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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Keith Russell
January 6, 2007 (Saturday)
Philadelphia Census - Keith Russell - Coordinator
The 2007 Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census was held on Saturday January 6, a day that will go into the record books as the warmest January 6th recorded in Philadelphia to date. While this year’s almost summer-like conditions - which produced sightings of sunning turtles, garter snakes, spring peepers, wildflowers and butterflies - were a welcomed change from the winter weather usually experienced on the census, the warmth seems to have caused many species of birds to be less active and rather difficult to find, perhaps because they did not need to feed as much as they do when it is colder. This problem was particularly noticeable among land birds, which were made even more difficult to find by extremely overcast conditions during the morning and high winds during the afternoon. Despite these challenges the total number of species (99) and individuals (31,195) recorded this year were both above average.
The most unusual bird recorded this year was the Painted Bunting observed at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (JHNWR). This bird (a juvenile and probable female) was first identified there on January 4 by Frank Windfelder, and it was still present as of January 28. Painted Buntings have been recorded occasionally at other locations in southeastern Pennsylvania, but this constitutes the first record of the species for Philadelphia County, as well as one of only a handful of winter records for the state. Almost equally unusual was the female Indigo Bunting discovered at Roosevelt Park by Rob Hynson and Bill Keim. Winter records of this species in Pennsylvania, while not as unusual as those of Painted Buntings, are still quite rare, and none were previously known for Philadelphia. Other outstanding finds this year included a White-winged Scoter (brown-plumage) that was observed on the Delaware River just north of Oxford St. by Matt Sharp, and an unidentified rail that was seen during the predawn hours at the JHNWR by Doris McGovern. The above species, which had never been recorded on the census before, raised the total number of species recorded since 1987 to 146.
Normally there are at least one or two freezes during the month prior to the census that force some of the waterfowl and water birds wintering in the Philadelphia area to leave. This winter however, only one brief freeze occurred prior to the census. As a result waterfowl were found in larger than average numbers and these included record high counts for Black Duck, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal and Ring-necked Duck, as well as for Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot and Ring-billed Gull. Because most regional waters had remained open throughout December ducks were also well distributed with 12 species found at the Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant (Miller; Walters, McMorris, Shafer), 10 at the JHNWR (McGovern, Sevareid; Miller), 9 at Roosevelt Park (Horwitz, Hynson, Kacir, Keim), and 8 (including the only Canvasback) at the East Park Reservoir (Herr; Russell, Towey). While a record high 27 Snow Geese were also recorded 26 of these were flyovers observed at the mouth of the Pennypack Creek (Kurtz). The only bird seen on the ground was a lone juvenile found with Canada Geese at Fox Chase Farm in the upper Pennypack (Schultz, Walsh). Other species of water birds recorded this year that are often forced out by freezes included Great Egret (6th record; this year’s total of 3 ties the record high set in 1998, 2004) and American Woodcock (9th record). Both of these species were found at the JHNWR (McGovern, Sevareid). Although Red-breasted Merganser and both scaup had been present shortly before the census and Lesser Scaup was present shortly after the census, none of these species, nor Wood Duck (unrecorded since 2003), could be found on census day.
Above average December and early January temperatures probably also helped to produce record high totals for Turkey Vulture and two species of raptors including Red-tailed Hawk and Peregrine Falcon (the Peregrine total actually tied the record high previously recorded in 2005). And for only the second time ever the number of Cooper’s Hawks recorded was larger (by 1) than the number of Sharp-shinned Hawks. While well short of their record high this year, American Kestrels do appear to be rebounding after several very lean years. This year’s total of 10 was the first double-digit figure recorded since 2003. Previously this species had always been recorded in double digits. Northern Harriers continue to be scarce however, probably due to loss of habitat. Only 2 individuals were reported this - one at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport (Schultz, Walsh) and one at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant [NEWPCP] (Horwitz, Hynson, Kacir, Keim). A single Red-shouldered Hawk was seen along the Cresheim Creek (Hence and Hence) and a single Merlin was found just south of the mouth of the Pennypack Creek (Lyman). While the total for Eastern Screech-Owls was well below last year’s record high (perhaps due in part to drizzle before dawn which may have reduced their activity) the species was found by a larger than average number of parties (5) and these reports came from the Cobbs, Pennypack and Wissahickon Creeks. Great Horned Owls, which had only been recorded in the single digits twice prior to 2003, were recorded in the single digits for the 5th year in a row.
Pileated Woodpeckers were found by 3 different parties (all in the Wissahickon) producing a larger than average total, but all other woodpeckers were recorded in average to below average (e.g., sapsuckers) numbers. Among the rarer passerines recorded this year were Eastern Phoebe (9th record) at the Army Corps area (Walters, McMorris, Shafer), House Wren (3rd record) in the Pennypack (Williams), Palm Warbler (8th record) at Penn’s Landing (Wiedner), Common Yellowthroat (8th record) at the JHNWR (McGovern, Sevareid), and Chipping Sparrow (7th record) at the NEWPCP (Russell, Towey) and in East Falls (Moody and Moody). Also noteworthy – one of the 4 White-crowned Sparrows reported was found in Chestnut Hill (Bilheimer and Bilheimer, French) an area from which the species is almost never reported during the winter. But the rarest passerine found besides the 2 buntings was the Yellow Warbler discovered by Frank Windfelder at the mouth of the Pennypack Creek (south bank) in a section of Fairmount Park not currently open to the public. Interestingly, this species, which is never really expected during winter, had been recorded on the census once previously in 1998.
