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Birding Urban Edges

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Mar 5, 2021 | by Adrian Binns

Today I enjoyed a unique opportunity to bird the water treatment facility in southwest Philadelphia. Debbie and I gained special permission to access the site, which is not open to the public.

Our driving loop began near the tank ponds, where large flocks of blackbirds – a mix of European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds, with a few Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackles, moved rapidly between concrete barriers, pecking at the swirling water (I don’t want to know what they were finding to eat!)

Canvasback and Ring-necked Duck

We continued to a series of man-made ponds carved out decades ago from surrounding marshlands. Through breaks in the phragmites border, we could see abundant waterfowl. Several Canvasback, Ring-necked Ducks, and a Lesser Scaup were nearly hidden underneath a highway bridge. Scores of Northern Shovelers mingled with Hooded Mergansers, Gadwall, Mallards and a few American Wigeon and Bufflehead. Great Blue Herons hunkered against the reeds, while a few Green-winged Teal and Wood Ducks hugged the edges. Canada Geese were scattered around, several taking nest sites on mounds.

Sparrows flushed as we slowly navigated the rough dirt track – mostly White-throated, with some Song Sparrows and a handsome Fox Sparrow. A Bald Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk flew past, along with distant accipiter and small falcon.

Back near the tank ponds, we came across a large flock of Tree Swallows – some of the earliest migrants returning to the region – flying back and forth around a sunny brick building. Two Northern Rough-winged Swallows swooped among them.

Birding the urban edges of Philadelphia reveals unexpected delights. Grab binoculars and explore a quiet corner of your local city!

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