By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader
Great Blue Herons are seen commonly along Piedmont rivers, lakes, and ponds. However, where are they nesting? Usually, I assume that in the summer, most that I see around Ashland Nature Center are on feeding forays from Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, where there is a large nesting population.
However, the Red Clay Watershed does have its own small rookery near Kennett Square, PA. I led a birding trip to the property this morning to see if the birds were still using the rookery and to look for other birds. Great Blue Herons have nested at this location for more than 10 years.
This private property is along the west branch of the Red Clay Creek. When we arrived, we went straight to the rookery site and found 15 active Great Blue Heron nests. Some of the birds were incubating eggs, while others were busy building their nests.
The rookery is located on the edge of a woods where there is a 2-acre pond. Why did they choose this site? It did not seem unique in our eyes, but the herons must see something about it that suits them.
Beyond the heron rookery, we found some songbirds like Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Bluebird and Eastern Towhee. The main advance of songbirds migrating north has not shown up in this area yet, even though based on tree leaf-out, it looks like mid-May around here.
Further along, I was a bit surprised to see a HUGE nest. The nest was not here the last time I visted a few years ago. There was nothing in the nest that we could see, but there is only one bird in this area that could have built it…a Bald Eagle. I could not tell if it was occupied or not. Maybe it was built and abandoned, or maybe it was used for only one year. At any rate, this would only be the second Bald Eagle nest that has been found recently in the Red Clay Creek watershed. The other one is in the Delaware section of the creek.
Look for breeding birds in Delaware and contribute your sightings to the Breeding Bird Atlas Project. Visit the Delaware Breeding Bird Atlas page to find out how you can participate in this fun survey that lasts through 2012.