Your Watershed: A Winter Wonderland, Part 1

Jamilee Hoffman
Jan 15, 2024

Ring Necked Duck Winter Wonderland Series part 1

We are reposting this Winter Wonderland series this winter, written by intern Dante Falasco in 2020, to once again highlight the beauty of winter in our watershed! Find the original post here. 

Part 1 of our 3 part Winter Wonderland series

By Dante Falasco, TTF Intern

This past spring and summer, the Covid-19 Pandemic gave many people the opportunity to rediscover nature and their local parks. However, with the winter here, many have retreated back into their homes, waiting to emerge next spring.

Here at TTF, we don’t think this should be the case! The Philadelphia region and Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed are filled with lots of amazing wildlife during this time of year that many locals fail to notice. This winter, we want to encourage our local communities to get out and (safely) explore. That’s why we’re highlighting some of the area’s best wildlife and features during these cold months!

Here are some useful tips from our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on How to Adapt Trail Activities and Gear for Cold and Winter Conditions.

While researching, we contacted Navin Sasikumar to ask about the various species of birds that can be seen in the area during winter. Navin is a software engineer, who is also an amateur urban naturalist in his spare time. Initially a strict birder, he now spends most of his weekends in Philadelphia’s parks observing all kinds of new species and recording his findings in iNaturalist (which as you may know, is one of TTF’s favorite things)!

The Philadelphia region’s frigid temperatures during the winter typically force most birds to migrate south to seek out warmer climates. Despite that, there’s a resilient handful that stick around for our viewing pleasure. Perhaps the most common of these are ducks and other waterfowl, namely the Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, and the Ring-necked Duck.

What’s unique about these types of birds is that they actually migrate south towards us and hit their peak plumage around this time. There are two main types of ducks: dabbling ducks and diving ducks. Dabbling ducks can be found feeding in shallow water with their heads submerged in the water, while the diving ducks inhabit deeper bodies of water and submerge themselves completely searching for their next meal. All of these waterfowl can be seen in many places throughout the region like John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, FDR Park, and many spots along the Delaware River like the Navy Yard. 

Waterfowl are not the only bird that can be seen this winter season, though. There are multiple smaller species that follow the same pattern and migrate south towards us. One of these is the White-throated sparrow, which can be distinguished from other birds by its distinct song that goes ‘Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada’. They typically stick to the edge of wooded areas so Houston Meadow, Andorra Meadow, and Pennypack on the Delaware are all good places to spot these sparrows. They can even occasionally be seen on your very own bird feeder!

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is another unique bird to the area in the winter. It is a woodpecker that, as you might have guessed, eats sap from the inside of trees, as well as insects. They can be easily identified by their slight yellow bellies and red-furred heads. Sapsuckers stick to forest areas so you may be able to spot one in the Wissahickon, Tacony Creek Park, or Pennypack Park this winter!

One of the rarest birds you may be able to see is the elusive Snowy Owl. They spend their summers far north in the Arctic Tundra but can migrate as far south as the Philadelphia region in the winter months. They are one of the few birds that nest on the ground so be careful where you walk!

If it has recently snowed, it may be nearly impossible to spot one, due to its white-colored feathers. Even if it has not snowed, you will still have to be pretty lucky to spot one, since they do not always travel this far south. They love to perch themselves on high trees and nest in fields, so while it’s unlikely, you could possibly see one in the Houston Meadow or Pennypack on the Delaware.

These are just a few of the amazing birds and wildlife you may be able to see this upcoming winter. Words can only go so far in describing an experience in nature. So in order to get the full package, get out and (safely) explore the TTF Watershed and your local parks this holiday season! 

Please share your photos and experiences with us!

Thank you, Navin!!!

 And watch for Part 2 in this Watershed: Winter Wonderland series.

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