|Brown Booby (photo from Internet)|
As most of you know I've been birding behind the Phila Airport for many a year now. I believe this is the best place for me to pick up a new life bird in Delaware County and this year has kind of proven my point. The eBird hotspot is called Delaware River--Hog Island Rd. and if you look that up in eBird you can easily get the directions.
But let's first take a look at the birds seen there this year. During January and February I was able to find 12 species of waterfowl along the river including Snow Geese, Mute Swan (kind of hard to find in Delco), Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and Ruddy Duck.
One of the highlights back in February was a light morph Rough-legged Hawk circling over the east end of the airport. This was a new county bird for Debbie Beer and Adrian Binns. Another surprise raptor that was a county bird for many, including Dave Eberly, was a Short-eared Owl that I found on January 12th flying around after dark on the airport grounds. This owl stuck around for a few weeks and was seen by many. I was happy to see the return of Short-eared Owls to the airport since the last time I found them was back in 1995. But I haven't really looked for them for quite some time.
March is usually when Wilson's Snipe appear and this year was no different. They can be seen in what we call the Firemen's Pond, which is a little pool of water surrounded by phragmites near the radar tower. I've had as many as 44 snipe in there at one time but this year the most I could find were 11. My first Forster's Tern appeared on April 10th and my first Pectoral Sandpiper was at the Firemen's Pond on April 11th along with Laughing Gulls. Caspian Terns, which are a regular occurrence along the mudflats, were present on April 24th.
The spring migration is always exciting and this year was no exception. On May 2 Debbie Beer called and said she had a Ruff on the mudflats. So I quickly hopped in the car and drove to the flats and the bird was still present. In flight we could see the orange colored back and I noted the u-shaped white rump patch. This was my first new county bird of the year. A few days later on May 10, Rob Fergus and I were at the river when a flock of 44 Common Terns flew downriver. Common Terns are only occasionally found along this section of the river. The same day we also had a Blue Grosbeak, a small flock of Dunlin, Semipalmated Plovers, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, and 13 Bonaparte's Gulls.
The end of May kept producing some good finds. Black-bellied Plovers were seen feeding on the flats and the next day I found a single Ruddy Turnstone there. I put the word out on GroupMe and within an hour Mike Hartshorne from Chester County was there to view it also.
One of the highlights of the year was on July 9th. A group of us, Sara Busch, Rob, myself and Jason Horn from the Allentown area were surveying the river. We had been looking over the birds for some time when Sara (who was doing a PA Big Year) received a message that a Roseate Spoonbill she needed was out in Central PA. So she packed her gear and hopped in the car and headed out on the chase. Well, about a half hour after she left Jason yells out that a Brown Booby was sitting in the middle of the river. We all got on the bird easily as it was just maxing and relaxing as it floated down river. So we called Sara to inform her that she was missing a good bird but since she was quite a distance from there we told her not to come back because we didn't expect the bird to linger for long. And within five minutes two large ships crossed paths in the river and flushed the bird and none of us were able to relocate it. Unfortunately, Sara missed that state bird she needed for the year and to make matters worst she also missed the Spoonbill she was chasing. But the good thing for me was that this was another new county lifer. You just never know what will show up along the river.
July also produced another hard to find bird when Jason and I were at the river. We received a text from Ken Rieker of Bucks County with a photo of a large tern sitting on a piling at Governor Printz Park. At first we thought it to be a Caspian Tern because of the poor quality of the photo he sent but then Ken sent another photo which showed the bird to be a Royal Tern. So, Jason and I quickly rode down to the park and observed the tern and sent out text messages to other birders alerting them of the tern. Within twenty minutes Jim McConnell and his wife Deborah showed up soon to be followed by Damon Orsetti. Royal Tern is only an occasional species seen in Delco, occurring maybe once every three to five years.
August is shorebird migration time along the Delaware River and this year we found some goodies. August 13th gave me my third county lifer when a Willet was present. I was actually heading to the airport but had stopped at Governor Printz Park to scan the river. While there I received a text from Sara Busch who was upriver, telling me about the Willet on the mudflats. Jumping in the car and hoping the bird stayed I quickly arrived at the pull off on Hog Island Rd and Sara and Jason were standing there with scopes set up and allowed me to look through their scope at the Willet. After viewing the Willet I got out my scope for a longer look and to study the bird. Other folks showed up after they saw the text. Also present that day were several Black Terns. Two days later I spotted a Baird's Sandpiper on the spit and it was also seen by Sara Busch, Debbie Beer and Adrian Binns. Still in August I was able to see Sanderling running along the flats and a Short-billed Dowitcher probing the spit.
September continued to produced many nice finds. Rob found a Cliff Swallow heading down river among other migrating swallows. On Sept 1st Adrian and Debbie found a White-rumped Sandpiper and I saw another three days later. Sept 6 produced an American Avocet and I got the word out quickly so that John Zygmunt and Damon were able to get there in time to watch the avocet feeding as the spit was disappearing under the incoming tide. Later in the month I added Western Sandpiper and thanks to Debbie and Adrian I also added American Golden Plover.
American Avocet-not the best photos
Although there are still two months left in 2021 I just wanted to show you the potential of finding great birds along the Delaware River behind the Philadelphia Airport. Come down and spend some time there and maybe you'll get lucky. You can't find any birds if you don't go looking.