Tag Archives: crumwoods

Tinicum: When the Hype Builds

6.6.6 (haha), 800-1030 am
John Heinz NWR at Tinicum, dike trail -> observation blind, warbler woods

I guess this is what I get for revisiting such a revered spot so quickly, it was just bound to disappoint, and I should’ve realized that earlier. I was expecting a repeat of Sunday morning’s success, and instead just got a much quieter version. I probably saw only half as many Yellow Warblers as before, and so I wasn’t walking around in an awe-induced trance this time either. The birding certainly wasn’t bad, it was better than most any day I could possibly have in the Crum, but it still felt quite disappointing, especially considering the earlier start and the better weather.

I was pleased to find a lot of the same birds in the same places, for example I once again saw the same Warbling Vireo seen on Sunday, in the exact same tree as before even. There just seemed to be fewer birds overall, and there were some species that I didn’t pick up at all until my return walk to the parking lot. I did pick up two new species however: Marsh Wren, which was a life bird but which I only heard singing, and Black-crowned Night-Heron, a bird I really haven’t encountered in a while.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, which breeds in small numbers near the Philadelphia airport. Photo by Dan Bastaja.

A return to the Warbler Woods just off the service road netted nothing new, and so I sat for a while on the boardwalk watching the Tree Swallows swooping into the nestboxes. One individual repeatedly dived straight towards my head, which was absolutely thrilling. I realized it was probably because of my bright red hat, with the white Swarthmore “S” on the front. White apparently is an alarm signal for a lot of wildlife (see White-tailed Deer, Cottontail Rabbits, etc), and the red hat certainly didn’t help. Once I took the hat off, the swallows calmed down, and resumed feeding their nestlings inside the boxes.

  • 3 Marsh Wren – life bird, but heard only, singing in the Tidal Marsh
  • 2 Black-crowned Night-Heron – adult and immature flying around by the observation blind
  • 12 Yellow Warbler – all around refuge
  • 1 Orchard Oriole – just above observation blind
  • 2 Willow Flycatcher – along dike trail
  • 1 Green Heron – boardwalk in Warbler Woods
  • 3 Wood Duck – single individuals in flight, no good looks like last time

Arguably the most productive aspect of the trip was a look at the Visitor Center’s giftshop, which featured an amazing find for me – Birds of Delaware County, by Nick Pulcinella, published by the Birding Club of Delaware County. The book gives detailed descriptions of key sites throughout the county (including the Crum Woods!), and comments and abundance charts for every species that has been found in Delaware County.

Though the writeups for most of the sites seemed extremely helpful, I’m puzzled by many of the birds that he describes as possibilities in the Crum. I won’t go into the details, but to make it short, if I were ever in the Crum and saw a few of the birds that he mentions, I would probably have a heart attack, and die a happy man. A few don’t even appear on Janet Williams’ checklist at all, not even as anecdotal possibilites. Other extremely rare migrants are reported by Pulcinella to actually be quite common and easy to find, but if that were the case, I would probably never even go to class. Why would I head to class if I could ogle at the abundant Blackburnian Warblers right in the Science Center parking lot? I don’t think this is a case of changes in habitat and abundance in the past ten years, I severely doubt that Blackburnians have ever been easy to find, much less right in the parking lot. I wonder if this is simply pure conjecture based on the habitat, or if its even overhyping, in order to try and attract birders to the area.

Despite its shortfalls, I will certainly be using this guide on my visits to other local birding areas. Hopefully the information contained in those sections is roughly accurate.

And now, some miscellaneous sightings in the Crum from the past few days

  • 1 Scarlet Tanager – singing in the Wister, really easy to find now
  • 1 Eastern Wood-Pewee – Upper Wister Draw
  • 1 Common Yellowthroat – probably on territory in Skunk-Cabbage Hollow
  • 2 Acadian Flycatcher – can be heard from Harvard Rd. on the walk to campus from ML, also on territory in Wister
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Returns

5.31.2006, 730-830 am
Strath Haven -> Crum Meadow

Just a quick jaunt to see what’s happenin’. Birdwise, Eastern Wood-Pewees have certainly arrived, as there were 3 singing along the creek behind Strath, so that was an easy checkmark on the Crum birdlist. Also rewarding was my first Common Yellowthroat of the woods, fulfilling yesterday’s prophecy. At one point, the bird climbed up a bare vine, and then flew into a dead tree, you simply couldn’t ask for a better look. Later, two goldfinches flew into the same tree, right next to the yellowthroat, I’m sure Ezra Pound would’ve been all over that junk.

