Big Year 2016: John Heinz NWR

Hiding in the Open

It’s been a week since the blizzard and I was hankering to get out and see if I could make it to 100 birds for the month on January. My record was 93 species for January, and I was at 92 species so far. There were a lot of common birds at John Heinz (Tinicum) NWR so I thought I might have a chance on this last weekend of January to hit my mark. I knew that there would be a bunch of snow on the ground but I hoped that it wouldn’t be too bad. The weather was beautiful and the trails were virtually empty, making for some really nice birding. The impoundment itself was mostly frozen so there were no ducks to be seen – so woodland birds it was.

Chickadees and song sparrows were everywhere, chasing me along the paths. In a small clearing there must have been at least 3 dozen SONG SPARROWS feeding amongst the grasses, flitting back and forth from the tree line. They startled at my approach but within a few minutes started to ignore me and went back to their pursuits. The song sparrows were remarkably variable with many of the lighter, nominate form but there were more that were very dark with significant streaking all the way down the chest, similar to a FOX SPARROW (which I would see later in the day). I kept looking for the Fox sparrows, trying to make one out of these dark song sparrows but they just weren’t right.


A bonus was seeing a small group of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS mixed into the song sparrow flock – I had forgotten how beautiful these uncommon sparrows were, but luckily they gave me a nice show from the branches.

American Tree Sparrow

As I was walking back to the car, I finally came across my first-of-year FOX SPARROW kicking through the underbrush. I snuck my way closer to him until I was able to get this shot:


Overall, it was a really nice day even if I fell five short of the century mark for January. Still, it gets me closer to my annual goal of 350 for the year.


  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
2016 YTD Tally
95 Species – Month 95
Lifers 1
NJ Species 81
NJ Lifers 1

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