Sharon Black of Shavertown uses her binoculars to get a closer look during a birding expedition sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited.CHARLOTTE BARTIZEK/FOR THE TIMES LEADER
Drinking coffee grown in the shade of tree canopies can help the threatened cerulean warbler.SUBMITTED PHOTO
Birders pause to listen and look into the underbrush during a walk at Frances Slocum State Park.CHARLOTTE BARTIZEK/FOR THE TIMES LEADER
The plump gray bird perched on a sumac branch, unfazed by a dozen hikers who stopped in their tracks and whispered:
“It’s a catbird, a gray catbird.”
“Why do they call it that?”
“Because it sounds like a cat. But they aren’t singing this time of year. He’s probably feeding on that sumac.”
The catbird on the sumac, an osprey by the lake and hawks in flight were but a few of the feathered creatures the early-morning adventurers spotted recently at Frances Slocum State Park in Kingston Township.
Walk leader Bruce Troy, Wild Birds Unlimited store owner Craig Yarrish and Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society President Bob Wasilewski took part in the Saturday stroll, helping less-experienced birders identify everything from cedar waxwings to a pied-billed Grebe.
“Now I can cross ruby-crowned kinglet off my list,” Shirley Wicker of Thornhurst said, neatly noting a sighting in the back of her Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide.
“I’ve only lived in Pennsylvania four years,” she said, “and I’ve already seen more birds here than I did in nine years in Michigan.”
One bird the group didn’t spot on this Saturday morning was the cerulean warbler, a tiny creature that favors high treetops in old-growth forests.
The bird, named for the male’s brilliant sky-blue plumage, is the focus of Dallas native Katie Fallon’s recently released book “Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird.”
For Fallon, 35, daughter of Joe and Emily Sallitt, fascination began early. “My first word was bird,” she said, recalling how she watched prolific chickadees and cardinals at her mother’s feeder.
As an adult the author, who teaches creative writing at West Virginia University, sought out the more elusive cerulean warbler, which she describes as “notoriously difficult to spot.”
Deep within a West Virginia wildlife management area Fallon not only saw and heard the warblers, she helped researchers capture, band and release them. As she held one, she estimated its weight as the equivalent of two nickels and considered with awe its long migration from Appalachia to the Andes and back.
Sadly, Fallon noted, the warblers’ habitat is threatened in both locations.
In West Virginia the bituminous coal industry has removed entire mountain tops including the hardwood trees in which the birds typically nest. In Colombia, acres of old-growth forests have been replaced by agriculture, including full-sun coffee plantations, to the point where Colombian biologists estimate only 10 to 40 percent of the birds’ preferred habitat remains.
One of the easiest ways for American consumers to help the birds survive, Fallon believes, is to buy coffee grown in shaded areas, under the tree canopy.
Shaded coffee grows more slowly than the full-sun variety but doesn’t need as many pesticides and tastes better, Fallon said. It can be ordered online through the Audubon Society or American Birding Association if your local grocer doesn’t have it.
To learn more about birds:
Go birding at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 12 at Frances Slocum State Park in Kingston Township with Wild Birds Unlimited. 675-9900
Visit Hawk Mountain in Berks County from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 to meet Katie Fallon, author of “Cerulean Blues.”
Visit Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey with a group from the Monroe County Environmental Education Center on Nov. 15. $20 for non-members. 570-629-3061.