Perhaps even more noticable than the birds was the ridiculous amount of plant growth that’s happened since I left. The stands of Japanese Knotweed, which were formerly about waist-high, have now grown up to over 10 ft, which sadly is far taller than I am, completely obstructing my views of the creek in some places. Many of the grasses and other ground cover flora have burst up as well, and the result was that Strath was almost completely choked off from the Crum proper by tall grass and Japanese Knotweed. I’m not sure if I’ll be making that trek again, not just because of the impassability, but it seems like a ripe location for ticks as well.

On the bright side, Crum Meadow has finally become an actual meadow rather than just a lawn, something that I’ve hoped to see ever since I got here. I really do hope they keep the meadow like this, as the potential for wildlife is immense. There were some grasses with small purple flowers than the goldfinches seemed to flock towards, as I saw up to ten perched together in a single cluster of the plants. It’s a little late in the breeding season now, but it seems like the kind of habitat that birds like Blue Grosbeaks or Yellow-breasted Chats could find attractive, which would be amazing.

Surprisingly, I found no orioles behind Strath; before I left I’d found three singing males in the sycamores near the bridge. Perhaps they’re simply not singing, as I didn’t hear the Rose Tree Park bird singing either. In addition, the Yellowthroat was the only warbler I encountered, so no Parulas, Black-throated Blues or Greens, or any of the other warblers. I completely missed the wave of Redstarts, Blackpolls, and other late migrants then, which is disappointing. But I’m content to settle in and get comfortable with these summer residents now.

  • 1 Common Yellowthroat – male, wetland in the Skunk-Cabbage Hollow
  • 4 Eastern Wood-Pewee – three behind Strath, one in the Wister garden
  • 2 House Wren – Crum ledge, Holly collection
  • 1 Veery – Skunk-Cabbage Hollow, not singing unfortunately
  • 2 Acadian Flycatcher – Skunk-Cabbage Hellow, Crum thickets

Going Out on Top

5.10.2006, 820-1045
Upper Wister Draw -> Wallingford Rd. Bridge -> Garden Ruins
with Alison Santiago

Probably my last walk of the semester, as I’m heading home tomorrow and the morning will be crunch-time with my massive paper. Migration seems to be a little late this year, at least compared to last year, as I clearly remember Orioles building nests and Redstarts arriving by the time I left for home last year, whereas neither has yet occured this year, at least to my knowledge.

It was a nice conclusion to the semester’s birding, as the triplist was probably the most diverse and extensive out of any trip so far this year, and I’m sure that I still have some of these numbers jumbled up. It was nice to share the birds with an extra set of eyes as well, I think the hummingbird and the Broad-winged Hawk were the only birds that only one of us got good looks at.

So that’s it for the semester. I’ll be back at Swarthmore in two or three weeks, and I’m sure I’ll continue birding then. I haven’t decided if I should make this blog exclusive to Swarthmore, or expand it to all of my birding trips in general, in which case I’d have to go ahead and cover the Raleigh Spring Bird Count on Saturday. I’m very curious to see exactly how far ahead NC is compared to PA in the migration.

