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About the Gyrfalcons in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the Early Eighties, part #1 

Armas Hill has presented the "Birdline", originally from Philadelphia, on the phone and internet for over 3 decades, and on the radio in Delaware for about 10 years.


A List & Photo Gallery of North American Birds, in 6 Parts

Now, from the Birdline Archives, let's go back about 30 years to when I was doing the Birdline only on the phone. It was not yet, of course, on the internet, nor was it even typed on a computer.
The following is from either my hand-written notes or what I typed on a TYPEWRITER, about the most famous of FALCONS ever in Pennsylvania, the GYRFALCONS that were in Lancaster County during 2 Winters in the Early Eighties. 
Here, the scripts of what I read, in early 1982. I hope you enjoy. 

The Birdline, as it was given on the phone:   

From the January 4, 1982 Birdline:

It is a new year, and this is the first edition of the Birdline for 1982. Highlights include these birds, in Pennsylvania: the previously-reported WHITE GYRFALCON, a newly discovered DARK GYRFALCON, a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE on a lake upstate, a BLACK-BACKED 3-TOED WOODPECKER, some BOREAL CHICKADEES, lots of PINE GROSBEAKS, and some GOLDEN EAGLES.

A review of area Christmas Counts will be given later, but, now, let's begin this tape with a bird that has spent the last 5 weeks or so in an area that is not included in any Christmas Count Circle. And that bird happens to be not only the most outstanding bird that's been in our region, but also anywhere in the Northeast US so far this Winter - the WHITE-PHASED GYRFALCON in the Amish Farm Country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It continues to be seen in that same area of the county, west of New Holland.

It was first discovered there, you may remember, back on November 27 (1981), but now more and more people having been seeing the WHITE-PHASED GYR.

Certainly responsible for this has been the discovery of a tree where the GYRFALCON often spends the night. The bird has been seen either leaving that tree early in the morning, often by 7am, or returning to it around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The latter time has often provided more rewarding sightings, as the bird stays and the light is better.

In recent days, the GYRFALCON has returned to the tree at about 4pm on December 29, 30, 31 and January 2 and 3. It did not appear there, however, in the late afternoon on January 1, although it was seen in flight in the area, earlier that day.

An area where the bird has been seen, with some regularity, during the day has been a few miles west of the tree. On December 30, for example, it was seen eating a PIGEON and then preening, along Brethren Church Road.

Another bird, described well as a DARK-MORPH GRAY GYRFALCON was seen, around 3pm on January 1, also in Lancaster County, along Doe Run Road, behind the Manheim Shopping Center, east of Manheim, and north of Lancaster. The bird was seen flying and diving, and it was photographed.

Returning to the WHITE-PHASED GYR for a moment, please do not leave the road to get closer to the bird when it is in the roost tree. A few people went onto the field, yesterday afternoon, January 3, and the bird left.

Also in that area of Lancaster County, west of New Holland, numbers of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS continue to be seen, both DARK and LIGHT-MORPH BIRDS.
Estimates of those numbers, in that area, range from 50 to 75 ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS.

Yet another bird from the North was present, in that Amish Farm Country, west of New Holland: a SNOWY OWL. But the bird was not reported again after December 23 (1981).

From the January 9, 1982 Birdline:

Actually, at least 4 GYRFALCONS have been seen in eastern Pennsylvania in the last two months.

Back on November 14, 1981, two hawk-watchers, Ken Kranick and Dave Simpson, were on the Kittatinny Ridge, at a place called Baer Rocks.
Both of these men have had considerable hawk-watching experience, and both of them enjoy spending their time in that pursuit.
Ken, for example, during the 1981 Fall Season, spent 65 days on the ridge watching hawks. He has done much the same for the last 14 years.
The late Maurice Broun - who, as many of you know, was the first curator at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for many years - spent a number of his later years observing autumn hawk flights, with Ken, at Baer Rocks, located just a few miles south of Bake oven Knob.
It was from Baer Rocks, back on November 14, that Ken and Dave saw a BROWNISH GYRFALCON. The bird flew below them, circled a couple times, and then went on. At one point, it passed within 200 feet of them.
Exactly, one week later, on November 21, Ken and Dave saw another GYRFALCON from Baer Rocks, a bright GRAY BIRD.

It was less than one week later, November 27, when Sidney Lipscutz and Ed Fingerhood were in Lancaster County, looking for LONGSPURS, and found instead the WHITE-PHASED GYRFALCON, a bird that was to become the most sought-after bird in these parts, in a long time - and, in fact, it has continued to be seen and sought after, west of New Holland, as late as yesterday, January 8. People continued looking for it today.

