This spectacular hotspot in the Harrisburg area is great for waterfowl and other birds during migration.
By Deuane Hoffman | Published: 4/20/2007
West Fairview Boat Launch is one of my favorite places in the Harrisburg area. The Susquehanna River is more than three-quarters of a mile wide there, and the view is commanding. Annually, it and adjacent riparian woodlands host more than 200 species of birds.
Fall can bring all three scoter species and Brant, but spring is often more spectacular. Counts have tallied 500 Buffleheads, 5,000 Lesser Scaup, 250 Canvasbacks, 150 Common Loons, and 5,000 Bonaparte’s Gulls. Little Gulls occur among the Bonaparte’s flocks almost annually in late March and early April, and as many as six have been seen at once.
Summer is often slow, although a nearby mixed colony of Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Double-crested Cormorants can keep things interesting. As many as 175 Great Egrets have been counted coming to roost on a gravel bar on the east side of the river. Also, times of low water levels attract post-breeding waders like Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron and as many as 15 species of shorebirds.
Adjacent East Pennsboro Township Park along Conodoguinet Creek provides excellent riparian woodland habitat. During spring and fall migration, the woods have hosted most regularly occurring Neotropical migrants, including Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, Warbling, Philadelphia, and Red-eyed Vireos; 30 species of warbler; Wood, Veery, Gray-cheeked, Swainson’s, and Hermit Thrushes; and other common woodland birds. A well-defined looping trail approximately half a mile long provides access to the woodlands. – Deuane Hoffman
Deuane Hoffman is a lifelong Harrisburg resident who has been birding for more than 25 years.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Boat Launch
S. Front St., West Fairview
East Pennsboro, PA 17025
Large river, mudflats, and mature riparian forest.
Riverside parking area. Path along creek easy but not wheelchair-accessible.
Geese, ducks, loons, grebes, gulls, herons, egrets, plovers, sandpipers, and other water-related species. Vireos, warblers, thrushes, and sparrows in season in adjacent woods. Rarities: Harlequin Duck, Eared Grebe, White Ibis, Hudsonian Godwit, Franklin’s Gull, Little Gull, and Prothonotary Warbler.
When to go
Migration periods are best. Winter can be good if river is not frozen over.
Portable toilets. Stores and restaurants are within walking distance.
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission property. Always open. Accommodates shallow-draft, lightweight fishing boats, canoes, and inflatable boats.
Spotting scope a must. Opportunities for wading into river based on river levels.