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Field Trip Report

Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census. January 11, 2003

This was the 17th annual Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census.
Weather: sunny day with seasonable temperatures and (except for some windiness) generally good birding conditions.
Species: 93, cf 91 for 1987-2003 but slightly less than for 1995-2003, ( 96). No new species were added to the cumulative total of 138.
Individuals: quite low at 26,718, most observers remarked that many songbirds, in particular, were less numerous than in previous years. Numbers for common songbirds like Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, and Carolina Wrens were among the lowest ever recorded for these species, continuing a trend towards lower numbers for many 'common' songbirds observed on the census since in the late 1990s. While recent declines in House Finch numbers have been linked to the disease avian conjunctivitus (this year's House Finch total was the second lowest ever), reasons for lower numbers of other songbirds remain unclear. Among songbirds, only Eastern Bluebird (23) and Chipping Sparrow (6) were recorded at record high levels. Both were also observed by a record high number of parties (5 and 3 respectively).

This year the census was preceded by a colder than average fall, that included several snow storms, but no prolonged periods of subfreezing temperatures. Nevertheless the cold fall may have been responsible for the low number of lingering songbirds found this year. The only lingerers recorded were an Eastern Phoebe, observed at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (JHNWR) by Skip Conant and Shirly Robbins (who were not participating in the census), and a Common Yellowthroat observed in the Byberry section of Northeast Philadelphia by Tim McFadden. These were the 6th census records of both species. Given the almost complete absence of northern finches and other invasive winter songbirds from the region this winter, the 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches found by Winston Moody in the lower Wissahickon were also a pleasant surprise.

Waterbirds were recorded in normal numbers and most expected species were found. Highlights included a Common Loon and 6 Bonaparte's Gulls found by David Cutler on the Delaware River (this was only the 2nd census record for Bonaparte's Gull), and 2 Horned Grebes found by Adrian Binns and Bert Filemyr also on the Delaware. Additionally, this year's totals for Lesser Black-backed Gull (7), Wood Duck (13), and Gadwall (19) were all time highs,and the 384 Ruddy Ducks counted was the highest number since 1989, perhaps signalling that this once abundant species' numbers may be finally rebounding. Second highest ever totals were recorded for American Black Duck (330) and Killdeer (21), and Redhead (found by David Cutler at the East Park Reservoir) was recorded for the first time since 1988. One Hutchinson's Canada Goose (rare in our area) was found at the Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant (a.k.a. sewage treatment plant) by George Armistead and Dan Hegerty. Among expected waterbirds, only Pied-billed Grebe and Black-crowned Night-Heron were missed. This was only the 5th time Black-crowned Night-Heron was missed, but only the first time Pied-billed Grebe (present at Roosevelt Park earlier this winter) has been missed. Despite a widespread scarcity of American Coots this winter, 4 were found at Roosevelt Park by Rich Horwitz and Sandy Sherman.

Of possible raptors only Rough-legged Hawk (always irregular) was missed. Bald Eagle and Merlin, both rarely recorded in early years, have now been recorded every year except one since 1997 and 1998, respectively. This year¹s most unusual raptor was an adult Northern Goshawk (7th record) found by Jan Gordon, Denis Brennan, and Gregg Gorton at Bartrams Gardens.Red-tailed Hawks were slightly less numerous than average, and the single Northern Harrier observed this year tied the previous all time low of one set in 1998.

While windy conditions (which were worst before dawn) reduced the number of owls found by most observers, David Belford managed to produced his usual total of 9 Eastern Screech-Owls and 2 Great Horned Owls in the Wissahickon, as well one of the highlights of this year's census, a Saw-whet Owl - a species that has only been recorded on the census twice before.

Unfortunately, Ring-necked Pheasant, which has steadily declined over the years, was missed for the first time ever, and two Long-eared Owls that had been present in Northeast Philadelphia were also missed.


Common Loon 1 Ruddy Duck 384 Yellow-billed Sapsucker 7 Cedar Waxwing 23
Horned Grebe 2 Bald Eagle 3 Downy Woodpecker 94 Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Double-crested Cormorant 10 Northern Harrier 1 Hairy Woodpecker 22 Common Yellowthroat 1
Great Cormorant 42 Sharp-shinned Hawk 17 Northern Flicker 33 Eastern Towhee 6
cormorant sp. 4 Cooper's Hawk 7 Pileated Woodpecker 2 American Tree Sparrow 49
Great Blue Heron 27 Northern Goshawk 1 Eastern Phoebe 1 Chipping Sparrow 6
Black Vulture 5 Red-shouldered Hawk 1 Blue Jay 158 Field Sparrow 13
Turkey Vulture 14 Red-tailed Hawk 48 Ammerican Crow 1180 Savannah Sparrow 2
Canada Goose 2999 American Kestrel 13 Fish Crow 45 Fox Sparrow 10
Hutchinson's (Canada) Goose 1 Merlin 2 crow sp. 12 Song Sparrow 484
Wood Duck 13 Peregrine Falcon 3 Carolina Chickadee 305 Swamp Sparrow 12
Gadwall 19 American Coot 4 Tufted Titmouse 219 White-throated Sparrow 1558
American Wigeon 1 Killdeer 21 Red-breasted Nuthatch 2 White-crowned Sparrow 4
American Black Duck 330 Bonaparte's Gull 6 White-breasted Nuthatch 63 Dark-eyed Junco 755
Mallard 1025 Ring-billed Gull 5139 Brown Creeper 11 Northern Cardinal 378
Northern Shoveler 25 Herring Gull 1334 Carolina Wren 92 Red-winged Blackbird 165
Northern Pintail 20 Lesser Black-backed Gull 7 Winter Wren 13 Rusty Blackbird 6
Canvasback 156 Great Black-backed Gull 214 Golden Crowed Kinglet 28 Common Grackle 69
Redhead 1 Rock Dove 1519 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 Brown-headed Cowbird 23
Ring-necked Duck 3 Mourning Dove 434 Eastern Bluebird 23 House Finch 339
Lesser Scaup 13 Eastern Screech Owl 13 Hermit Thrush 3 American Goldfinch 164
Bufflehead 31 Great horned owl 6 American Robin 714 House Sparrow 1054
Common Goldeneye 2 Northern Saw-whet Owl 1 Gray catbird 1     
Hooded Merganser 5 Belted Kingfisher 11 Northern Mockingbird 149     
Common Merganser 76 Red-bellied Woodpecker 78 European Starling 4325     

Total Individuals: 26,718 Total Species: 94 Cumulative Species Total (1987-2003) 138
Keith Russell / Census Coordinator Contact Information