John Heinz NWR

Before I tell you about my recent trip to John Heinz Nation Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia I have some exciting news! President Barack Obama created the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s called the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Nation Monument and is located 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Monument will cover 4,913 square miles and protects underwater mountains (seamounts) and canyons that are just as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In July I wrote about this and shared a petition from Audubon in my post called Protect the Puffins. This Monument will help protect the Puffins and other marine wildlife. What a great victory!

Saturday was my birthday, so naturally I wanted to celebrate by going birding. I chose John Heinz NWR in Philadelphia as our destination. The 1000-acre refuge is located in Tinicum Township and is right next to Philadelphia International Airport. In 1972 John Heinz, formerly known as Tinicum Wildlife Preserve, became America’s first urban refuge. Despite being in a major city next to the airport, over 300 species of birds have been accounted for, and 85 species nest there. John Heinz consists of tidal marshes, impoundments, and woodlands that supports all kinds of wildlife.

We spent about 2 1/2 hours walking the impoundment trail that loops around the marshes and takes you through the woodlands. We counted over 32 species. Here’s some the highlights:

  • Egrets everywhere! As we crossed the first bridge over the marsh we saw numerous egrets. There were at least 15 Great Egrets and 8 Snowy Egrets. Snowy Egrets are one of my favorites (which is why they are the mascot for BirdNation), so I really enjoyed watching them hunt. We continued to see egrets throughout the walk.
  • We saw numerous raptors, including the resident Bald Eagles. We went to John Heinz last December and saw the Bald Eagle nest, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen the eagles there. There were 2 and they were sitting on the nest preening. We also saw at least 4 Broad-winged Hawks, a few which seemed to light juveniles. Other raptor species were Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk.
  • A Northern Waterthrush. Despite having “thrush” in their name, Waterthrushes are part of the Wood Warbler family, not the Thrush family. There are two North American Waterthrushes: the Northern and the Louisiana. They look very similar, being both small, brown streaky birds. However, Louisiana Waterthrushes have a broader and whiter eyebrow, are not as streaky on their breast, and have buffy flanks. The Northern Waterthrush has brown flanks, has a streakier breast, and a yellowish tint to its plumage. Northerns are usually found foraging on the ground and pumping their tails. You can see from the pictures we took that this bird had a yellow hue, so we determined he was a Northern Waterthrush. He was hopping around flipping leaves over to look for insects.
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Northern Waterthrush (Image by David Horowitz)

Other species we observed included Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, Mallards, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Yellowlegs, Warbling Vireos, an Eastern Kingbird, a Semipalmated Plover and many more.

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Great Blue Heron wades through the mud (Image by BirdNation)

If you ever happen to be in the Philadelphia area and looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city I recommend checking out John Heinz NWR. This refuge offers a nice escape from our over-developed world.

Be on the lookout for our new weekly bird profile series: Woodpecker Wednesday!

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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