Seeking Refuge is Not Just for the Birds

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Photo by Stefanie Pierpoint

Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Coot, Mute Swan, Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Greater Yellowlegs, Marsh Wren, Green-winged Teal, Ring-billed Gull, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Turkey Vulture, Dark-eyed Junco, Pectoral Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, American Robin, Mallard, Song Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Great Egret, and a pair of Bald Eagles were among the birds I saw on my first bird walk at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (Pennsylvania) this morning. A day described as “not bad for [my] first bird walk” by the white-haired gentleman who was friendly and eager to show me the identifying pictures in his bird book.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It took a lot of effort to get myself out of bed on such a cold, grey morning, but I arrived just in time to join the tour. I felt a little out of place with my not-so-super binoculars and obvious lack of bird knowledge that became apparent when the other tourists, including a very enthusiastic young man around the age of nine, began identifying birds and bird calls right out of the visitor center doors. These avian devotees intrigued me.

Photo by Stefanie Pierpoint

Photo by Stefanie Pierpoint

Throughout the tour, the others commented on how different birds made their landings in water and how some types of birds never sit still. While I have paid some attention to birds before, it was nice to hear others’ perspectives on these winged creatures. I really enjoyed listening to the comments and questions, such as “why are some female raptors larger than the males?” Our knowledgeable, patient, and enthusiastic guide led us on a fun and informative walk. I will be returning for more bird walks in the near future.

Post bird walk, I decided to continue on the woodsy paths and walkways around the refuge circling the Tinicum Marsh. It’s possible to walk the smaller loop in just under two hours or extend your stay by observing from many of the benches throughout the park. With the constant busyness of city life, this place is great for clearing thoughts or simply daydreaming.

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Photo by Stefanie Pierpoint

This was my fourth time walking the entire refuge. As usual, I was intrigued by the way the refuge changes colors and shapes with the seasons. It is so peaceful and beautiful to see the differences in the trees and marshes. On occasion, I might come across a turtle, some deer, a groundhog or other mammal, reptile, amphibian or insect that adds to the experience. I particularly love how the trees, vines and bushes are so entangled with each other that it almost seems playful instead of a struggle for space. The sun seems to make a conscious decision as to where to place its light to allow for the most dramatic effects, especially in the marsh grasses and among the trees which arch over the path as if protecting us visitors from the rest of the world, or at least the airplanes taking off from the Philadelphia Airport just next door. Yes, this wonderful refuge is placed right next to a major highway and airport, but don’t let that fool you. Once inside, it is easy to disregard the sounds of planes taking off and cars rushing by as there is so much to focus on. The whistling and chirping songs guiding me down the path tell me that the birds do not seem to mind at all.

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Photo by Stefanie Pierpoint

Just as I was finishing up my walk, a wide-eyed old man on his bicycle, dog sitting on the handlebars, came flying down the path singing about finding his true love louder than any bird or airplane. As his dog decided to join in, I decided this man has won the award for loudest songbird of the day.

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