Big Year 2016: John Heinz NWR

Ducky Durante

I made my second trip to Tinicum this year hoping that now that the snow and ice had melted there would be a wider selection of birds to see than my last trip. One of my goal birds was to finally see a Brown Creeper, which used to be a lock at Tinicum but had been strangely absent recently. I was also hoping to see one of the annually resident owls (Great Horned or Saw whet), although I know that they are harder to predict.

Getting to the park, it was instantly a better day than my last trip – the impoundment was mostly thawed and there had been an Great Horned Owl seen not far from the main trail. I started my trek on the trail, greeted by a number of mallards and Canada Geese on the water, and a plethora of white-throated sparrows along the brush. As I walked toward the main bridge, I got my first look at one of the many AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS which were hanging out in the impoundment, although they were a very small portion of the vast numbers of waterfowl and gulls hanging out in the unfrozen ponds. Dozens of COMMON MERGANSER, NORTHERN PINTAIL and NORTHERN SHOVELER were all over the ponds, although mostly too far away for good pictures.

Ice Heron

The Back Woods

Eventually I started following the paths and firetrail back into the wooded section of the park, looking for the creepers, fox sparrows and the like. The pickings were mostly slim until I got to one of the side trails where a small flock had gathered – a dozen RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, a SWAMP SPARROW and a FOY BROWN THRASHER. I thought I saw a few American pipits but they flew off before I could get enough of a look.


Walking around the paths brought around more sparrows, Carolina wrens, and woodpeckers but nothing really new or exciting until I got around to the other side of the impoundment. They had built a new walkway out into the marsh, where a majestic BALD EAGLE had taken up station.


Not too far away, I found the aforementioned GREAT HORNED OWL sitting a distance away in a tree, its silhouette easily identifiable.

No, it's not Batman.

The Pipeline Cut

I was getting ready to leave when I heard and saw a bunch of activity in the pipeline trail and decided to take a look. There were a bunch of chickadees flying about, as well as both species of kinglets coming up nice and close. I just stood there an allowed the activity to happen around me – a pair of DOWNY WOODPECKERS came in and were pecking away at some dried vines, joined by a HAIRY WOODPECKER in a nearby oak. White-throated Sparrows were everywhere and Carolina wrens were flitting in and out of the nearby brush. CEDAR WAXWINGS were calling out in the high trees and dozens of AMERICAN ROBINS were feeding in the newly thawed earth in the cutout. And then I saw what I had come for – a single, small bird scampering up a nearby tree – a BROWN CREEPER. He quickly disappeared up the tree and I lost him but at least I finally got one. It was one of those times when just standing around provides some of the best birding.

Last Bird of the Day


  • 105) American Black Duck
  • 106) Brown Thrasher
  • 107) Great Horned Owl
  • 108) Brown Creeper
2016 YTD Tally
108 Species – Month 63
Lifers 7
NJ Species 98
NJ Lifers 7

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