It's that familiar time of year again - fall migrants have departed, the temperatures are dropping, and we're mistaking falling leaves for birds while birdwatching. It's fall!
We're popping in to your inbox today to bring you some stories from the field, let you know about upcoming programs, and more! There is never a dull moment for the VFAS volunteers. Thank you for your interest in your local Audubon chapter, we hope to see you at a program soon!
This fall, look for birding field trips to Waterloo Mills Preserve, Fischer's Park, the Schuylkill River Trail, and Black Rock Sanctuary, as well as a Black Friday hike. In the new year, we'll have a webinar on Waterfowl ID, where we will go over tips for identifying ducks, geese, and swans. We will also have our annual trip to Middle Creek to see snow geese, tundra swans, and ducks. More events will be added to our calendar once they are finalized.
Join us for the 2022 Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 24. The count is the longest continuous census in the new world. The count stretches from the high Arctic to South America.
By volunteering for this event you are helping scientists determine the long-term population trends for birds in our area.
This annual event includes teams of birders surveying eleven sections within a prescribed 15-mile diameter circle, the center of which is the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. Because this is at the holiday season and many people travel, we can be short of volunteers for the count. If you are in town for the holiday and want to help, please contact Vince Smith by December 17 to be assigned to a team.Beginning birders are welcome and will be assigned to a team with experienced members.
If you’ve entered Heinz National Wildlife Refuge recently at the Philadelphia entrance, you may have seen and heard construction equipment. Maybe, like me, you were annoyed that a major trail is temporarily blocked.
However, this project is a big victory for birds. The Henderson Marsh Restoration Project is regenerating the water flow of 150 acres of tidal marsh habitat by excavating new channels and developing new openings in the impoundment dike to reconnect the tidally restricted marsh to Darby Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River. Among the many birds likely to benefit are Belted Kingfishers, Osprey, and Bald Eagles which depend on healthy habitat for catching fish.
Valley Forge Audubon Society has been conducting Spring and Christmas bird counts for more than 30 years. VFAS tasked Ty Sharrow and Kelly Johnson to do a statistical analysis of this data with the assistance of Dr. Paul Bernhardt of Villanova University. The purpose of their analysis was to look at general population trends and how bird populations may have been affected by various factors over the years of the count. On October 2, they presented the final results of their analysis. View the presentation by clicking the button below:
In 1996, Charlestown Township purchased twenty acres of the Brightside Farm in order to preserve the land from impending development. In 2000 the township, aided by a significant grant from Chester County, added fifty-five additional acres to the original purchase under the condition that the land would be used as a public park. Aside from what is now known as Brightside Farm Park, Charlestown Township residents have demonstrated their commitment to the environment through an earned income tax devoted to open space preservation.
Yet it was in 2021, when a kestrel box was installed on a utility pole within Brightside Farm, that the ecological importance of the park truly began to emerge . . .
The Sad Tale of a Barn Swallow Colony in Delaware County
Since 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of the United States has prohibited the killing, capturing, or transport of protected migratory bird species – nearly every bird found within the nation – without prior approval from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The MBTA protects birds by making it unlawful to kill, take, possess, capture, pursue or hunt, sell, or transport any bird, bird part, nest, or egg of a migratory bird unless authorized under a permit issued by the USFWS. Passed over a century ago with support from the newly established National Audubon Society, the MBTA has saved millions, if not billions, of birds over the years. To assist in the protection of birds, many companies work with conservation groups and wildlife agencies to develop and implement practices to mitigate the human-induced problems birds face today such as oil spills, high tension power lines, and habitat degradation. But when the protection of a species impedes corporate goals, destructive activities may fly under the radar.
Birds such as barn swallows often build their nests in places such as chimneys, barn rafters, under bridges, or on the eaves of houses. Their nests are made of mud, grass, and feathers and form an open cup shape, and the swallows return to these nests annually to lay eggs and raise young. Swallows are great insect controllers, swooping and swerving to catch pests such as flies, gnats, moths, and spiders. But because barn swallows choose to build nests on and inside buildings, conflict with humans may arise – even if humans have long since abandoned a swallow nesting site.
Judy Faith first noticed barn swallows nesting at an abandoned shopping center in Delaware County last year. The birds seemed happy and healthy then, flying in and around the unused building. She noticed that the swallows returned to the building this summer, again nesting in the rafters. Knowing that the building’s demolition was looming, Judy became increasingly worried that the birds might not complete their nesting before the demolition. Concerned about the birds’ safety, Judy reached out to the construction company overseeing the project. She was met with apparent understanding, her primary point of contact concerned as much as she was.
Judy explained the protections granted to the swallows by the MBTA, stating that destroying the nests would be illegal and that the swallows must be allowed to stay until they migrate. While the project manager understood, he was unsure that the demolition could be postponed, but did assure her it would not occur until after the first of July. Judy continued to visit the site, checking up on and photographing the barn swallows. She noticed that from one week to the next the nestlings sprouted feathers and hoped that in just a few more weeks, by the beginning of July, they would be strong enough to leave their nests.
But the demolition came sooner than expected. On Friday evening June 24, Judy received a call from the project manager explaining that the site would be demolished the following Monday morning. Judy contacted both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pennsylvania Game Commission for assistance. She also called several wildlife rescue centers, asking if they could do anything to assist. But as the birds were not injured, the centers were unable to help.
Passing the construction site on Monday June 27 around 7:30 AM, Judy noticed that demolition had already begun. Luckily, she had already gathered the supplies to carefully relocate the mud nests and quickly pulled her car over. With tools in hand, Judy attempted to get the attention of a construction worker but was soon met with shouts from the men on-site. As they rudely attempted to get her to leave, Judy explained the situation and told the manager on-site that she had been in contact with the project manager. To her dismay she soon discovered that the on-site manager was not aware of the nesting barn swallows, nor the MBTA.
After a bit of back and forth, the on-site manager called up the project manager. Fortunately, he told the workers to help Judy remove the nests before the building was demolished. A young man working on the site soon appeared with a ladder and an empty box, and the construction workers began to relocate the nests. Using the tools Judy brought – a small trowel and a few garden pots – the men attempted to remove the mud nests as the adult barn swallows frantically flew about. Frightened by the birds, the construction workers were only able to remove five of the many nests before the building was torn down, but two of those nests were empty. The nests containing nestlings were taken to a local wildlife rehabilitation center.
When companies fail to adopt common sense practices and their activities lead to bird deaths, the MBTA provides a critical tool for accountability through enforcement of the law by issuing penalties in obvious cases, as well as a key incentive to implement these practices in the first place. Unfortunately, these laws are not always enforced. Having a law such as the MBTA in place is only one part of wildlife conservation. Companies must adhere to environmental protection laws, which must be enforced. Whenever possible, companies should educate their employees on any environmental issues they may face while working. Construction companies could even partner with local environmental organizations to guarantee the protection of our wildlife. Unless all of us, like Judy, speak up and take action, our wildlife will only continue to suffer.