  • 1 Magnolia Warbler – singing on Magill Walk right at the train station, beautiful looks
  • 3 Acadian Flycatcher – Wister forest, hemlock bluff, opposite bank of Crum Meadow
  • 1 Swainson’s Thrush – Wister Bend
  • 2 Veery – Hemlock bluff, above Crum Meadow
  • 1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Crum ford, opposite bank
  • 1 Scarlet Tanager – Wister bend
  • 1 Broad-winged Hawk – Garden Ruins
  • 2 Baltimore Oriole – Wallingford Rd. Bridge, Crum Meadow
  • 1 Northern Parula – Garden Ruins
  • 3 Black-throated Green Warbler – all along route
  • 7 Black-throated Blue Warbler – all along route
  • 2 Great Crested Flycatcher – below Alligator rock, above Crum Meadow
  • Cedar Waxwings – reported by Ben Ewen-Campen at Wallingford Rd. Bridge

Magnolia Warbler, male. A life bird for me, seen just by the train station of all places. Photo by Mike Robinson

Sinister Operation

5.5.06, 1014 am – 1200 pm
Skunk Cabbage Hollow -> Strath Haven ->Yale Ave. Bridge -> Southern Red Oak Forest -> Sinister Operation -> Garden Ruins -> Crum Meadow

Throughout this spring, I’ve been wondering when the big day would come, when all the amazing spring migrants would arrive, when the woods would explode with unfamiliar songs, and colorful migrants would give me just brief glimpses before finding another soul to tempt. I’ve also wondered if it would actually be far more gradual than this, if each species would line up for their turn to arrive, just a slow and steady stream. Whichever was the case, I knew that it would arrive soon.

I turned off my alarm clock in the middle of the night for some reason, so I was worried that the woods would be silent by the time I eventually headed out after 10. But as I got closer to the woods I knew this was going to be an amazing day, and within 30 seconds of walking in I had already heard two new species for the spring, still steadily singing three hours after sunrise. I had intended to scout out the shrubland near the Strath Haven condominiums, but instead got trapped in Skunk Cabbage Hollow by the continuous song of the new parulas and Black-throated Blues.

After finally drawing myself out of the Hollow, I found Strath to be quieter than I had hoped. But heading for the Yale Ave. bridge, I suddenly stumbled across three singing Baltimore Orioles in sycamores on both sides of the creek, giving great looks. I could also hear more Black-throated Blues on the opposite bank, so I decided to cross the bridge and find a way into the unexplored Southern Red Oak Forest.

These are the best birding walks for me, the ones when you walk through a completely new area, finding great birds nearly all the way through. I was just in a constant state of awe as I strolled through the Southern Red Oak Forest surrounded by the songs of Black-throated Blues and orioles. Near the northern edge, I heard a very burry robin-like song, and before I knew it, a my first Scarlet Tanager of the year was in a tree before me.

Scarlet Tanager, male. Recently voted as the most beautiful North American bird, it’s a species that is quite uncommon in NC, replaced by the related Summer Tanager, while the opposite is true here in the North, as I’ve never seen a Summer Tanager around these parts. No photograph or words can do this bird any justice. Photo by James Ownby

Finally emerging out of the Southern Red Oak Forest, I suddenly found myself on the edge of the massive Composting Facility of the school, with the Scott Arboretum Nursery and Castanea House nearby. With the No Trespassing signs posted every few feet, I almost felt I’d stumbled across some dark, sinister operation that the school keeps hidden from the idyllic life of campus. Thinking about this though, I couldn’t think of a single possible malicious goal that Swarthmore could possibly have, which is either indicative of its innocence, or its sheer evil genius. In any case, I wandered around looking for an exit, before I found myself back at the retention pond beside the highway. I’m sort of worried about venturing into this area again, and may ask Julie about it the next time I run into her.

On the way back home, I did finally manage to work my way across the fallen log at Crum Meadow that had been successfully used as a ford during the Crum Regatta. It took entirely too much time and effort, but I felt sort of proud of myself in the end. That pride was likely the result of my idiocy and stubornness in even attempting the thing, but regardless, it’s something that I’m glad I did, but will never do again. Even on the walk out of Crum Meadow, I could still hear several Black-throated Blues singing along the path, and it was clear that this was just the beginning of the peak of migration. I look forward to my final week here.

