Where to Seek Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs (February 2003)

This is a preview of an article that will appear in the February 2003 issue of The Peregrine. It is posted on our web site in advance because of its special timeliness.

Among the most sought-after winter invaders in western Pennsylvania are Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. They have come to our region this winter, though in rather small numbers, and this edition of "Getting Started" offers suggestions from experienced birders on where to look for them.

For best results, follow four general rules:

1. Go to the appropriate habitat, primarily large open-field agricultural areas.

2. Look for the most likely micro-habitat, patches of fresh manure in snow-covered fields.

3. Watch especially for large flocks of Horned Larks, in which the buntings and longspurs are often found.

4. Stop beside the road and scan the manured patches carefully. Carefully is a key word, because feeding flocks can be almost invisible against the background of brown manure. If the birds are not close to the road, a scope may be necessary to find them. (Important: Don’t walk out into a farm field without first asking the land owner’s permission!)

Buntings and longspurs should still be present through February and possibly well into March, so you still have time to seek them.

The following recommended hotspots are nearly all on country roads, many of them unnamed except for a "T" or "SR" number. You will almost certainly need to use the maps in the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer (and possibly a magnifying glass!) to find the locations. Page numbers and coordinates in the atlas are listed for each area.

Clarion and Jefferson Counties — by John Fedak

      The Lorraine Smith Farm near Shannondale, at the intersection of SR 2001 and Dump Road (page 45, D-5).

      The fields north of Kahle Lake, in both Clarion and Venango Counties, especially SR2009, T359 and T327 (page 44, B-1, and see Venango County below).

      The fields between Lake Lucy and Wolfs Corners (page 44, A-3).

      In Jefferson County, the fields at the intersection of SR 4001, SR 4004, and Route 949 about 4 miles north of Roseville (page 45, C-5)

    All of the above places also have had Rough-legged Hawks as well.

Indiana County — by Margaret Higbee

    The most consistent areas we have found for larks and buntings in winter are the fields west of Marion Center in East Mahoning Township (page 59, B-6). From Indiana, take Route 119 north through the town of Home, past the Marion Center, Route 403, turnoff. Turn left onto Brady Road, SR 4006, about 0.4 miles north of the 403 turnoff. Follow Brady Road to the first crossroad, which is Pollock Road. The area around this intersection is usually well manured in winter and will yield larks and occasionally Snow Bunting. Turn right onto Pollock Road and follow Pollock to the Green Park Farm. The fields to the left have also been productive. (On the DeLorme map, the Brady-Pollock intersection is directly under the "A" in Mahoning.)

    A good area in the southern part of the county is along Roundtop Road between Cresswell and Snyder Road (page 59, D-6). From Indiana, take Route 954 south to the T-intersection with Route 56. Turn left onto 56 toward the town of Brush Valley. Just before Brush Valley, turn sharply left onto T694, Roundtop Road. The first road to your right will be T690, Cresswell. Begin checking the fields on the left for larks and buntings. To return to Route 954, turn left onto Snyder Road, T760.

Lawrence County — by Linda Wagner

      Volant Strips (page 42, D-4). From Route 19 about 5 miles north of Route 108, turn right (east) on Black Road. Check the fields and roadsides through the center of the Strips. This is also a good location for Short-eared Owls, a Rough-legged Hawk, or a Northern Harrier.

      Lake Road area (page 42, D-4). From Route 19 about 4 miles north of Route 108 turn left on Lake Road. Check the fields between Route 19 and George Washington Road (SR 1011). On Dec. 8, 2002, Mike Fialkovich and Jim Valimont spotted 2 Lapland Longspurs, 4 Snow Buntings, and 300+ Horned Larks in this area.

      Plain Grove area (page 43, D-4). Three places:

      1. From Route 108 east of Route 19 and west of the I-79 exit, turn north on SR 1013. Check fields on both sides of the road between Route 108 and Pollock Store Road (SR 1020).

