CRC Birding Blitz
On May 9, 2016, four intrepid birders set off on a quest to find as many bird species as possible within the Chester, Ridley, and Crum watersheds. We are blessed with some remarkable natural habitats, including some critical public lands, that are home to many wildlife species. The CRC birding team of Brian Byrnes, Mike Coll, Tony Fernandes, and Mike McGraw timed their effort to coincide with the peak of songbird migration, when dozens of bird species stop in our watersheds to refuel on their long migrations from the tropics to northern nesting grounds.
First, a few ground rules. The team set a 12-hour time limit for their quest. Otherwise, they followed "Big Day" rules from the World Series of Birding. Key among these rules are a prohibition on using recorded calls to elicit a response from a bird, the ability to record birds identified by sight or sound, and a "95% rule," which requires that 95% of species on our list must be identified by all team members and that all species must be identified by at least two members.
How many birds can be found in 12 hours in these three watersheds? Our team was determined to find out.
The day's first light starts to peek over the trees before the team departs Hildacy Preserve.
In the pre-dawn darkness, the team gathered at Hildacy Farm Preserve and started their "Half Big Day" at 5:08 am. They immediately added a handful of expected pre-dawn vocalizers: American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, and more. A Mallard quacking from the nearby Crum Creek was a welcome addition to the list; it would be the only Mallard of the day. Their efforts to locate a Great Horned Owl or Eastern Screech-Owl were for naught, but with 14 species on the books it was time to move on to the crown jewel of birding in the CRC watersheds, the Bridle Trail at Ridley Creek State Park.
The Bridle Trail, which loops along Ridley Creek and through forests and shrublands north of Gradyville Road, is the place to be for migrant songbirds in May. Many of these species winter in the tropics and stop here on their way to breeding grounds in New England and Canada. In just over 3 hours, the team tallied 48 species on the Bridle Trail, including 13 species of warblers. While songbirds were the primary target, a raptor stole the show. The team was fortunate to spot a perched Broad-winged Hawk and observe it for two minutes before it darted off into the woods. With their list at 55 before 9 am, the team quickly explored other portions of the park.
The whole team in one shot! From R to L, Brian Byrnes, Tony Fernandes, Mike Coll (with binoculars up), Mike McGraw.
Near the stables, a Black-throated Green Warbler sang from the woods and an Eastern Bluebird perched on the fence. Around the park office, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet entertained the team with its bubbly song. Such a long song for a tiny bird! Ridley Creek State Park had given the team a great boost. The list stood at 64 as they set their sights on the largest waterbody in the CRC watersheds.
The CRC team found plenty of warblers at the Bridle Trail. Looking at warblers foraging in tree tops like this caused a bit of "warbler neck," a common affliction of birders in spring.
The Springton Reservoir, created by a dam on the Crum Creek, covers more than 350 acres. Its large expanse of open water can attract migratory waterfowl. Mid-May is not an ideal time for waterfowl in our region, and the lake looked mighty still. The team was thrilled to add Bald Eagle to the list, along with a few others. (Note: this site is not accessible to the public; thank you to Aqua for granting us access for this special event.)
Scoping out the Delaware River for gulls and other waterbirds.
Knowing that Hildacy Farm Preserve had more to offer during daylight, the team hopped across 252 for walk through the meadows and forests along the Crum. Highlights included a Green Heron and Red-shouldered Hawk. With 75 species under their belt, the team headed south. A soaring group of Black Vultures along 252 made it 76.
A quick stop near the mouth of the Ridley Creek yielded just 8 species, but 7 of them were new for the day! Great Egret, Osprey, and two gull species were great additions to the list, which reached 84 just past noon, with five hours left.
The next two hours included a few targeted stops as the team worked its way towards West Chester and the headwaters of the Chester Creek. With Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer in the books, and a total of 88 for the day, the team headed east to Willistown. The Willisbrook Preserve is a fascinating place, with globally-rare serpentine barrens dominating the property. A Solitary Sandpiper stalked a small wetland, a welcome addition to the list. Our target birds for the stop, Brown Thrasher and Field Sparrow, played hard to get, but eventually put in appearances. With nearly 2 hours remaining, the team had tallied 91 species.
The list of possibilities was dwindling as the afternoon progressed. As the team arrived at the Kirkwood Preserve, they were focused on grassland birds. An American Kestrel made an appearance, and species #92 was added to the list. The Eastern Meadowlarks that typically nest at this location remained quiet. With time dwindling, the CRC team explored the Newtown Meadows Preserve, in hopes of a flock of migrating Bobolinks. With no such luck, the day would end with 92 species in 12 hours.
The beautiful vista from Kirkwood Preserve. An American Kestrel at Kirkwood turned out to be the last new bird added to the day's list.
CRC thanks the participants and those who allowed the team special access for the event. The diversity of bird life in our watersheds is remarkable and reflects the many types of habitats in our region. We have woodlands, grasslands, shrublands, barrens, large and small lakes, wetlands, and frontage on the mighty Delaware River. Each of these habitats supports a unique mix of bird life. Together, they make the Chester, Ridley, and Crum watersheds an incredible natural and recreational resource for our communities.
Here is the full list of all 92 species found by the CRC team during the Birding Blitz (in taxonomic order):
Great Blue Heron
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler