A Wetland Walk at Tinicum NWR


Sunday was cold with a biting wind, so, I decide to go on a bird walk.

It wasn’t raining. I bundled up to meet some of my naturalist buddies down at Tinicum Marsh (John Heinz National Wildlife Refugee at Tinicum) for a 9am bird walk.

I like going on these walks because the people who led them seem to know the best spots to find particular birds. We saw Great Blue Herons, Carolina Wrens, Kingfishers, Blue Jays, White-throated Sparrows, Red-wing Blackbirds and various woodpeckers.

But, walking with a group of a dozen people is not a quiet affair and I am sure some birds fled or hid at our noisy approach.

John Heinz NWR at Tinicum
John Heinz NWR at Tinicum

So, I decided after the two-hour bird walk in 27°F weather to walk the refugee alone. The refugee trails had few people on them.  There were  just runners and a few bike enthusiasts.

Walking alone and quiet has perks. Right away, I saw and heard a Brown Creeper (Certha americana) making its way up tree trunks near the embankment. I heard its’ high-pitched call which I had never heard before. Brown Creepers aren’t very common in the area, but I have seen two in the last three weeks, once at Schuylkill and now at Tinicum.

Tufted Titmouse in the underbrush at Tinicum NWR in Philadelphia
Tufted Titmouse in the underbrush at Tinicum NWR in Philadelphia

I walked a path with woods on one side and marsh on the other. In the dried golden marsh reeds, little birds moved from stalk to stalk. I spied female Red-wing Blackbirds, Song, and White-throated Sparrows.

It felt special, standing in the woods, surrounded by flying sparrows.

The birds flew fast and all around me as I stood on the path. The little birds flew in front and behind me, landing in the dry crinkly leaves on the woodland floor. They were a flock, foraging for food in the trees and leaves.

I heard them moving.  Bunches of leaves were tossed in the air. I stepped carefully as not step on a twig and startle them. They knew I was there, they can see me. But they are probably used to humans. They watch me and go about their business.

I spied a Baltimore Oriole nest hanging from the very tip of a branch.  You wonder how a nest so fragile could hold eggs, then chicks while dangling in mid-air. And it must be strong to last this far into winter, with cold snaps, freezes and chill winds blowing.

Most of the water in the impoundment was frozen. But there was unfrozen clear water along the edges.

As I walked past the impoundment I gazed into the unfrozen and clear water. I wondered about the frogs and turtles I saw in this very spot in summer. I bet they are dug-in deep into the mud hibernating throughout the winter.

The water was clear without duckweed or spatterdock to obstruct my view. A small fish, perhaps an Eastern Mosquito Fish (Gambusia holbrooki) swam in the frigid water.

As I walked along the canal, I smelled the marsh.  A smell of soil, mud and decay. The smell is not unpleasant. But it smells of green plant life, of summer and growing things. It that stands out in a dried brown, marsh world.

More Water and Wetland Posts

Field Trip: Jenkintown Creek and a Not Quite Vernal Pool

Philadelphia’s Coastal Plain

Silver Lake Nature Center

Crosswicks Audubon Sanctuary

Vernal Pools

Vernal Pools: Links to Indicator Species Information

How to Photograph Moving Water


    • Hi, Donna

      Great Blue Herons live here in SE Pennsylvania all year-around. We see them in the marshes, rivers and sometimes farther inland. They are rare to uncommon in the winter which is probably why I saw just one.

      They probably are along the Delaware coast and a little further south during the winter.

      We had snow on Halloween and not a flake since.

  1. That looked like the perfect day for a walk as well. I love winter days like that with the crystal clear blue skies. Time is moving at a pace though and nature is getting on with things.

    Good post.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Powell

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