Friday, February 29, 2008

The Big, the Small and the Blue of it at Wissahickon

(Another post copied from Birding and Drawing notes website.) There are about five pages to transfer. Once that occurs I'll only include new posts here.

On Sunday,10.15.06, my wife and I decided to take a short walk at the Wissahickon near Monastery Ave. It had been cool for last couple of days so we thought we might see a few migrants. That we did. In fact we saw far more than we ever would have expected, including what are probably both the biggest and smallest birds that you're likely to see at the Wissahickon.

The biggest surprise was an osprey. We first saw him in a tree about 30' high on the other side of Wissahickon creek. We only walked about 1/2 mile down Forbidden Drive in our walk but we must have seen him at least 3 times, each time down another few hundred yards or so. We'd never noticed his full-throated whistle before. It seemed so different than most raptors, but it did alert us that he was around. Though I had heard rumors of ospreys at the Wissahickon and though we'd seen them in flight at nearby Militia Hill and Morris Arboretum wetlands this was only the second one we'd seen here. The first was a brief look as he flew off with a fish in his talons two years ago. All in all this may have been the closest look we've ever had at this handsome raptor.

I'd guess the osprey is the largest bird that is likely to be seen at the Wissahickon. But barring a possible (?) Bald Eagle we also saw all the other candidates for largest bird of the Wissahickon on Sunday: a few Red-Tailed hawks, a Great Blue Heron whose pearly, gray back was almost indistinguishable from the log at whose base he hunched, and two, yes TWO, pileated woodpeckers.

I've only seen two pileateds at same time one other time at Wissahickon. That was 4-6 years ago when I spotted one in binoculars but also heard another calling. By following the gaze of the first one I was able to spot the second one a few hundred yards away. But this time they were more cooperative, often ending up in the same tree only yards away from Forbidden Drive. From what we could see they were either both females or immatures. We never could see any of the red near the throat of the male. But sometimes it is hard to see. In either case it was a real treat to watch them for 15 minutes or more, both on trees and in flight. There is always something slightly primordial about a pileated in flight, especially a close pileated in flight.

That takes care of the largest and you can probably guess the smallest: kinglets. We must have seen 5-10 of each species some extremely close and fearless. At one point I stretched out my hand to see if one of the Ruby-Crowneds would jump the additional foot from the nearby branch to land on the coffee cup I carried. The answer is no. I didn't expect so but he was so close I did wonder. Kinglets are always a treat to see, except for those moments when you're searching for some rare warbler, only to find that it's a kinglet. That wasn't the case this time. It would have been nice to see warblers, but we were perfectly happy with such close looks at so many kinglets.

Rounding out the day was a Blue-Headed Vireo and one or two Black-Throated Blue warblers along with a few of the usual Wissahickon birds.

So there it is: the big, the small and the blue of it. We thought we might see a few unusual birds because of the cooler weather but we never expected such a bonanza.

No comments: