Monday, January 13, 2014

Phoebe, Pileateds, Buffleheads Star in Count

Eastern Phoebe at Gorgas Run in Wissahickon Park.

Yesterday was the Philadelphia Mid-winter Bird Census. We've taken part in it for many years. We ran into some people yesterday, with whom we watched a Pileated Woodpecker disappear into a hole. They mentioned seeing something about the World Series of Birding. This is similar but much less competitive. The idea is to census birds in Philadephia in winter, not see who can count the most species.

Still most participants I'd guess can't deny the thrill of a high count or unusual sightings. That is also part of it. So for us one of the pleasant surprises, found after almost 8 hours of birding and 7 miles of walking was the Eastern Phoebe pictured above, seen at our very last stop, the Wissahickon.

Oddly we were alerted to him by movement along the stream bed and some vocalizations. We were shocked to look up and see a phoebe. They should have left months ago. As we continued to hear the calling though it didn't at all sound like a phoebe. When we doubled back to end our hike we found the vocal culprit: our second Winter Wren of the day.

To add to the oddness just down from this area someone practiced Tai Chi, I think, on a small foot bridge while being filmed. Feet away a small mole skttered in and out of the streamside rocks. Much more entertaining than football all in all.

Belted  Kingfisher with Fish at Manayunk Canal.

We generally see Belted Kingfishers in winter along the Manayunk Canal, our first stop of the day. But 95% of the canal was frozen on Wednesday after our cold spell. Would fish eating birds survive? We were happy to see both Great Blue Herons and this one Belted Kingfisher on our count.

Bufflehead at Manayunk Canal.

The biggest surprise of the day for us were these Bufflehead near where the canal joins up with the Schuylkill River. Due more to our preference not to combine birding with much driving we don't often bird where ducks are present, outside of the Mallards which seem to be everywhere. We have nothing against ducks, just against driving. So it was a great surprise to see these Bufflehead swimming in the canal with some mallards yesterday. I'd have to say that was the high point of the count for us.

Golden-crowned Kinglet at Manayunk Canal.

A fairly common bird of winter is the Golden-crowned Kinglet. But they have a seemingly irresistible urge to not sit still. I'm sure it's really just the need to feed. In any case whenever I get a chance to photograph them I try to do so. I know that i'll get rid of 90% of the photos because the bird will either be gone or out of focus. Normally I'd try to sketch them but I decided that there just wasn't time to sketch yesterday.

Surprise Sighting in Schuylkill River near Manayunk Canal.

And finally this surprising mammal found in the Schuylkill River near the end of our Manayunk Canal hike. If only I'd gotten a photo of that tiny mole to go with it! In the end we saw a total of 40 species, including the Pileated Woodpeckers of the title, seen in two different locations. We both always love these winter counts because they give us a chance to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors, at a time when many people don't realize all that it has to offer at this time of year.


Ellen Snyder said...

Hi Ken,

Love the photo of the golden-crowned kinglet, one of my favorites, especially given their ability to survive northern winters. Seems like more birds are sticking around through winter of late.


Ken Januski said...

Hi Ellen,

It's easy to see why they might be one of your favorites. We've always favored the Ruby-crowned a bit because we had one stay throughout January in two different years.

If it had been a Golden-crowned, which really is more likely, then it would probably be our favorite. Either way you have to like them both.

It's so hard to tell whether more birds are sticking around or not. It is truly shocking though that they can survive some of the brutal cold that we have had.

I just heard today that the tally for the Philadelphia census on Sunday is 103 species!! I think that's amazing, especially after the cold snap.

It does make birds all the more captivating, though I suspect that if other species were studied as much they'd be found to be just as amazing. We currently have crane flies doing a mating dance over our arbor vita, here in the middle of January! If the rain stops I may try to film a short video, though it's nearly impossible to get them in focus.