Beer and Birds with the Brits

It was worth all of the pains of preparation to spend a little more than a week with our friends from England, mostly touring the state of Pennsylvania in search of birds, but taking in plenty of good beer, too.  Mike and Rae were terrific house guests and it was a lot of fun taking them all around our state.

Things really got started on Friday when we took off for Pittsburgh (that’s also when the weather took a turn for the worse, but we made the best of it.)  Between raindrops, we searched the flooded fields and swollen lakes for birds, and had a really great time of it – Red-Headed Woodpeckers; Caspian, Common and Black Terns; Common Loon; Ruddy Duck; Green Heron.  There were lots of great birds out there which were enjoyable to watch when the rain slowed.

Inside, we found lots of great beer. Our first stop was lunch at the Jean Bonnet where were one of best beers we had was Monkey Boy from East End Brewing Company.  We were pleased when we checked into the Four Points Sheraton in Cranberry.  It appears that the Chief Beer Officer (CBO) has been doing his job – among other decent beers, they had Arrogant Bastard in bomber bottles which we shared and introduced to the Keuhl’s (who continued to enjoy it all weekend.)  Later that night, we headed out to Mad Mex where my beer was the always-yummy Ithaca Flower Power.

On Saturday, we had a fabulous morning walk at Raccoon Creek State Park, which was full of woodland birds.  The hills allowed us to get great views of the treetops, and the birds were abundant.  Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Red-Eyed Vireo were among the long list of birds observed. And after a nice walk, we looked forward to lunch with a small group of friends at Church Brew Works where I especially enjoyed my short glass of Pipe Organ Pale Ale on cask. The visit to “church” was followed up by a visit to East End Brewing to pick up a bottle of Gratitude and do a bit of tasting.

As part of my campaign to “Take Back the Basement in 2008,” I was not opposed to having a few people up to our room later that night for a little tasting. Since it was the conference hotel, a steady stream of visitors came through the door, and we ridded ourselves of a little more than a case, attempting to match people to new beers.

Sunday was windy, cold and wet, but our patience paid off while looking for our target bird – Upland Sandpiper – in the reclaimed strip mines.  What better way to celebrate a good day in Butler County than by going to North Country Brewing Company for lunch, and then taking a great walk at Buttermilk Hill. Our friends Kathie and Jerry hosted all four of us, and helped us target a few key species such as Purple Finch and Swainson’s Thrush. Kathie even sent Jerry out with hot hors d’oeuvres and excellent beer (Eel River Triple Exhultation Ale was the favorite of our crew) while we waited for the Woodcock to make his appearance.

In the morning, we took a great walk down to French Creek, where we got excellent views of a Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-throated Green, Cerulean Warbler and Blue-headed Vireo. It was quite a day and, as always, a great visit, but we had more beer and birds ahead.

Monday afternoon was filled with birding in Cook Forest State Park, several attempts for Henslow’s Sparrow (which were met with success at Troy Hill Road outside Phillipsburg.)  The skies cleared and the winds slowed as we approached State College, so we spent our evening in the Scotia Barrens, where Ruffed Grouse, Woodcock and Whip-poor-wills were abundant (and we also saw Striped Skunk!) There was no better way to celebrate these elusive birds than to enjoy a really nice dinner (crab cakes for Mike and I) at Otto’s Pub & Brewery where pitchers of Arthur’s Mild Ale were on special. Our British friends discovered Double D IPA, which has long been one of my favorites and quickly became one of theirs.

Things looked positive on Tuesday, and we headed over to Bald Eagle State Park for several things, including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Golden-winged Warbler and, of course, Bald Eagle. From there, we drove north to East Branch Swamp Natural Area in the Sproul State Forest. We had some nice mixed flocks on the way there and also in the swamp, but the rain began to fall heavily, so we changed our plan a bit and headed to Woolrich for a little shopping instead. This ended out chances for finding our English friends a porcupine or black bear, but the rain and wind were extremely frustrating.

Next, it was time for lunch, and we were very close to Williamsport, so Bullfrog Brewery was our destination. With my lunch, I particularly enjoyed a glass of Chocolate Bock, described by the brewery as “a rich, dark German-styled bock beer brewed with eleven pounds of Belgian dark chocolate,” weighing in at 6.8% ABV and served in a 12-oz glass. D enjoyed an Imperial pint of Coffee Cream Stout, described as “a coffee and beer lovers delight” with “10 pounds of freshly roasted Sumatran Mandling coffee and 55 pounds of lactose giving this beer a smooth and creamy coffee flavor,” and measuring 5.8% ABV. And being big fans, of course we got a growler of the Smoked Porter to take home and share with D’s parents. Mike and Rae discovered our family favorite – Edgar IPA – which they enjoyed immensely.

Lunch was followed up by a visit to Bavarian Barbaraian where we finally got to have our taster of Weldspatter IPA which poured a dark amber with a large, creamy head and an herbal aroma. It had a heavy, bitter hop flavor and very little sweetness – it is well balanced and well done. We took a growler of that home, too.  It was nice to hang out a bit with the Heller’s and chat, and for the ride home, the weather cleared a bit.

We stopped off at Weaver’s, which is an Amish farm market and bakery on Route 15 with fresh vegetables, plants, jams, and delicious baked goods such as bread, whoopie pies, fruited pies and cookies. It is just south of Port Trevorton on the Susquehanna River, and should not be missed.  We went home with Shoofly pie, blueberry pie, rhubarb pie, two kinds of whoopie pie, raisin-filled cookies and seven-grain bread.

I had to return to work on Wednesday, but D made sure Mike and Rae made the best of their last two days of birding in PA.  They also got a chance to visit Tröegs, and last night, we tripped up to Selin’s Grove Brewing for supper (joined by Nana and Pop, and Tina, who just flew in from Germany.) Several of us enjoyed the SNAFU IPA, which was on cask, and I had my glass of Phoenix Kreik. I hear rumor that for a final beer stop, they did go to Sly Fox Brewing today, but haven’t gotten details on which pub or what was tasted.

It was a busy little tour, and we’re so glad we finally had an opportunity to take them around our state. They went home with healthy bird lists, and a nice taste for the beers available to us in PA, and it was brilliant fun for us to be in their company.

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