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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Glenolden CBC area 3 – an Industrial Wasteland or a Gem in the Rough?

Glenolden CBC Area 3


Glenolden CBC area #3 extends along the Delaware River from the Philadelphia Airport south to Marcus Hook.  The area extends west from the riverfront only a few miles and the eastern boundary actually lies in Gloucester Co., NJ.  There has been a long-standing agreement with the NW Gloucester Co., NJ CBC that we can count all birds seen on the New Jersey riverfront.  My guess is that 85-90% of the count area is comprised of some type of industry including a major international airport, a busy east coast shipping lane, a large power plant, two refineries, a main interstate highway that connects Maine to Florida, two railroad lines and a soccer stadium. What is not industry, is made up of clustered row homes, abandon homes, two cemeteries and a three block long junkyard full of cars and car parts.  Oh, did I mention that there is also a Super Fund site within the count area?  

To make birding a bit more challenging, this 85-90% is private property or posted as off limits for national security reasons. The area is  readily equipped with remote cameras, roving security guards, police and probably water-boarding if we would make a false move.  Despite these obstacles, this area has turned out several outstanding species in prior counts including Common Loon, Long-tailed Duck, Surf Scoter, American Woodcock, Wild Turkey, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned, Pine and Nashville Warblers and Common Redpoll.  This area produces first-class species because the 10-15% of non-industrial space contains a large river with several good access points and a small but productive public park. 

The following are several of the better birding areas travelling north to south. The south end of the Philadelphia International Airport can be viewed from the UPS employee lot.  Scanning the open areas of the airport can sometimes produce Northern Harrier, American Kestrel and if luck has it, a feeding flock of Snow Buntings. Stopping along the road that borders the airport property is prohibited but a slow drive with the windows down will help you pick up sparrows and other songbirds.  A brief look towards Tinicum Island, especially at low tide, might produce a few Wild Turkeys foraging on the beach and Bonaparte’s Gull is always a possibility. Police frequently patrol this road and while some officers might be a little liberal in their interpretation of the no-stopping rule, I have found the majority will ask you to move on. 
Governor Printz Park near the intersection of Wannamaker Ave. and 2nd Street in Essington is a good place to scan the river and the south end of Tinicum Island.  

Moving further south to Chester, one of the best river access points is Fisherman’s Park and the adjacent bike trail at PPL Park (soccer stadium) at the end of Flower St. 
PPL Park. Home of the Philadelphia Union soccer team.
From here, you can view a wide portion of the river both north and south. Gulls abound, mostly Ring-billed, but there is always a scattering of Herring and Great Black-backed.  Lesser Black-backed has also been seen here. 

For the CBC there are three target species here, Tundra Swan, Great Cormorant and Peregrine Falcon.  The swans are usually loafing on the New Jersey shoreline and to count them well a scope is needed. There are usually several Double-crested Cormorants moving along the river and they should all be examined for Great Cormorant that winters here in small numbers. 

Double-crested Cormorants are frequently seen flying along the river or resting on pilings.

Peregrines frequent the Commodore Barry Bridge and occasionally will make a foray for one of the several pigeons that call many of the nearby abandoned buildings home.  Walking along the bike path here can produce songbirds (mostly sparrows and goldfinches) but the area looks like it has the potential to hold a western stray or lingering catbird or thrasher.  

View of the Commodore Barry Bridge from Fisherman's Park. This is a good spot to watch for Peregrines.

The area behind PPL Park is a good location to search the river and walking the bike path south to the nearby office complex can be productive for songbirds.  

Northern Mockingbird along PPL bikepath.
Veteran’s or Municipal Park (both names are used) at the base of Market St. in Marcus Hook is another area to search the river for goodies. The park also contains a small section of pine trees where we once found a Pine Warbler and this year two Red-breasted Nuthatches.

Veteran's Park at the foot of Market St. in Marcus Hook a great place for observing the river.

Two views from Fisherman's Park shortly after dawn

There is a small colony of House Sparrows located in the park and sometimes other species have joined them such as this Pine Warbler (below) in 2009.

Ring-billed Gulls are common anywhere along the river.

The key to finding high-quality birds along the river is patience. A birder has to spend several hours standing, scoping and scanning to be rewarded with an exclusive gull or waterfowl species.  This can quickly get wearisome in harsh weather or after you have sucked up your yearly quota of refinery emissions.

Ring-billed Gulls - 2nd winter (left) and 1st winter (right).
Area #3 also contains the small Henry Johnson Park, which is comprised of deciduous trees, a creek and large areas of edge habitat and a power-line cut . Since there is very little similar habitat nearby, this park can be very birdy at times.  It is a good place to pick-up songbirds and there is usually at least one Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk present.  

