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Boreal Mountain Forest Bird Project Guide Protections for Rare Species

Boreal conifer forests are important for Blackpoll Warblers which are state endangered in Pennsylvania; photo by W.H. Majoros.
For several years, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has investigated the boreal mountain forest birds of the state.  Information gathered from such studies is informing management on state game lands and state forests. Furthermore, guidance documents for environmental review were finalized in 2013 for both Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Blackpoll Warbler, both state endangered species.  These documents will guide protections and management of locations that support these and other rare species that occupy this unique habitat.

Boreal conifer forests, mountain habitat islands that can be small and isolated, support breeding populations of several rare species including Northern Waterthrush, Canada Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow, and are currently the southern breeding range extent for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Blackpoll Warbler.  These forests are part of an extensive forest block known as North Mountain of the Allegheny Plateau, where there are populations of Northern Saw-whet Owls, Swainson’s Thrushes, and other species of northern affinities.

The largest population of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers and Blackpoll Warblers are in the Dutch Mountain wetlands of Northeastern Pennsylvania, mostly on State Game Lands. These boreal conifer swamps known as Coalbed Swamp, Tamarack Swamp, and others are dominated by red spruce and hemlock with northern hardwoods, extensive shrub and fern cover, pit and mound topography, and dense moss cover as important habitat components. The state’s Yellow-bellied Flycatcher population has been studied since 1985 and Blackpoll Warbler nesting population was discovered in 2004.  In 2013, surveys found at least nine Yellow-bellied Flycatcher territories, seven of which were in Coalbed Swamp.  At least four Blackpoll Warbler territories were found including a new population in Boulder Run Swamp.  Nesting was confirmed for both species.  Yellow-bellied Flycatchers have persisted in Coalbed Swamp for 20 years since their discovery there in 1994.  Other Flycatcher populations in nearby wetlands have been intermittent but persistent since the mid-1990’s. One of the surprising characteristics of these isolated populations is their persistence suggest good habitat quality.