Bird Discovery Delight in All Four Seasons at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve
Contributed by: Jill Squire – The Birding Nurse
When I head down the hill behind the Nature Center to start my walk, anticipation rises as tension slips away. I wonder what birding delights I shall encounter while traversing the various trails of Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. I escape into another world as I pass the Chimney Swift tower.
"Birding" at any level of expertise, from first-time novice to expert, can be an engaging and fun scavenger hunt game, even on your own.
All of the trails at Beechwood Farms offer a shifting kaleidoscope of habitats along the way, creating the opportunity to hear and spot various intriguing and engaging birds. I pause walking at frequent intervals to watch for movement amongst the leaves of the trees, brush, from
tree to tree, and grasses, and listen mindfully.
Pine Hollow Trail has continual elevation changes–some of which are steep, muddy areas, and along the western side of the trail is an arid pine stand that reminds me a bit of California. Fragrant pine needles and gnarled roots with spellbinding patterns carpet this winding path. In the spring, we spotted warblers darting among the brush in the pine stand. Warblers excel at making themselves challenging to see. For me, there is a thrill of victory when spying and identifying one! They are notoriously tricky to tell apart and dart about quickly. A folding warbler field guide is easy to carry in the pocket, inexpensive, and more efficient while tracking these flittering birds than a bird identification app on your phone.
During all seasons in the lower portions of Pine Hollow Trail, where the path winds through thickets of Oriental Bittersweet and the tall ghostly forms of lifeless trees, I have occasionally heard Barred Owls. Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers often call out while we walk the gauntlet of the berried brush, the still air holding their calls over the thickets rather than carrying them along. There is a dark beauty here, and I am always startled when a deer crosses my path. A weight lifts from me when I climb uphill to where the breeze moves about me. I enjoy the low part of the trail for the contrast to everything else, the enigmatic environment, and the different bird calls I hear there.
Meadowview Trail winds around the old pumphouse, making me feel like I am stepping back in time. Keep your ears open for various woodpecker calls while on this trail; you will soon be able to tell them apart. The Blue Jays will make their presence known with their calls while you traverse Meadowview all four seasons, as will the Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Spring Hollow Trail In the spring of 2022, we enjoyed the northern portion of the bend before coming to the creek. Scarlet Tanagers and White-eyed Vireos played hide-and-seek with us among the leaves. We distinctly heard three Tanagers–I would swear they were triangulating–and they led us on quite the chase through the upper canopy to spot their brilliance! With their very distinctive calls and alabaster rings about their eyes, the green White-Eyed Vireos darted about in the lower body of the trees and cooperated a bit more.
In early summer, a gorgeous Indigo Bunting from the top of a dead, spindly tree treated us to a solo concert on the upper western gravel section of Spring Hollow Trail.
We witnessed a Broad-shouldered Hawk navigating majestically through the trees along the lower portions of Spring Hollow Trail in spring, summer, and fall.
While short at 0.14 miles, Goldenrod Trail is chock-full of bird-watching opportunities. You will want to have your binoculars ready to raise to your eyes while on this path. The Chimney Swift tower is a source of great fascination, as the swifts are immediately recognizable by their unique sickle-shaped wings. The Chimney Swifts arrive in late April and leave in early October to
migrate to South America. Behind the Chimney Swift tower, in spindly trees, are a community of chattering Chickadees, who make their presence known during all four seasons. The Chickadees are just as lively in the winter as in the summer. Several Downy Woodpeckers are in this area; with their distinctive black-and-white coloring and chip-chip call – they are great fun to spot traversing up and down trees all year round. While you watch the Downy, you may also catch sight of the perky White-breasted Nuthatch searching for bugs or tucked away seeds along tree bark rivulets. They have a distinctive "widow's peak" pattern of dark coloring coming down their forehead onto their silvery-white face.
An open meadow is past the swift tower, where the Eastern Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, and several species of sparrows dart about catching bugs.
This past fall, on the bridge at the pond's edge, I shared a beautiful moment with another bird-lover; a Nashville Warbler made itself at home for a spell in the reeds, hopping about and making a feast of insects.
In the fall, Cedar Waxwings congregate about berries high in the trees, letting you catch a good long look at them with your binoculars.
The pond can be endlessly fascinating to observe, for all the wildlife thriving in the water and at the water's edge.
The Violet Trail leads into a quiet area of the reserve. I have yet to spot or hear any number of birds on this shortcut path to Spring Hollow. Instead, I find this an excellent place for quiet contemplation, complete with a tranquil site with a bench.
Blue Jays, House Finches, American Goldfinches, and Cardinals populate Woodland Trail year-round, including winter. There is a gorgeous set of steps on this path, wrought by nature, formed by tree roots on this path.
The Broad-shouldered Hawk frequents the Oak Forest Trail; it is awe-inspiring to witness the bird of prey fly with great ease among the close trees. American Goldfinches and Tufted Titmice sparkle through the Oak Forest trail in the summer and early fall, almost like lighting bugs or Christmas lights. It makes me smile every time I think of it. The trail itself, while gnarly and steep at times, is refreshing and fun.
Binoculars and the Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell University Lab of Ornithology can add great fun to the walk. Merlin Bird ID has a Sound ID menu selection, which I don't rely on as 100% accurate but rather as a guide. The sound ID makes for an engaging experience for kids for the
scavenger hunt experience of finding the bird making that call and all levels of birders as they strive to learn bird calls. A small picture of the bird will appear while the Sound ID is running. Stop the recording, and a down carrot next to each recorded bird call appears with a Details selection, which will let you right-swipe through several photographs of and quick informational blurbs about the species – a great game piece for a scavenger hunt and learning.
The Merlin Bird ID and the Sibley Birds phone apps are both helpful in identifying birds by description. I find the Sibley app to be a bit more detailed and helpful in this respect.
What really matters is enjoying yourself, the world around you, and being in the moment. Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve has one of the most diverse populations of birds in Southwestern Pennsylvania tucked into a compact and easily navigated area.