In the 57 years since the founding of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, over 1200 hundred acres have been preserved as wildlife habitat. These hardwood forests, wetlands, waterways, pastoral lands and farms have helped create a mosaic of open space that not only allow for wildlife habitat to survive but contribute greatly to the quality of life of the residents and businesses that call the Wissahickon Valley home. Countless hundreds of additional acres have also been preserved such at Fort Washington State Park, Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve and Prophecy Creek Park among others.
Answering the question of how wildlife is doing in our preserves in 2013 is important to help shape our understanding of how to best manage the lands for nature. The WVWA initiated a series of studies to learn how our fauna and flora are surviving. The first study was of the breeding birds. Since all birds are territorial and the males guard their territories, once you recognize their song and plumage, identifying them is relatively easy. They are also reliable since they remain close to their nest until the young are old enough to fly. Surveys were conducted at the 55 acre Four Mills Reserve in Upper Dublin, the 109 acre Willow Lake Preserve in Whitemarsh Township, the 68 acre Camp Woods and the 58 acre Armentrout Preserve, both in Whitpain Townships The results of the first WVWA Breeding Bird Survey are encouraging!
A total of 57 species nest in the varied preserves of the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association. Thirty seven species alone are suspected to be nesting in the 55 acre preserve surrounding the Four Mills Barn in Ambler. Here, the only raptors were confirmed with nests; the Screech Owl and the Red Shouldered Hawk, an exceedingly rare bird for this region. Wood Duck and Mallard were also confirmed to be nesting along the Wissahickon Creek. Belted Kingfisher was suspected of nesting here too!
The colorful warblers were well represented by American Redstart which had several pairs in the Four Mills Reserve. Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat could be found easily at the Armentrout Preserve and Willow Lake Preserve. A sole Ovenbird, a bird that builds a nest that looks like a dutch oven, whence the name, was logged at Armentrout while a single Chestnut Sided Warbler reported in the shrubby fields of Willow Lake was an unexpected find in suburban Montgomery County.
The unmistakable red plumage and black wings of the Scarlet Tanager were found in small numbers throughout the preserves. A single Rufous Sided Towhee was logged consistently from April thru the end of June at Willow Lake Preserve. Another single Brown Thrasher was seen at the Crossways Preserve on Morris Road several times in May and June.
The flycatcher family has a couple of species barely hanging on. A male Alder Flycatcher was singing consistently from Armentrout Preserve while a pair of Willow Flycatchers were seen on territory at Willow Lake Preserve. A few Eastern Wood Peewees were heard from the preserves with a pair of Eastern Phoebes currently raising their second brood on a nest at the Four Mills Barn! By far the Great Crested Flycatcher was the most numerous everywhere!
Year round residents were common. Multiple pairs of White breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse were in all of the preserves. The most common woodpecker was the Downy Woodpecker with the Red bellied Woodpecker a close second. Flickers were seldom seen and a single Hairy Woodpecker was reported from Camp Woods. Where is the Pileated Woodpecker?
Song Sparrows were abundant to no one’s surprise. Finding Field Sparrows at Willow Lake Preserve was encouraging for shrubby farmland. Secretive Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows were on territory amid the fields of the Willow Lake Preserve.
Overall, the WVWA’s preserves bird species owe their survival to the protection accorded these lands in the last twenty years. While not easy, protection of these lands is crucial to their survival in the region. Already, we have lost many species due to development, forest fragmentation and degradation of wildlife habitat. By monitoring the status of bird species annually, we will ensure that we understand when we are losing species and perhaps develop conservation strategies that stems their loss! For now enjoy them while they are still here!