The 4th GYRFALCON in eastern Pennsylvania, as noted earlier this week on the Birdline, was another bird in Lancaster County - a DARK, GRAY GRYFALCON that was found on January 1, when it was seen and photographed from Doe Run Road, east of Manheim.
it may, or may not have been the same bird that was seen today, January 9, but a GRAY GYRFALCON was seen this morning, west of new Holland, by a number of birders as it flew about over the fields by Balmerstown Road, and, in fact, over the tree where, in recent days, the WHITE GYRFALCON has roosted.
That WHITE-PHASED GYRFALCON continued to be seen every day this week.

A white SNOWY OWL has been seen in the area west of New Holland, for the first time since December 23 (1981).

From the January 15, 1982 Birdline:

The biggest story on the Birdline so far this Winter has been, of course, that of the GYRFALCONS (both WHITE and GRAY) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The story has eclipsed all others, but there has been another big story about another type of bird from the North, with the largest incursion of PINE GROSBEAKS into Pennsylvania and New Jersey in years, with unprecedented numbers of them seen.

But now, the latest about GYRFALCONS, and other birds, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania:
Unfortunately, the latest is that there have been no GYRFALCON SIGHTINGS, in the area west of New Holland, since Saturday, January 9.
The last reported sighting of the WHITE GYRFALCON in that area was early in the morning on Friday, January 8.

The next day, however, did turn out to be an exciting day for birders in that area of Lancaster County because many of those birders, to their surprise, saw a DARK-MORPH GRAY GYRFALCON.
The bird was seen at various spots in the area throughout the day, on Saturday, January 9. But that day was also the last day, at least as of now, that the GRAY GYRFALCON was seen.
The last reported sighting of it was after 4:30pm, when the bird was seen roosting, incredibly, in the same large tree, along Balmerstown Road, where the WHITE GYRFALCON had roosted as recently as 3 nights earlier.
However, when the DARK GYRFALCON was seen in that tree, at dusk, on Saturday, it could be seen from the east, from Farmersville Road, but not from Balmerstown Road. earlier.

The DARK GYRFALCON was not seen leaving the tree the next morning, and, although many birders were in the area throughout the day, on Sunday no GYRFALCONS were seen - that day, or any day since.

The SNOWY OWL in the area was seen, however, on Sunday, January 10, along Musser school Road, and it continued to be seen, south of Route 23, as late as today, January 15.

Birders who were by the GYRFALCON ROOST TREE, north of Route 23, by Balmerstown Road, at dusk, on Saturday, January 9, were treated to a SHORT-EARED OWL hunting over the field, by the tree.
As many as 3 SHORT-EARED OWLS were seen in that area that day, and as late as Tuesday, January 12.   

From the January 21, 1982 Birdline:

With bird sightings from the Shore to the Susquehanna, this is the Birdline, with the news of the re-appearance of the WHITE GYRFALCON.

Yes, the WHITE GYRFALCON that has been, this Winter, in the Amish Farm Country, west of New Holland, Pennsylvania, was seen there again, last Sunday, January 17, at 10:10am, by Eby and Hess Roads (an intersection, not a couple of people). 
It was seen chasing some PIGEONS, and then it flew off to the east.

From the January 28, 1982 Birdline:

As unbelievable as it may seem, there is more here about both the WHITE and the DARK GYRFALCONS that have been, this Winter, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
The story about the GYRFALCONS in Lancaster County actually began back in November, and that incredible story seems to have no end.
It continues now, on this tape, with the exciting news that on last Sunday afternoon, January 24, two GYRFALCONS, one WHITE and one DARK, were seen together, for about an hour, flying about over a quarry, northeast of Lancaster.
And, GYRFALCON SIGHTINGS have continued, at that quarry, and elsewhere in Lancaster County, since then.

The quarry is located just a few miles west of the famous roost tree along Balmerstown Road, where both the WHITE and the DARK GYRFALCONS were seen, on various occasions, earlier this month.

Incidentally, the WHITE GYRFALCON was seen roosting in that tree, again, last week, late in the afternoon on Tuesday, January 19. The bird that day could only be seen,  however, from the east, from Farmersville Road.

