Thursday, January 29, 2015

So You Want to See the Redpolls at the Philadelphia Navy Yard?

Recently there have been some great birds spotted near me in the Philadelphia Navy Yard (note: I've seen it at “Naval Yard” many places, like on eBird, but the official name according to its website is “Navy Yard”). There has been a Vesper Sparrow for weeks now (not bad!), a handful of Common Redpolls (I need those!), and a single Hoary Redpoll (damn, that's a good bird!). If you ever need a reason to go birding there, then those are some pretty good ones.

Vesper Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, by Damon Orsetti

But if you do go, know there are some problems you might come across if you go. So, before you take a trip over to Philadelphia to get your next life bird (and I've run across a few people from many states who showed up to find it), let me guide you through it all so you know where to find it, when to go, and what to avoid.

When is the Navy Yard Open?
Know that the Philadelphia Navy Yard is gated and has security, so you can't just go any time you want. On the weekdays it is open 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, but NOTE: THE NAVY YARD IS CLOSED ON THE WEEKEND. Note this well, because if you travel up here on the weekend, you will be turned away. If you want to go, go on the weekday.

Getting to the Navy Yard.
It is a little weird to get to the Navy Yard, because (at least approaching from the south on 95) you take an exit and then almost immediately take left and another left (almost like a u-turn). When you do this, if you are then in the wrong lane, you'll be back on the interstate, so be mindful of the signs.

That said, when you leave, the signage to get back to the interstate is pretty misleading, and the best way to actually get back onto 95 is to take the same double left you took to get to the Navy Yard. Now you can follow the signs to get to the interstate.

From Northbound 95

Be warned, you might get kicked out.
I did! I think I might have been with the first group ever to get kicked out. Now, you might think that this is bad, but it isn't. Let me explain.

You won't get kicked out of the Navy Yard, just the undeveloped area where the good birds are. This might change, of course, but it doesn't seem likely. Just follow my instructions below and you should be OK.

The problem is that there is no reason to believe you should get kicked out. I mean, there are signs for places that are restricted, but the Redpolls are not actually in any of those areas. In fact, all you have to do is walk a little bit down a road near a parking lot and you can see them. Just stay cool, keep a low profile and, for the love of god, don't just pull your car onto a field and park (see below). I've been there when police/security have driven past me and didn't care, but they might be a little more stringent about who can be there recently. When I finally did see the Redpolls, a few hours later the security came and kicked everyone out. Bad, right? Well, we still get sightings from there, so you still have a chance of not getting kicked out.

Remember, if you do get kicked out, just apologize and say you didn't see the signs that say it was off limits. This not only makes you polite and doesn't poison the well for others, but it also gently reminds them that there is no reason for you to think you shouldn't be there (unless they installed some signs recently, and if that is the case just willfully ignore them so you can be honest when you say you didn't see them).

Directions to Redpoll and Vesper area

 First thing to do is park in the parking lot. When people just pull off onto the dirt it not only attracts unwanted attention, but it is also inconsiderate when there is a whole freaking parking lot right there. We know you really want to see it, but you can't just park right next to it. Park in the parking lot and walk a little (and worry about security seeing you walk there, I know....part of the thrill, right?).

Park in the parking lot, please.
Now these birds could be anywhere there (and they might even be gone by the time you get there, knowing your luck), but people have had the most success looking in the birch trees where they feed on the catkins. What's a birch tree? Seriously, try to be more of a naturalist and less of a bird lister! They have somewhat peely bark and often have multiple trunks coming up from a single area. Here, just look for this area.

They move around a bunch though (the birds, not the trees)

They might be close, they might be far, so bring the scope if you have it with you. HOWEVER....the spot to see them from the road might be a bit conspicuous, so if you think that you are made, you might want to slip in the little pathway behind the birch trees (heck, it might get you a better view anyway).

They have been seen all over, so look for them. There is a single Hoary Redpoll and anywhere from 1-5 reported Common Redpolls (the mode seems to be 3), and they hang out together. American Goldfinches will also be there among the birch trees to annoy you.

Hoary and Common Redpoll
Distant Hoary and Common Redpolls at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, by Damon Orsetti
There is a Vesper Sparrow in the same relative area as the Redpolls, but I've seen it closer to the road so you might get a good look or picture of it (my Vesper Sparrow picture is orders of magnitude greater than any of my Redpoll pictures).

If you get kicked out of the area (and even if you don't!) you can head down to the riverfront and walk along and look for ducks and gulls and cormorants. There are possibilities of Ruddy Ducks, Greater Scaups, Canvasbacks, and lots and lots of Common Mergansers there, plus it is a great place to see Great Cormorants and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. No promises though. Bald Eagles are fairly regular sightings too, but if you are coming to see the Hoary Redpoll then you probably have seen plenty of them.

If you have more time to go birding, FDR Park is really close by. Just keep going north on Broad after leaving the Navy Yard and it will be on your left (you'll have to turn onto another street, but it is obvious). This time of year isn't the greatest for FDR Park, but it is really close.

The obvious next place to go is JohnHeinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum (often just called “Heinz” or “Tinicum” depending on how long someone has lived in the area). Just take 95 south a few exits and follow the signs.

Heinz (I've only lived here for 2.5 years) is an outstanding birding place (I am totally biased because I volunteer to lead bird walks there), and if the water is open this time of year (it freezes pretty quickly when it gets cold) you can get pretty much any waterfowl you can imagine. Plus there is an active Bald Eagle nest and lots of forests, fields, and wetlands to get you a good variety of birds. An Iceland Gull was spotted there recently, and the Northern Shrike that has been there for the past 4 winters is back and often quite easily spotted. Ask at the front desk where to look.

Ok, so you all ready to go to the Philadelphia Navy Yard now? You know where to go, when to go, what to expect, and you have tempered your expectations due to risk of getting kicked out? Great, now go there and get those birds!

If enough people go there, maybe they will accept that they have a good birding spot and be ok with it? Heck, maybe the Navy Yard will appreciate that this birding thing is bringing people to them and could actually, you know, use this great bird sighting as a source of exposure and free advertisement?

[EDIT] So apparently the security is much tighter now, and they tell you that you have to stay on the paved roads and find you immediately (or at least until their memory of this slows down). I think they must have said something to eBird because the hotspot now has a (restricted access) after it, and they took down all the Hoary Redpoll sightings (except the initial ones) from the rare bird alerts, despite them being approved and with photographic documentation (mine included). I wonder if they invoked their "sensitive species" clause or whatever, or maybe they don't want to make waves with the Navy Yard. Either way, there hasn't been much sightings lately (the removed sightings are still visible under the recent sighting lists on the hotspot page).

No comments:

Post a Comment