What a weekend! Chicken Inferno 2004 was incredible, an event for the ages. If our plans for a high-quality website come to fruition, I’ll invite everyone to enjoy the pictures. For now, I’ll just tell you about the trip.

Potter County, PA is as rural an area as you can find only 300 miles from New York City. This is dairy farm country so remote from urban centers as to be unknown even to other Pennsylvanians. The signs as you cross the border from New York into Pennsylvania read “Welcome to God’s Country” although theirs is a god that favors dirt and gravel over asphalt. Signs aren’t even necessary, as the condition of the roads indicates with crystal clarity the point at which Alleghany ends and Potter begins.

This being said, Sara’s family lives in an absolutely beautiful area. Potter County is verdant and wild, especially during the warm month. Summer makes up in height what it lacks in length here.  Every tree, every flower, every tiny bug and blade of grass live out their short season with determined abandon. And of course, there are birds.

We didn’t come to Potter County to go birding. We never do, since our visits always revolve around family and friends. But the birds don’t seem to realize that; they throw themselves desperately at passerby, launching like rockets from tree tops and phone lines. The diversity of the avifauna is distracting. A drive down a local road flushes all kinds of sparrows, warblers, and finches. If your eyes are quick, you’ll catch Belted Kingfisher or Eastern Phoebe on the hunt. You never know what will turn up. We once saw a peacock — Indian Peafowl —  that had gone native, strutting around like one of the county’s plentiful Wild Turkey.

This time, Ann’s feeders turned up hordes of House and Song Sparrow and brilliant House Finch. Common Grackle tried to muscle out the smaller birds, but they could not deter determined American Goldfinch and Black-capped Chickadee. The feeders summoned the spare White-breasted Nuthatch or Blue Jay, yet the main attraction was definitely the mated pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbird. There is something sublime in seeing one of these jewel-toned beauties, so typical of tropical climes, in a place where Frost-Free Day comes some time in mid-June and summer is but a memory by the end of August. The Northeast’s only endemic hummer does not restrict itself solely to feeders. They flit about the flower gardens and fields, and even penetrate into the woods.

Along with plenty of American Robin, our time on Ann and Bill’s farm brought us our one life bird for the trip, a stunning Bobolink perched on a barbed wire fence.

Potter County is a land of rolling hills and river valleys.  The higher elevations attract American Tree Sparrow and Cedar Waxwing, as well as Red-tailed Hawk looking for snacks. Turkey Vulture and American Crow ply these heights, as do a variety of swallows, mostly of the Barn and Tree persuasions. On the Hill, Will’s rambling estate, a number of bird species battle for the best hunting ground.  Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, and Goldfinch are locked in an twisted triangle of territoriality, and woe betide the bird that stumbles into this gang war. I even saw a Peregrine Falcon unceremoniously shown the door. Of course, not even the aggressive kingbird is fool enough to try and shift one of the plentiful Red-winged Blackbirds from their cattail perches. The red-wings are bold enough to dive-bomb humans and have no patience for smaller creatures encroaching on their swampy domains.

Chicken Rampant
Chicken Rampant

The birds of the Chicken Inferno were impressive, but none more so than the guest of honor itself. This year’s chicken reached dimensions undreamed of by those with even a modicum of common sense. Our gargantuan galliform was a colossal 16′ high, 36′ long, and 13′ high. It swallowed 80 bales of hay and a box of fireworks, and probably could have taken the tractor too. The structure was more sea vessel than barnyard fowl, but after days of drunken, dangerous construction, it went the way of all such chickens.  That is to say, it burned.

Chicken Ablaze
Who’s Laughing Now?

Long into the night this chicken burned, spitting sparks and smoke, a beacon for pyromaniacs and madmen everywhere. A great time was had by all. The next morning, the celebrants scattered to the wind, to New York and Rochester, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. We had a chance to test Mason’s tolerance for a seven-hour drive (damn traffic!) and he came up a champ. That bodes well for the future, since we travel out to Potter County three or four times a year. It’s a good thing the place has so many birds!

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.