A few of the better birds we’ve had here include Common Redpoll, American Woodcock and Pine Warbler.  This park is a place I look forward to visiting on count day because I think it has potential to harbor anything - including a homeless person’s encampment that we happened upon one year.

Looking east the park contains a creek running through this long power line cut of nice edge habitat.

Looking west there is a nice collection of deciduous trees and beyond them, a small second
growth woodland.

Common Redpolls, American Goldfinches and House Finches at Henry Johnson Park Glenolden CBC 12/15/2007

When one envisions Christmas Bird Counts the scene usually includes idyllic snow-covered fields teeming with birds or woods quiet with new fallen snow and trees holding cardinals, chickadees and maybe even two turtle doves and a partridge, but in Area #3, it is more fun finding a catbird sitting on a cemetery fence in the shadow of a refinery or coming across a Nashville Warbler feeding with a flock of Palm Warblers on the sunny side of a dilapidated building. There are always a few surprises !!

I can always count on finding this guy. This penguin species has been present at this same location on this very piling for the past three years.  You just never know in area 3.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cape May - Lewes Mini Pelagic

Terminal Building
      The Birding Club of Delaware County met on 11/17/12 at the Cape May - Lewes Ferry dock at 9AM for what was going to be a very breezy ride to Lewes. We had eighteen brave souls attend the inaugural cruise and amazingly not one of the spirited crew got seasick. 
      Since there was a large boy scout troop that arrived in between all of us birders, it took a lot longer than anticipated to buy everyone's tickets. One birder, Janet Foote, tried what she thought would be a faster way to get her ticket, by using an automated machine but the machine ended up eating her credit card and the attendant had to take the machine apart to retrieve it (Seen in below photo upper left).
A few of the guests arrive
      Well, we managed to leave on time and as we were pulling out everyone was bundled up and ready to bird. Leaving the canal area Chris Langman spotted a few Purple Sandpipers at the end of the jetty and there was also a Ruddy Turnstone mixed in the flock. We managed to spot Herring, Ring-billed, Great Black-backed, Laughing and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the crossing.

Anxiously awaiting a flock of Scoters
Surf Scoter (Photo by Amy Langman)
     We started getting birds about a mile out when Bill Roache found the first three of several dozen Northern Gannets.  
Northern Gannet
     At first it was quite hard to pick out the distant scoters and identify them to species but we eventually were able to approach all three species close enough for good viewing and identification. We also had a ton of Red-throated Loons that were being flushed off the waters in front of the approaching ferry. I started counting them on the return trip and got up to thirty and gave up. We probably saw at least two hundred of them.  As we got closer to Lewes we enjoyed a quick pass of a Long-tailed Duck off the starboard bow. Just before the terminal dock we spotted a Peregrine Falcon perched on the tower on the end of one of the jetties. 
Peregrine near Lewes (Photo by Amy Langman)
      Other ducks we were able to find were Red-breasted Mergansers and Buffleheads. One Horned Grebe was spotted in Lewes along with Double-crested and Great Cormorant. Sanderling and Dunlin were on the beach at Lewes and we tried to find an Oystercatcher or a flock of Snow Buntings at Cape Henlopen beach as we passed by but to no avail.
       But the highlight of the day came about halfway across the first crossing. The group was standing on the bow and I happened to look over the side and back towards the stern when I saw a small dark bird approaching the ferry. I have seen female Red-winged Blackbirds on this crossing in the past, so I was expecting this bird to be that species. Suddenly as the bird quickly passed right next to and below me, I realized what I had. I yelled out to the group "White-winged Crossbill!". As if to give the birders a better view the bird flew across the bow and circled around and flew right back towards us. The bird crossed right in front of us, so close that I thought I felt the breeze as it passed. It hung around the ferry for about five minutes trying to find a place to land and take a rest, but it was very nervous about where to put down. It finally made a quick landing on the front netting on the bow next to two surprised passengers. Everyone was able to enjoy great looks as the  bird constantly flew around in front of all of us.
White-winged Crossbill onboard (Photo by Amy Langman)
White-winged Crossbill circling ferry (Photo by Amy Langman)
        As we returned to Cape May, Amy Langman found an all white gull sitting on the jetty that she believes was an Iceland Gull. This was gull species number six. We ended the trip with 26 species from the ferry. So I would have to say that the trip was a success.
       After the trip I went and drove around town near the state park in search of crossbills but had no luck. However, I was able to see approximately 30 or so Cave Swallows flying around the beach along Harvard Ave which parallels the beach. Also I found four species of dove today. Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, 2 Eurasian Collared-Doves and to my surprise a White-winged Dove.
White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove with Cave Swallow in background left of wire
Cave Swallow (Photo by Amy Langman)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Anna's Hummingbird in Newark, DE

