Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bonanza Day

It seemed like old times today with birds flitting in and out of the Hercules Club. Since all the herbicide spraying at Carpenter's Woods I've limited my fall birdwatching to the Wissahickon and Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, excluding John Heinz NWR which seems to lack Hercules Club.

I've seen robins most days I've been out but not much else other than a few Black-throated Blues. Today was also quiet for the first hour. Only a Hairy Woodpecker added any excitement to the day.

But after about an hour a flock of American Robins came through, flitting here and there, bathing in the stream, and often crashing into the Hercules Clubs to gorge themselves. As I watched through my binoculars I began to pick up other smaller birds.

One was the prototypical warbler of the Walkingstick: the Black-throated Blue Warbler. He's almost THE picture of fall. But I also saw other birds, some about the same size, and another a bit larger. Eventually I identified a couple of small ones as Northern Parulas, a warbler I've often seen on Hercules Club.

But the larger one was a surprise and I think the first I've seen feeding on the fruit: a Scarlet Tanager, in the yellow colors of post-breeding. There was at least one and possibly more.

One other bird also made an appearance nearby: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the first I've seen this fall. I saw it in near proximity of Hercules Club but never actually feeding.

I think I spent at least an hour in this one location trying to ID all the birds that flew into the HC. This is the way I remember fall feeding on Hercules Club. The only thing missing was some of the rest of the thrush family.

The sketch at top includes a small warbler that I eventually was able to ID as a Northern Parula, a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, all sketched today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Black-throated Blues

The rain from various hurricanes and tropical storms finally stopped enough this weekend for me to get out and explore a bit. We were lucky, unlike many Pennsylvanians, in how little inconvenience or damage all that rain did to us personally.

The areas we visited over this weekend were really waterlogged and bird behavior was a bit odd. Almost no birds in the shady areas, including one particular area of Devil's Walkingsticks that is normally a good are for finding feeding warblers in fall. I did find my first male and female Black-throated Blue warbler on one plant at Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education on Saturday. But most of the birds were in the few sunlit areas, including one that had a lot of Hercules Club/Devil's Walkingstick, Grape and Crabapple.

All of these fruiting shrubs and trees attract migrants in fall. Here we also found a Gray Catbird feeding on the Hercules Club. Nearby I found my first Swainson's Thrush of the fall. Since I often see them eating Hercules Club at this time of year I expect that if I'd stuck around I would have found him eating as well. Other birds in vicinity were American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, and Red-Eyed Vireos. I didn't see any of them eating the fruit but I have seen Parula and Red-Eyed Vireos eating the fruit in the past. If I hadn't spent 3 hours in the shady areas of SCEE I might have spent more time in this rich sunlit area.

On Sunday my wife and I stopped by quickly. A female Black-throated Blue was eating the fruit and a male American Redstart and Black and White warbler were both nearby though we didn't see either eating.

As we left a group of American Robins were flopping around in some distant Hercules Club, ravenously eating the fruit, just the way that they do each fall.

By the way the large watercolor at top is based on photos and field sketches I made of Black-throated Blues eating Hercules Club fruit last fall.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I think I mentioned in my last post that this late summer/early fall is the first time that I've seen birds eating on the striking fruit of the spicebush, Lindera Benzoin. Today I again saw birds eating it, this time American Robins. The fruit, shown above, is about the size of a large pea. Not all that large but quite a bit larger than the very, small fruit of Devil's Walkingstick.

Today's tally of birds feeding on Devil's Walkingstick included many robins, a Veery, a Northern Flicker and a Carolina Chickadee. The latter was seen on the plant. I can't say for sure that he was eating.

Not to anthropomorphize too much but it seems to me that when robins feeds on Devil's Walkingstick they are gluttonous. They just land in a crash and then start eating. When they pluck a Spicebush fruit it seems more methodical and more as though they know that they're getting a rare and irresistible delicacy. As I said this is anthropomorphizing. I'm only putting into the words the way it strikes me.

I spent three hours on Forbidden Drive along the Wissahickon today. It was a pleasure to see so many walkingstick and see birds on them. I suspect that there might have been warblers too but most of the feeding was on the furthest shrubs not the closest so it was hard to ID smaller birds.

By contrast I spent yesterday at Carpenter's Woods, normally a favorite birding spot of mine, especially in spring and fall when migrants are abundant. But not yesterday. I saw more mosquitoes than birds during the first hour. Worse most all of the Hercules Club have been destroyed. You can read about it here. Much of the land is currently barren, a victim of cutting and herbicide done by the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation. This has been threatened for over a year now.

As the link says the intent is to re-establish native trees and shrubs and thus benefit native wildlife. We shall see. It is true that many of the old oaks that are so important to Carpenters Woods have fallen. If this helps new ones grow that's all to the good. But there has never been any need to include Hercules Club in the list of invasive species. Just how invasive is a shrub that provides food to so many species?

For now though I'll not continue to go to Carpenter's Woods to see which migrants are feeding on Devil's Walkingstick. There are too few left to be of any use. Let's hope Parks and Recreation doesn't also try to apply this misguided policy to the walkingstick along the Wissahickon. There are already ominous signs there of bird habitat destroyed in the interest of some type of 'improvement.'
You have to wonder just what the migrating Black-throated Blues, among others, will feed on.

There always are those beautiful spicebush. But it won't take long for all those fruit to disappear.