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Peace Valley Park
Bucks County, PA

By Ron French

170 Chapman Road
Doylestown, PA 18901
(215) 345-7860

Nestled in the hills of central Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is Peace Valley Park and Nature Center. Established in the early 1970s, the north branch of the Neshaminy Creek was dammed to create a three-mile-long finger lake for the purpose of flood control, water conservation and recreation. It has proved to be a wonderful area for birding, so much so that it has been designated an “Important Bird Area”. Birding any season of the year will bring the birder a wealth of sightings.

In winter, the birder should check the lake amongst the thousands of Canada Geese for the rarer species such as White-fronted, Barnacle, Cackling, Brant and although not recorded yet, possibly a Pink-footed Goose. Our national bird, the Bald Eagle, is present most weeks during this time of year. Bucks County is the North American capitol for the European Lesser Black-backed Gull which can be present in winter in the hundreds. Also look through the flocks of gulls for an Iceland Gull or a Black-headed Gull. Many species of ducks migrate through the area and some do winter;

Common Mergansers can be seen in the hundreds in some years. At the feeders at the Nature Center one should carefully look over the passerines for any rarities. Just about all the expected eastern species of sparrows have been recorded. Along the edge of the water in the park, Snow Bunting, American Pipit and even a Lapland Longspur have been seen. Northern Shrike has been present in some winters and, one winter, a Bohemian Waxwing was found amongst a flock of Cedar Waxwings. One never knows what might turn up.

As spring approaches, migrating Tundra Swans and many species of ducks may be found, even the scoter species. Common Loons are regular and once in a while a Red-throated Loon makes an appearance. Horned Grebe and, occasionally, Red-necked Grebe pass through the area and are on the lake for a day or so. Woodcocks can be seen and heard displaying in the fields around the Nature Center. A parade of raptors including Bald Eagle, Osprey and all the Eastern species of hawks have been noted.

While rarer, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Caspian Terns, Black Terns and even an occasional Common Tern have made the park list. As migration reaches its peak on certain days, the park can be alive with passerine species arriving, some just passing through on their way north. Although some luck is needed to witness a big fallout, one never knows what each day may bring. Just about all the eastern warbler species have been ticked off and surprises such as Summer Tanager, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Blue Grosbeak are possible.

Things get quiet for the early summer as birds settle in to raise their young. Along with the expected nesting species one should watch and listen carefully for the rarer ones such as Acadian Flycatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush and Blue Grosbeak. All three of these have nested successfully near the Nature Center. By July, the southern migration is already under way, starting with sandpiper species such as Least Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper and possibly a Semipalmated Plover or even a phalarope species. The area by the Chapman Road Bridge can be very good if the mud flats are exposed. By August, migration is well along, with the swallows and some of the warbler species already heading south. The young of many species are noticeable. One should look carefully on the island off the bridge for Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron and even Yellow-crowned Night Heron. The passerine species migration is at its height during September and again, with a little luck, you may hit a fallout of migrating birds with possibly a Connecticut Warbler or Philadelphia Vireo amongst the group.

Each year, about the second week of September, a hawk watch is set up on the south side of the lake at the parking lot closest to the dam to record the Broad-winged Hawk migration. Although the hawk watch is in operation for only about two weeks, many other species of raptors can be seen passing through. It is also a great place to meet other birders and share sighting information.

As fall arrives, migration is at its peak. On some days warblers, kinglets, sparrows, tanagers, orioles and flycatchers abound. Winter residents such as White-throated sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos return. Others species pass through on their journey south. Large numbers of geese arrive and settle in for the winter. Snow Geese can be seen and heard passing over on their way to the coast. Some years they stop and rest on the lake. Long-eared Owls and Saw-whet Owls make Peace Valley their winter haunts. They can be found in suitable habitat in years when they are present. The Great Horned Owl is already hooting, and mating is beginning. Another year is upon us.

Peace Valley has had several rare sightings over the years, but the most spectacular of all was a Redwing, a bird of the Turdus family and a relative of our American Robin This species is native to northern Europe, Iceland and Siberia. It was present just one day in winter with a flock of robins and seen by only a precious few. At Peace Valley the sighting possibilities are endless. What will be the next rare species to appear? Only some very alert birder will answer this question.

To visit Peace Valley Nature Center, the best spot to start your journey around the lake, begin at the intersection of Rt. 611 and Rt. 313 just north of Doylestown. Going north on Rt. 313 and after passing three traffic lights, watch for New Galena Road on your left. Turn left here and take the first left (Chapman Rd.) to the parking lot for the Nature Center. Go into the lobby of the Nature Center where a sightings log is kept to let you know what is being seen on a particular day. Also pick up a map of the trails and the lake itself. You will find the map most helpful. A bird list is also available. The Nature Center itself is well worth a visit. You might wish to browse the nature shop on the premises. There is a bird blind to the right of the Nature Center, a good spot to start your journey. There are 14 miles of trails in this 750-acre park. Time of year will determine which is best for that particular season.

To proceed around the lake, go back up Chapman Road to New Galena Road and turn left. Take the first left to the North Lookout, about the best spot to view the lake while in your car. Continuing on, at the second stop sign, take a left down to Sailors’ Point. You can again view the lake from here while in your car and, with a good telescope, see even down to the dam itself. Continuing on you will come to a circle at the end of the park where you should turn left on Callowhill Road and go across the valley to the next intersection (Creek Rd,) and turn left, watching for the first gravel road into the lake on the south side.
This is a very good spot for viewing in the morning hours. Farther along you will come to a paved road into the lake and this again is a good morning spot. Going back to Creek Road and heading east you will finally come to a dead end parking lot. Park here and take a short walk to the lake. You can also walk from here along the closed road to a trail leading back to the Nature Center.

The book, Birds of Bucks County, by Ken Kitson, may be of interest for those birding this area. It is available in the Nature Store at the Center. You may also wish to refer to Arlene Koch’s article on page 45 of the February 2007 issue of “Birder’s World” for more information on this delightful birding spot.