Anna's Hummingbird - notice pink gorget feathers
     This morning I had the pleasure of visiting a home in Newark, DE to view the newly discovered Anna's Hummingbird. I was hoping I wouldn't have to wait too long to try to get some photos. I walked around the back of the house to where the feeders were and heard a voice welcoming me, but I looked around and couldn't see anyone. Finally I noticed the owner up on the patio welcoming me. He said to come on up, but as I was climbing the stairs, he told me to stop. The hummer was right in front of me, so close I couldn't focus my binoculars on it.
Notice short bill and white tail feathers
      After backing off a little I could view the hummer. Then I proceeded to get closer again and started taking photos and videos. Notice the hummingbird's heavy appearance.  Also the short, straight bill and the neat rose-pink gorget which is diagnostic for Anna’s. The belly area is gray, as is the crown. The video I have also has the high pitched calls on the recording. The homeowners are inviting guests to come see the hummer. The address is 257 Delaplane Ave in Newark, DE

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Grebes, Grebes and More Grebes

Memorial Lake Outflow
     After hearing about the spectacular grebe show going on at Memorial Lake in Lebanon County, I decided to head there to check it out. Upon arrival, I did a quick glance out into the lake and I immediately found a few Horned Grebes. Setting up the scope and scanning revealed some birds across the lake. They turned out to be Pied-billed Grebes and a large raft of waterfowl, including Ring-necked Ducks, one Am Wigeon, lots of Coots and Gadwalls, plus both species of Scaup. 
     I decided to move over to the dam area where the viewing was better. Walking down to the water's edge I spotted the Red-necked Grebe.  He was very actively feeding, diving and surfacing with a fish in his bill.
Red-necked Grebe
      After watching him for bit I looked to my right and there was the Western Grebe just floating around minding his own business, not seeming to be out of place at all. What the heck is this guy doing in PA?

Western Grebe   
       One more grebe to go, the Eared Grebe. This guy proved to be a worthy opponent. I had to circle the lake twice to finally find him. Nick had told me that he was difficult to find because he hugged the shoreline. But I finally was able to get a good look at him and a few photos, but unfortunately into the sun.
Eared Grebe
Alert Horned Grebe and resting Western Grebe

Friday, October 26, 2012

Yellow Rail - An Adventure of a Lifetime

Banding of the Yellow Rail
     Sharon and I arrived in Jennings, Louisiana for the Yellow Rail & Rice Festival. We have been looking forward to this trip for a good three months. The plans called for all the participants to go out in the rice fields as the farmers were harvesting their second crop of rice. The fun part (beside finding Yellow Rails) was getting to ride on the farmer's combine during the harvest.
Participants riding the combine
That's us disembarking the combine
       We were lucky to find a Yellow Rail on our first time out. Most riders didn't have the thrill of finding their lifer Yellow Rail until the second day. Besides the Yellow Rails, we also were able to observe about 10 Virginia Rails and an amazing 100+ Soras.  
      Even before we arrived at the rice fields Sharon and I found some other nice birds. Lots of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. There were thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese and Long-billed Dowitchers. Another 500 White-faced Ibis and lots of shorebirds, including Stilt Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets.
Some of the many Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks
      On day 2 we awoke to very thick fog so the rice couldn't be harvested because the fields were wet and that would clog the combines. So we headed to Lacassine NWR where we added Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. We also saw many Common Gallinule and after much searching were able to find a juvenile Purple Gallinule. Other birds of interest were Anhingas and Neotropic Cormorants and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Common Gallinule

Yellow-headed Blackbirds mixed in with other blackbirds

     The bird banders were out in full force on the second day and there were nets up everywhere. They had a tough job because once the combine made a pass along one or two rows of rice they would have to carry the nets to a new location closer to the uncut rice areas. It was also interesting to watch the banders who were on the opposite side of the uncut fields from the nets. They had butterfly nets and when a rail would flush in their direction and land in the cut sections of the field they would chase it down and catch it with the butterfly nets. They had a banner day today with Soras. We watched as they banded both Soras and Virginia Rails. I was able to release one after banding.
Al with Sora
     After all the time spent in the field both days the banders could not catch a Yellow Rail. Finally on our last trip on the combine when we flushed the third Yellow Rail on our run, I was able to direct the grad students on the ground to the spot where the bird had landed. We then watched them band and release it.
Notice white secondaries of the rail

      It was an exciting time for both of us. The festival itself was a little unorganized due to having to plan around when the fields would be dry. We always started rail trips around noon so the dew would evaporate and the fields would be dry. I would highly recommend the festival for anyone needing to see this bird.