Returning now to the quarry, along (aptly) Quarry Road, north of Leacock, here is this week's story of the GYRS so far:
Both the WHITE and DARK GYRFALCONS were, as noted earlier, seen together at the quarry last Sunday afternoon, January 24. Both birds were there around 4pm.
The following morning, on Monday, both birds were seen leaving the quarry at about 7:15.
On Monday afternoon, the DARK GYRFALCON was back again on the cliffs of the quarry. It was there from 3 o'clock on, and the story was much the same on Wednesday, January 27, when the DARK GYR was seen there again, around 4 o'clock.
Also at the quarry have been lots of PIGEONS upon which the DARK GYRFALCON has been seen feeding.

The WHITE GYRFALCON was seen today, January 28, back at the spot where the bird was originally found just about 2 months ago to the day: by Musser School and South Groffdale Roads.

The white SNOWY OWL, previously reported on the Birdline, as being in that same area of the Amish Country, west of New Holland, continued to be present there, along Zeltenreich Road, as late as yesterday, January 27.
Zeltenreich Road is off Musser School Road, which is off South Groffdale Road.   

From the February 4, 1982 Birdline:

Our reports begin, on this tape, with those of the GYRFALCONS, again, in Lancaster County.:

There seems to be some question as to how many GYRFALCONS have actually been in Lancaster County lately, and specifically, in the area of the quarry, along Quarry Road, north of Leacock, where GYRFALCONS (in the plural) continued to be seen, as late as today, February 4.

Some people think that recent sightings in that area of Lancaster County have, in actuality, been of two DARK GYRFALCONS and one WHITE GYRFALCON.
Others have noted that when the GRAY GYRFALCON has been seen sitting, as it has been at the quarry, it seems quite dark, but when it's been seen flying, it gives a lighter, gray appearance.  

But, anyway, the bottom line, so far at least, is that never has more than one DARK GYRFALCON been seen at one time.

Last Saturday morning, January 30, birders were treated to two GYRFALCONS, one DARK and one WHITE, together, at the quarry, noted earlier, north of Leacock. In fact, those two GYRFALCONS spent a good part of that day together.
Both birds were at the quarry around 7am. Both birds left. However, soon the WHITE BIRD came back, and, a little later, so did the DARK BIRD.
At about 10am, both birds were seen flying around the quarry. One was heard calling. At another time that morning, both GYRFALCONS were seen sitting, close together, on the ledges of the quarry. They were almost side by side.
A short while later, both birds left the quarry, flying off to the east.
A little while later than that, at about 1:45pm, both birds were seen, still together, near the now infamous roost tree along Balmerstown Road.

Today, February 4, both GYRFALCONS were seen again. The GRAY BIRD was seen this morning by the quarry, while the WHITE BIRD was also seen this morning from along Center Square Road, north and east of the quarry.

From the February 18, 1982 Birdline:

During the period from February 4 to 11 (1982), 1,042 people called the Birdline (we had on that old tape recording machine, at that time, a counter). 
I want to thank every one of you who called, as it was the first time that the "Birdline" ever received over a thousand calls in one week's time.

Many of those calls, of course, were from people who wanted to hear about the GYRFALCONS that have been this Winter in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and again on this tape, you will hear that both of those GYRFALCONS were seen there, this past week, in the Amish Farmland, west of New Holland, and north of Leacock.

And again, this past week, there were sightings of the SNOWY OWL, that's been this Winter in the area west of New Holland, in Lancaster County.
It was seen seen as late as Tuesday, February 16, when it was along Zeltenreich Road. Over the weekend, it was seen on both Saturday and Sunday, along Scenic Road (providing a nice sight, as it was).

That other white bird, the LIGHT-MORPH GYRFALCON, that's been in the same area, was seen on Friday, February 12, just before noon, from along Musser School Road.
Also seen from Musser School Road, that day, was a flock of about 40 SNOW BUNTINGS, including one in breeding plumage.

The DARK GYRFALCON, that's been in that area of Lancaster County, was seen both days last weekend at the Stoltfus Qaurry, north of Leacock.
On Saturday, February 13, it was there in the morning and in the afternoon.
Lots of people saw it there, the next day, on Sunday.
On Monday, February 15, the DARK GYRFALCON was at the quarry in the morning, but in the afternoon, it was in the roost tree along Balmertown Road.

Both the WHITE and the DARK GYRFALCONS were seen swooping together, from Musser School Road, on February 16.

But the Lancaster County Gyrfalcon Story does not end here, far from it. More will be told in later excerpts from the Birdline Archives.  

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