John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

When – 1st July, 2017
Where – John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more popular birding spots near Philadelphia. From the get-go I was sceptical of the richness of this preserve – for one, it is next to the airport and secondly, Google Maps told me that one side of the refuge is along I95, a heavily trafficked interstate.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Early July is not the best time of the year for birding here – it is after the breeding season and before the migratory season. Nevertheless, it was chock full of birds, I got more great shots in one morning here than four at Peace Valley Park. The concentration of water birds in John Heinz is an order of magnitude higher than at peace Valley, which makes it a great place for both birders and bird photographers.

After entering the refuge, we started off on a trail from the visitor center, along I95. This part of the trail is quite wooded and dark. Almost immediately however, there is a smaller trail that breaks away leading into the woods. Here I was able to spot and photograph this beautiful Carolina Wren.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 4500
A little further along, we heard a ‘throaty’ shriek. Triangulating our way, we found this Catbird with a bunch of insects in it’s beak making those sounds.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1600, f/5.6 @ ISO 4500
The trail soon opened out into a shallow swampy lake. A Great-blue Heron and a Great Egret were hunting here. A boardwalk with a couple of bird viewing areas crosses the lake. As we were crossing, the egret took off to another end of the refuge. I managed to get these 4 shots of it’s graceful flight.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 1000

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 800

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 900

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/2000, f/5.6 @ ISO 1600
We spotted these two American Goldfinches as we made our way along the trail.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 450

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 560
An experienced birder there, who was waiting for a shy Gallinule to show up, helped me sight this Prothonotary Warbler, a beautiful rare bird.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 2200
The lake is lined with tall grassy reeds, teeming with birds. These Marsh Wren made quite a racket, tiny though they are.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 800

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/1000, f/5.6 @ ISO 640
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are here aplenty too. I was able to photograph this one catch a tick before flitting away.

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 100

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Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500mm | 1/800, f/5.6 @ ISO 125
Talking to some other folks there, I had missed out on Gallinules, Bitterns, Ospreys and a Bald Eagle. John Heinz Refuge is definitely on my calendar for another visit during August-September when a lot of waterbirds make their migration south and take a break here.

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