Rounding out this year’s list of ‘rare’ passerines was the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. For the third year in a row a wintering flock was present at the NEWPCP. 70 birds were counted there this year (Russell, Towey) but additional birds were also found at various spots near the Delaware River from the mouth of the Pennypack Creek to the JHNWR. These additional birds probably originated from the NEWPCP flock, which was estimated to contain 200 birds in December, but their true origins remain uncertain. The swallows are able to overwinter at the plant because large numbers of flying insects can be found there throughout the winter. The main species consumed is a midge that continually emerges from waters that are being discharged from the plant, which never freeze. This year’s grand total of 140 swallows was the largest number tallied in the 3 years they have been recorded on the census. According to information from American Birds magazine the NEWPCP may be the only location in the U.S. north of southern Florida and southern Texas where the species is currently wintering in any numbers, and the NEWPCP may actually have one of the largest wintering populations of Rough-wingeds in the U.S.
Very few northern irruptive species appear to have migrated into the region this winter. As a result Red-breasted Nuthatch (expected on the census almost annually) and Purple Finch (an increasingly erratic wintering species) both went unrecorded. Given the near complete absence of irruptive species this year the single Black-capped Chickadee observed at the JHNWR was an outstanding find (McGovern, Sevareid). Fruit eating passerines have also been very low in number this winter, and it has been suggested that this is due to the (small) size of this winter’s regional fruit crop. Among fruit eaters Cedar Waxwing and Hermit Thrush were missed for only the 2nd and 3rd times respectively, and American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird and Yellow-rumped Warbler were all recorded in below average numbers. Crows also continue to be in low number due to a mysterious crash that occurred in February 2003 that appears to have exclusively, or primarily affected the crows of Philadelphia County. Reasons for the crash are not known conclusively, but the fact that Great Horned Owls and American Kestrels have also declined locally since 2003-04 suggests that West Nile Virus (which is particularly lethal to crows, owls, and other raptors) may be involved. This year’s totals for both crow species are the highest since 2003 however, offering hope that both species may now be increasing.
I would like to thank everyone who participated in this year’s census for another excellent effort, and I hope that you will be able to join us for next year’s census, which has been tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 12, 2008.
Keith Russell - Census Coordinator
Snow Goose 27
Wild Turkey Jan 7
OBSERVERS (55 observers, 27 parties)
Matt Sharp Benjamin Rush State Park, Delaware River (various locations)
Frank Windfelder Delaware River (Poquessing Creek to Rhawn St. including Baxter WaterTreatment Plant), other locations in Northeast Philadelphia including Franklin Mills area, Woodenbridge Run in Pennypack Creek
Peter Kurtz Pennypack Creek (Verree Rd. to Krewstown Rd.) Delaware
(Poquessing Creek to Pennypack Creek)
Brian Schultz, Chris Walsh Pennypack Creek (Verree Rd. to Pine Rd), Northeast Philadelphia Airport
Roland Williams Pennypack Creek (Frankford Ave. to Rhawn St.)
Chuck Lyman Northeast Philadelphia (various locations along Linden Ave., Rhawn St. and Princeton Ave.).
David Wiedner Center City (various locations east of Broad St.)
Richard Horwitz, Rob Hynson, F. D. Roosevelt Park, Delaware
River (Philadelphia Naval Business Center
Steve Kacir, William Keim to Frankford Creek)
Chris Walters, Art McMorris, Fort Mifflin, Army Corps of Engineers
compound and vicinity
Doris McGovern, Alice Sevareid John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Eastwick and vicinity
John Miller John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Southwest Water
Plant, Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia International Airport and vicinity
Jan Gordon, Denis Brennan, Mark Darby, Bartram’s Garden, Woodland Cemetery, Cobbs Creek (various locations) Gregg Gorton, Jonathan Schau
Erica Brendel, John Goschke West Park (various locations including Philadelphia Zoo), Belmont Reservoir
Steve Kerr East Park (various locations including East Park Reservoir)
Winston and Wendy Moody East Falls (various locations including Queen Ln. Reservoir and Wissahickon Creek)
Michael Darcy Roxborough (various locations in western Roxborough including Manyunk)
Steve Dupont Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education
Ken Januski, Jerene Schroeder Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education
Chuck Hetzel, Leigh Ashbrook, Roxborough (northern Roxborough
including Spring Ln. area)
Stephen Lawrence, Robin Mattison, Wissahickon Creek (Carpenter’s Woods and vicinity, Livezy Ln.) Gary Seagraves
Cliff and Nancy Hence Cresheim Creek (from Stenton Ave. to the Wissahickon Creek)
Al and Nancy Bilheimer, Ron French Wissahickon Creek (east bank from Chestnut Hill Ave. to Springfield Ave.)
David Belford Wissahickon Creek (west bank from Bell’s Mill Rd. to Cathedral Rd.)
Edie Parnum, Marjorie Russell, Wissahickon Creek (Andorra to
Bell’s Mill Rd.)
Jim Best, Rich Conroy, Andy Fayer, Morris Arboretum
Bill Reaume, Scott Fraser Awbury Arboretum
Keith Russell, Shawn Towey Wissahickon Creek (various locations), East Park Reservoir, various locations in Center City north of Market St., Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant and vicinity, Delaware River at Beach St.
Temperature: low 62oF at 7:09 am, high 73oF at 1:34 pm.
Sky: Light drizzle during pre-dawn hours, severely overcast during early morning becoming sunny by late morning and partly sunny by late afternoon.
Water: All waters open.
Wind: Light to moderate during the morning becoming much stronger
throughout the afternoon with gusts of up to 30 mph.