  • 1 Scarlet Tanager – Southern Red Oak Forest
  • 3 Northern Parula – along entire route
  • 7 Black-throated Blue Warbler – along entire route
  • 5 Baltimore Oriole – Strath Haven, Southern Red Oak Forest, Crum Meadow
  • 1 Ovenbird – Skunk Cabbage Hollow
  • 3 Wood Thrush – Skunk Cabbage Hollow, Crum Meadow
  • 7 Gray Catbird – along entire route
  • 4 Northern Rough-winged Swallow – nesting at the Yale Ave. bridge

In the late afternoon, after some intense studying in Cornell, I decided to recharge with a quick walk along the North Crum Loop without binoculars, and it was clear that the day’s activity simply would not end.

  • 1 Hermit Thrush – Wister Forest, absolutely unreal looks, watched for about five minutes from five feet away.
  • 1 Scarlet Tanager – Upper Wister Draw
  • 2 Black-throated Blue Warbler – Upper Wister Draw, Wister Forest
  • 1 Great Crested Flycatcher – Wister Forest
  • 2 Baltimore Oriole – Wallingford Rd. bridge

Off the Beaten Path

5.1.2006, 830-1015 am
North Crum Loop
with Ben Ewen-Campen

Having an extra set of eyes and an extra dose of enthusiasm helps immeasurably, as Ben is far more willing than I to trample off the path to get a better look at something. That paid off pretty quickly, as I heard a robin-like song on the hill above Upper Wister Draw, that I called a possible Red-eyed Vireo, though I wasn’t confident with that at all, and Ben immediately charged up the hill to find it. After a few minutes, we found the bird, and my ID was wrong, it was actually a beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak, whose song I’ m not totally familiar with yet, this was the first time I’d found one in the Crum. I’m still working my way through all these robin-like songs

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, male. There were 6 of these in one tree in my backyard a few years ago, and I’d never seen them since, until today.

More off-trail exploring occured at the Wallingford Rd. Bridge, as we hacked our way through the stands of Japanese Knotweed to get better looks at Barn Swallows underneath the bridge. Sitting in the shade under the bridge and watching swallows swoop around was a thrill. Later I noticed that some of the fresh tracks below us on that bank were from deer.

Overall, a fairly short but productive day. Speaking of being productive, I need to get a lot of work done right now…

  • 1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak – male singing in Upper Wister Draw, eventually tracked down and good looks obtained
  • 1 Great Crested Flycatcher – calling across the creek from Wister Forest, got great looks too
  • 3 Eastern Kingbird – one very tame male above the Wallingford Rd bridge that even revealed the red crown, and two calling at Upper Wister Draw
  • 2 Wood Thrush – Wister Forest, Upper Wister Draw
  • 1 Gray Catbird – Wallingford Rd Bridge

Scaling the North Face and Thumbing Down the Highway

4.29.2006, 900-1145 am
Skunk Cabbage Hollow -> Wallingford Rd. Bridge -> Garden Ruins and Highway

This was another day largely devoted more towards exploring than to birding. The South Crum was relatively quiet, with a possible Eastern Kingbird being the only sighting of merit. In addition, I emerged into the clearing at Hollow Point to find myself staring at two Wood Ducks on a log floating in the creek. With the lighting, the male looked completely black, but with the white chinstrap and dark red eyes. Wood Ducks are incredibly striking even without their colors. The ducks and I stared at each other for about two seconds until the ducks burst into flight screaming.

As I walked the rest of the length of the Crum up to Upper Wister Draw, through the Wister, and up to the Wallingford Rd. Bridge, it became apparent that this was going be a very slow day of birding, and probably not really worth the energy. The North Crum was almost completely silent, with only a few twittering goldfinches, and swallows silently swooping around the bridge. By far the most exciting observation on this entire walk was the sight of 5 freshwater fish attempting to swim their way upstream in some of the shallow rapids just below the bridge. I’m working on an ID as we speak, but it was quite interesting to watch. Not as gripping and dramatic as salmon leaping up waterfalls, but still pretty nifty.

With the birding a lost cause then, I went to explore the opposite shore. I managed to find an amazingly flat fallen log at Wister bend that perfectly spanned the creek. Once on the opposite shore however, I found that there was no way I could simply walk along the creekside, as much of the opposite shore was made up of extremely steep slopes. Somehow, I managed to claw my way up a large rock formation, and onto a hairline path near the top of the hill, which was pretty exhilirating. I took some photos that I hoped would show the steepness of the slope, but they didn’t turn out to be especially impressive, so I won’t post them, haha.