      2. Miller Road (Kind Farm area). Turn right (east) on Pollock Store Road, where there is a country store on the corner, and continue to a "T" intersection after crossing over I-79. Turn left at the "T" onto either SR 4007 or SR 1015 (atlas is not clear on this), then take the first right on Miller Road (SR 1020) to a "Y" intersection. This is the Kind Farm area. Check the fields on both sides of the road. It is also a good location to spot the locally breeding Sandhill Cranes in the spring.

      3. Bonanni Road / McNulty Farm area. Backtrack from the Kind Farm to SR 1013, turn right at the Pollock Store and take SR 1013 north to Bonanni Road. Turn left on Bonanni, left on Old Ash Road, left on McNulty Road (atlas labels this as Foster Rd) and back to SR 1013. The square formed by those roads has hosted Horned Larks in the past. This is also a good spot to see the Sandhill Cranes in the spring and fall. Last winter a flock of 21 Sandhills frequented the area. Turn right (south) on SR 1013 and follow it back to Route 108.

      New Wilmington area (page 42, D-3). From Route 19 take Route 208 west through New Wilmington. After passing Route 18, take the first left on Cotton Road (start checking fields), to the first left on Heather Heights Road, turn right on Cranberry Road and continue in a circle on Cranberry back to the intersection with Cotton and Heather Heights Roads. While on Cranberry Road you can also turn left onto Poverty Point Road, which will take you back to Route 18. This is an Amish farm area and historically good for finding larks, buntings, and longspurs. Rough-legged Hawks, wintering snipe (in the seeps), and the occasional Killdeer can also be found in this area.

Venango County — by Jerry Stanley

    The farm fields just north of Kahle Lake (page 44, B-1) are the best area I know of. From the I-80 exit at Emlenton, take Route 38 north several miles and turn right onto North Kahle Lake Road (T359). Search the farm fields, especially on the north side of the road, which begin less than 1 mile from Route 38. From the stop sign at the end of North Kahle Lake Road, turn right to Kahle Lake or left away from the lake for additional fields on T350. If you notice Rhodes farms, you are in the right area. T327, a quick left and right from the end of North Kahle Lake Road, has productive fields on both sides.

Westmoreland County — by Mark McConaughy

    Crabtree area (page 72, B-3). From Pittsburgh take Route 22 east to U.S. 119. Go south on 119 to a blinking light in Crabtree and turn right at the light onto SR 1022. After about two blocks you will come to a "T". The right turn goes up to Gears Hill Road (T879) and Sheerwood Drive (T856), either of which may take you to spots with flocks of Horned Larks.

    Here are the options after making a right at the "T":

        Gears Hill Road comes in at an angle on the right side of SR 1022. Take Gears Hill to a stop sign and continue straight past structures for Lone Oak Farm onto a dirt section of Pine Drive (T852) — a four-wheel drive may be needed if there is a lot of snow or ice. Lark flocks may be on either side of the dirt section.

        Past Gears Hill Road on SR 1022, turn at the next left onto Sheerwood Drive. Sometimes larks are found on either side of Sheerwood at this intersection, but the best location along Sheerwood is after a right bend and past farm buildings on the right down into a dip in the road. Lark flocks can occasionally be found in manured fields on the left or the cattle corral on the right.

    Back in Crabtree, a left turn at the SR 1022 "T" will take you onto Old Hannastown Road (T875), which has a sharp bend then a relatively long straight section. About half-way down the straight section turn right onto Helen Drive (T741, but DeLorme T856) and go up past the farm buildings onto a dirt section of the road. This may be blocked by snow in the winter and often has a sign that the road is closed. Check both sides of the road before going up a short hill. This usually is the best spot for finding flocks of larks and the occasional longspur or bunting in the corral on the right or in fields to the left just past the farm buildings. If you can continue along the dirt section of the road, it will take you up a small hill to a sharp left bend where it becomes Country Hill Road. After the bend, you will go into a small dip and then back on top of another small hill. At this spot, larks are occasionally noted in the fields to the left.

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