chestnut trees to support them on their migrations. "Look around and you'll find hundreds of young chestnuts root-sprouting all over these woods." Standing, however, was not helping either one of us stay warm. So we tramped together through the campground. He talked the whole way. He must not get much company down in that cabin. Upon getting back to our vehicles, we noticed the main road completely covered again. "Better follow me home," he said, "that way if the roads are blown over I can pull you out." It's a deal I said. What a great day!

Following the yellow truck back to the Trails.

When will the Hanover Eagles lay their first egg? Follow the nest cam here:
Scroll down to see time-lapse archives of the day! 

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