The small path eventually connected with the much broader trail that is visible from the middle Crum, and so I strolled down towards the railroad bridge. This stretch of trail actually looked like it had the potential to be extremely productive; it reminded me very heavily of Yates Millpond and other areas back in NC, so I will definitely be investigating it more in the future. But today, it was just as quiet as the rest of the Crum, so I moved on to the oxbow swamp, which was similarly silent.

On the way up to the garden ruins however, I suddenly noticed a bright yellow bird flitting around near the ground. I knew what it was before I’d even raised my binoculars, as it’s one of the most distinctive birds in the East.

Hooded Warbler, male. For many years, it was my Nemesis Bird, as I had heard it singing numerous times at several locations around NC, but for some reason had never managed to actually obtain a look, as they were always extremely secretive and hiding in dense foliage. I’ve now come across Hooded Warblers on three ocassions in the Crum, with great looks every time. Photo by Steve Mahurin

The Ruins were far less impressive to me than they were yesterday; for some reason I’d remembered them being much larger. Andrew Frampton and Micaela Baranello informed me that the ruins were never actually the part of a larger structure, but were originally intended to look like ruins. The Crum Stewardship report indicates that they are the remnants of an abandoned water garden, which I can definitely picture. Also, it turns out that the ruins aren’t much of a secret after all, a few of the people that I excitedly babbled to somehow already knew about it. In any case, I took a few photos, then headed back out to the highway. This time, instead of swallows, I was rewarded with stunning views of my first Broad-winged Hawk, a beautiful adult with the clear black border on the wings, the banded tail, and all the other characteristic field marks.

For some reason, I felt an urge to walk south to see how things looked. Amazingly, the path soon began to border a retention pond filled with goldfish and koi, right next to the highway! On the way back, I also saw two snakes swimming in the pond as well. I was hoping for kingfishers or herons or ducks, but no dice, I seem to always expect those near any body of water. The trail then ran into a small creek (not the Crum), then careened underneath a highway bridge before terminating at a gravel parking lot. Some of this habitat looked very good, except that they were right next to a highway, and are probably filled with House Sparrows and the like. Regardless, it was fun to spend a morning exploring this side of the Crum.

  • 1 Hooded Warbler – male, under Garden Ruins, not singing, but flitting around near the ground and by a fallen log. Really doesn’t seem like its typical habitat at all, as very little low vegetation exists on that slope.
  • 1 Broad-winged Hawk – adult, soaring over the highway
  • 1 Eastern Kingbird – possibly spotted at the floodplain stretch, but good looks weren’t obtained. It was obviously a medium-sized bird with black upperparts with white underparts. I may have seen a white-tipped tail. I’m fairly sure that this was a kingbird.
  • 2 Wood Duck – pair at Hollow Point.
  • 1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow – retention pond
  • 1 Gray Catbird – retention pond, looking worried about the snakes

Mayaquest Adventures

4.28.2006, 230-440pm
Upper Wister Draw -> Oxbow Swamp -> ? -> Crum Meadow

If yesterday morning was the most relaxing walk I’ve taken this semester, this afternoon’s walk was by far the most ridiculously insane. Absolutely hands-down. What began as another tranquil stroll gradually turned into the most surreal series of events I’ve possibly ever experienced.

After Orgo lab, I went through Upper Wister Draw trying to relocate the morning’s Black-throated Green Warbler and Ovenbird. Neither were successfully found, though the place was swarming with Yellow-rumped Warblers. In the midst of all this, a man was loudly whistling and clapping, with two dogs on leashes calmly sitting at his side. Apparently he lost a third dog. But it was a truly bizarre soundtrack to a birding walk, and the warblers seemed equally perplexed.

