A few weeks ago I went birding at John Heinz NWR where I saw my first Monarch Butterfly of the season (which since this was late June was very late to be spotting my first Monarch).
I returned again this weekend because I had heard that a Least Bittern was raising 4 chicks in the marsh, and I really wanted to see these elusive birds:
Bittern babies emerge! We’re delighted to highlight these Least Bittern fledglings, reflecting healthy marshland habitat at Heinz Refuge, to support this state-endangered species. These tiny herons are usually shy and elusive, nesting amongst patches of spatterdock in the Refuge impoundment, and stalking reeds to hunt for fish. Several pairs are active this summer, providing glimpses to visiting birders and photographers. Thanks to photographer Sanjib Bhattacharyya for sharing this inspiring photo! ~From the Friends of John Heinz NWR Facebook page
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful example of how habitat can be created even in urban areas.
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is located in Philadelphia and Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania, about 1 mile from the Philadelphia International Airport. In fact standing on the road around the impoundment at the refuge is a good spot to watch planes taking off and landing at the airport, which doesn’t seem to be the best place for a wildlife refuge at all.
From the John Heinz NWR website:
The refuge was established by an act of Congress in 1972 to protect the last 200 acres of freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania. When acquisition is complete, it will consist of 1200 acres of varied habitats.
Over the years, the refuge has become a resting and feeding area for more than 300 species of birds, 80 of which nest here. Fox, deer, muskrat, turtles, fish, frogs and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants call the refuge “home”.
The history of Tinicum Marsh, the largest remaining freshwater tidal wetland Pennsylvania goes back to the first settlements in the region in 1634. Swedes, Dutch and English diked and drained parts of the marsh for grazing. At that time, the tidal marshes measured over 5,700 acres. The rapid urbanization since World War I, reduced tidal marshes to approximately 200 acres. The remnant of this once vast tidal marsh is protected by the refuge.
A diked, non-tidal area of 145 acres, adjacent to the eastern end of Tinicum Marsh, was donated by the Gulf Oil Corporation to the City of Philadelphia in 1955. This area, administered for the benefit of wildlife and people, was known as Tinicum Wildlife Preserve. The areas of open water along with the adjacent heavily vegetated tidal wetlands, formed an ideal habitat for thousands of migratory waterfowl.
In 1969, the remaining area was threatened by plans to route Interstate 95 through it and by a sanitary landfill on the tidal wetlands. These activities started a long series of injunctions, public hearings and extraordinary efforts by private and public groups to secure rerouting of the highway and termination of the landfill operation. Under legislation passed by Congress in 1972, authorization was given to the Secretary of the Interior to acquire 1200 acres to establish the Tinicum National Environmental Center.
Signs of the urban nature of this wildlife refuge are everywhere. You can see the oil refinery tanks on the other side of Darby Creek from the impoundment road.
Gulf Oil donated a portion of this refuge to the city, but has maintained an oil pipeline that runs through the refuge.
In the winter of 2000 Sunoco had a 192,000 gallon oil spill that damaged much of the habitat at John Heinz NWR, and work is still underway to heal the land from this toxic poison. This oil spill flooded the tidal Darby Creek and spilled over into the impoundment. Darby Creek is a tidal creek which connects to the Delaware River (which separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey) and flows into the Delaware Bay (which separates southern New Jersey from Delaware) and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Damage to wildlife and wildlife habitats from the Sunoco oil spill had dire consequences from the Darby Creek, to the Delaware River, throughout Delaware Bay, and along nearby Atlantic coast shorelines.
There is an abundance of wildlife living in this urban wildlife refuge, which just goes to show that even if you live in a city you can create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.
I saw a Song Sparrow with an insect to feed its babies
I observed thousands of Mining Bees making nest holes along the impoundment road
I got to see a Forsters Tern Drop off a fish for its chicks
Great Blue Herons were posing on various posts
Great Egrets were hunting fish
Green Herons skulked along the protected edges of the marsh
Wood Duck chicks are beginning to get their adult plumage
Tiger Swallowtails nectared at the Pickerel Weed
Turtles basked in the sun
And Dragonflies were in abundance
So my visit to the urban John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge was a wonderful way to spend some quality time in nature without leaving the city of Philadelphia where I live.
What’s your favorite urban wildlife haven?
Please enjoy my other visits to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum:
- Very Late first Monarch of the Season
- Wildlife Gardens Expand Urban Wildlife Corridors
- A Visit to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
- Kids and Nature Enliven Your Life
- Early Spring Critters at John Heinz NWR
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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