At 6:00 AM the Staccato song of a Wilson’s Warbler erupted as I stepped out of the car at the Four Mills Barn. Within seconds a buzzy, “zur,zur,zurree” was blurted from a Black-throated Blue Warbler just beyond the gurgling Wissahickon Creek. I smiled, knowing this was going to be a special day!
This annual ritual is the 19th Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Birdathon which took place on Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, 2013. The 62 square mile watershed located in southeast Montgomery County and the City of Philadelphia was the center of great avian activity. The event attracted birding teams from throughout the region to count the number of species of birds that are seen or heard. Each team of four to eight birdwatchers visited the parks, preserves and protected open space in the region counting the birds and gained pledges in a friendly competition.
As a member of the Kestrels, we intentionally visited Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s preserved lands. A Mourning Warbler was heard at the Armentrout Preserve, a Hooded Warbler was heard at Prophecy Creek Park in Whitemarsh Township and a Wood Thrush was heard at Camp Woods in Whitpain Township. There were birds everywhere!
Tall towering century’s old trees of the Carpenter’s Woods section of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park was a cacophony of buzzes, melodies, calls, trills and warbles as the spring bird migration burst on the scene with a vengeance for the Wissahickon Birdathon. Nine teams of birders between the ages of 9 to 87 fielded binoculars and tested their ears to the myriad of bird species that greeted them. After many unseasonably cool days, a warm weather front coincided with the Birdathon to create a banner day!
From the managed grasslands of the Natural Land Trust’s Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve to the dramatic lush ravine of the Wissahickon Valley in the City of Philadelphia, 140 species of birds could be found on Friday and Saturday. Teams of birders combed the woods of Militia Hill of Fort Washington State Park in search of ground foraging thrushes. More elderly birders stood motionless in the parking area; leaning against their cars for support while craning their necks to catch a glimpse of treetop flitting warblers and vireos.
Back at Carpenter’s Woods, long a magnet for both birders and birds alike, we searched for the celebrity Screech Owl that typically sleeps during the day just south of Green Street. Once found, we were stunned to hear the rapid streams of trills that is unmistakably the song of a Winter Wren! The bird sang consistently from a deep hollow cut by a small stream. Strewn with fallen trees and moss covered rocks, the immediate area reminded very much of the typical habitat of a Winter Wren that is more common of the Poconos! We would hear a second singing male near the covered bridge of the Wissahickon Valley, one of the many units of Fairmount Park!
Grassland birds such as Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks were both heard and seen at Willow Lake Preserve and Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve. The preservation of these areas have given hope to the fastest disappearing habitat; grasslands. Thanks to the Natural Lands Trust and like-minded landowners, we can still find these rare birds nesting in our watershed.
The bird of the day was easily a Swallow-tailed Kite seen by the Eagles and the Robins teams at Militia Hill. Native to the southeast United States, the Swallow-tailed Kite is a notorious transient of the northeast during migration. A Golden-winged Warbler was heard and seen at Willow Lake Preserve by the Great Horned Owls team in good habitat. One of the fastest disappearing species of North America, this bird is a candidate for listing as a federally Endangered Species. Finally, the Accipiters caught a Bald Eagle perched on a tree. Always a treat to see our national symbol!
Kudos to the Cuckoos! The team of Andy Fayer, Richard Conroy, Chris Dooley and Jim Best did their best at 119 species. The Kestrels with 111 species ended in second place. Overall, the 2013 Wissahickon Birdathon was an extraordinary success! Thanks to all the participants, supporters and pledgers! With your support, we will continue to find that our parks, preserves and greenways continue to sustain the essential habitat for migrants and breeders of the Wissahickon Creek watershed!