In the midst of the Wister Forest, I was able to locate two Belted Kingfishers, and a pair of Mallards. Then, two middle-aged men whose race I was not able to determine began to speak to me in broken english.
– Seen anything interesting?
– Nope.
– Well, maybe you’ll see that…woodpecker. Yes, the Ivory one.
– (laughs) I sure hope I’ll get that lucky.
After a long walk, I inexplicably ran into them again, in a completely different part of the Crum, nearly 45 minutes later. What.
– Any luck?
– Nope, no luck.
– No luck, no luck…that’s how it always is. That’s why you need to go back and…get an education.

Because I felt like the lighting could be good, I decided that I’d go hop over to the other side of the creek, and check out the oxbow swamp. Over the ford, I decided to head towards the meadow and see if a path would lead back towards the swamp, and sure enough, I stumpled upon a path that led directly underneath the railroad bridge, and straight towards the swamp. And sure enough, just as the Natural Lands Trust promised, there was a true marsh in the depths of the Crum. A ring of skunk cabbages surrounded a large stand of reeds and cattails.

I began to wonder if there might be a small pond in the center of all this, so I tried to find a way of entering the marsh. I ended up climbing one of the bridge’s supports and carefully working my way towards the marsh. While on the supports, a train rumbled overhead, which was an absolutely thrilling/terrifying experience that I (don’t) look forward to experiencing again.

I wasn’t able to get far enough in, but I doubt there’s a pond, only a very small creek that likely tapers out in the middle of the marsh. In the process of discovering this however, I got sucked into the mud several times. On the way back to the main path, I was able to observe several of my very deep footprints throughout the marsh, which made me laugh.

Knowing that I’d heard a singing Wood Thrush opposite Crum Meadow yesterday, I decided to see if I could locate it, and follow the creek down the meadow. Sure enough, the thrush was still singing, and I ended up getting great looks at my first singing Wood Thrush of the year.

Since the lighting was so good, I went to find a path into the floodplain forest opposite the Crum thickets. But the path I followed ended up making a sharp turn up the hill, and I suddenly found myself climbing up an incredibly long and steep hill. It was completely unexpected, and I found myself gasping for breath from the surprising steepness, and I was unable to strain my neck to see the top of the hill. But eventually the ground began to slowly level off, and so I looked up, and was stunned to discover that I was suddenly at the foot of what appeared to be the ruins of a massive stone temple.

What.

Intrigued, I cautiously approached the ruins, and found two stone pillars marking the entrance to a stone patio, which opened up into what looked like a small ampitheater. This was straight out of some videogame like Zelda or Mayaquest, it was so completely hardcore and intense. Working my way around the edge of the ampitheater, up to the top, there was a short path that led to a tall stone wall. Following the wall to its edge, I peeked around, and found myself looking at…the highway, with cars hurtling by 20 feet away.

What.

I just started laughing. Of all the things I was expecting to find on the other side of the creek, I was not expecting to find a nice marsh underneath the railroad bridge, much less a set of ancient stone ruins, much less a path onto the highway leading from those said ruins. Actually, the path had led to a sidewalk that appeared to parallel the highway for quite some distance, and I’m very curious to know how many people use this sidewalk (who takes a long leisurely stroll beside a busy highway?), and whether any of those pedestrians had similarly stumbled upon the ruins. There was a lot of graffiti on the stone wall, but very few on the ruins. Overhead, two Northern Rough-winged Swallows flew in figure-eights over the mouth of the path, a great prize for my discovery. I stood and watched the traffic for a while, including a screaming ambulance hurtling past, forcing every car off to the side, and also watched the two swallows, before beginning my way back home, as it was getting close to dinnertime.

Back at the creek’s ford, the water level had inexplicably risen 3 or 4 inches during my excursion, which was not good for my socks and shoes. At least it cleaned off most of the mud. With the adrenaline rush dying down, I didn’t even bother to bird Skunk Cabbage Hollow, and just headed out of Crum Meadow, noting that yesterday’s House Wren was still singing from the Holly Collection. Telling Luis of my adventures back at the dorm, his response was:
(16:45:27) Luis Hernandez: sounds cool, give me the exact directions and ill take a girl there this weekend, perfect make out place im sure

What a surreal walk that was. I’m exhausted.