King Ranch Grassland Birds

By: Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

On Wednesday, I took a group from Ashland to the mid-west, sort of.  Visiting the nearby King Ranch near Unionville, PA is a little like being transported to Iowa, bird-wise.

The King Ranch is a collection of privately-owned horse farms and agricultural area, mostly under conservation easement with the Brandywine Conservancy, assuring permanent protection from development.  The area is about 40,000 acres in size and is probably the most scenic area of southeastern PA.

Birding along a country road in the King Ranch area.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani
Birding along a country road in the King Ranch area. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our goal Wednesday morning was to see the nesting bird species that are tied to grassland habitat.  Led by Kevin Fryberger from the Brandywine Conservancy, we ventured out to one of the best locations. 

We weren’t disappointed, immediately being surrounded by courting and singing Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows.  The call of the Bobolink, a white-backed blackbird, sounds a lot like R2-D2, and is one of my favorite songs in nature.  Savannah Sparrows have not bred in Delaware in many years, but here they are fairly common breeders. 

Thousands of Bobolink breed in the King Ranch area, near Unionville, PA.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani
Thousands of Bobolink breed in the King Ranch area, near Unionville, PA. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Closing your eyes in this location with Bobolinks singing, and Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows buzzing their insect-like songs, plus Eastern Meadowlarks and calling Ring-necked Pheasants, and you indeed think you are in the mid-west.

Amidst this, another bird made an appearance that sealed the deal on our imaginary mid-west location.  While looking at a perched Bobolink, another bird popped up.  We got on it, and saw that it was a male Dickcissel singing.  It was joined by a female a short time later.  This species is truly mid-western in its normal range and sporadically visits and breeds in areas east of the Appalachians, but very, very rarely. 

We saw a pair of Dickcissel, a mid-western bird that rarely breeds east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Photo by Hank Davis
We saw a pair of Dickcissel, a mid-western bird that rarely breeds east of the Appalachian Mountains. Photo by Hank Davis

If you get a chance, drive route 82 north into PA, through Kennett Square.  Once you pass Unionville, you are in the King Ranch area.  Keep your eyes out for all of these species as you drive the back roads of the area, and don’t forget to enjoy the scenery!

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