The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. A Cloudy, Rainy But Interesting Hike In South Philadelphia

The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. A Cloudy, Rainy But Interesting Hike In South Philadelphia

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (31 of 34)
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I first saw what I now know is the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in  Philadelphia in the early 1990’s. It was  shortly after the “Blue Route”  or Interstate 476 was opened to traffic. We used this route  as a  “short cut” to travel to Phillies  baseball and Eagles  football games from my home in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The distance was longer but we avoided the dreaded traffic on the  Schuylkill Expressway. It took us  north on  Interstate 95 and past a large  area of swamps and wetlands.  Years later,  after many visits to the stadiums and  the Philadelphia airport I learned these swamps and wetlands were a wildlife refugee. And  more recently it was the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and a great place to see water fowl and other birds.  

This past weekend I had a trustee meeting to  attend in the Philadelphia area.   I decided to stay the night and visit the John Heinz National Wildlife Center for the  first time. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived at the refuge. It was cloudy with some light rain and an occasional downpour. I braved the foul weather hoping to see some water fowl as I explored,  what I learned,  is the largest remaining fresh water marsh in Pennsylvania. I left the visitor center parking lot located just off of Lindbergh Blvd. in South Philadelphia and began my hike on the Wetland Loop. 

The fresh water marsh  was once over 5000 acres. Only 2oo acres remain of this unique habitat which  is home to so many diverse types of plants and wildlife. The entire refuge protects about 1000 acres of wetlands, woodlands and the remaining marsh. The area was once a favorite fishing  hunting, gathering area of the Native Americans, This was the homeland of the Turtle Clan of the Lenni Lenape. They called it Tennakon Minquas or “islands of the marsh”. The first settlers in the area named it the Tinicum Marsh. 

The marsh was almost completely lost  to a landfill and the construction of Interstate 95 in the 1950’s and 10960’s. A group of residents  and  conservationists fought against these developments and in 1972 Congress passed legislation creating the Tinicum National Environmental Center. It was later renamed the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. where I was now hiking and exploring for the first time.   I followed the  Wetland Loop along the Darby Creek for about a half mile. A large lake was on the other side of the trail. 

I was disappointed at the beginning of my hike. I saw almost no wildlife or birds on the creek or lake. A few Canada geese honked on the far side of the lake and, a couple of mallard ducks flew over me, 

as did this, I believe, herring gull. 

I continued my hike even though there were occasional downpours. The trail passed some ancient red  maple trees, 

which already had some red buds on the old gnarled branches. 

There were still some green leaves that survived the winter on the blackberry canes along the trail. 

The only other green I saw were the leaves  of the invasive and destructive fig-wort plant. 

The dried reeds and bristle grass from last years growth were also seen along the trail. 

I walked past a number of observation platforms but,

I saw nothing to observe..

I had  heard there was a lot of water fowl and other birds in the refugee and  I was beginning to doubt these  reports, when, as the trail made a turn, I came to an inlet and found a whole lot of ducks and geese.

There were dozens  of ring necked ducks, 

as well as northern shoveler duck. This is  a colorful male duck. . 

There were also some mallard ducks, 

and Canada geese that intermingled with the ducks.

On  the other side the trail was a muddy wetland where there were also had a lot of Canada geese.  I now wished it wasn’t raining and late in the afternoon.  This place looked like it would have a lot of wildlife activity on a nice day. 

I walked the Wetland loop trail along the lake, until I reached the  Turkey Foot Trail.  

Here I walked out on  the Tinicum Marsh  boardwalk overlooking the vast muddy marsh.

I am not sure,  but I think there is more water and vegetation in the Spring. .  Here seagulls flew over the muddy flatlands. I think this one is a ring billed gull but I am not sure. 

I walked back to the Wetland loop and followed it for a short distance further, I came back to the lack were I saw more ducks, geese and a pair of  invasive mute  swans.

.It was  now late afternoon, The rain had finally stopped but it was getting close to sunset. . I had walked out about  1 and  1/2 half miles so I wanted to get back before it got dark.  

As I walked back I heard a lot more birds along the way. There were many red-winged black birds and song sparrows singing in the trees. I was able to photograph this northern cardinal, 

and this downy woodpecker on my return hike.  Here is a link  to a gallery with some more photos of the birds I saw at the John Heinz  National Wildlife Refuge. Philadelphia John Heinz birds.  February 17 2023. 

As I neared the parking lot I heard a splashing in the Darby Creek. I investigate and found a swarm of carp flopping near a water outflow. 

I had no idea why they were there and what they were doing but  it was a cool thing to watch.  After watching the swarming fish I finished my three mile hike and drove back to my lodging for the night.  Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with more photos from my first  hike in the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Philadelphia  John Heinz February 17 2023. 

I was staying at the Gables Bed and Breakfast on Chester Street in the University City section of Philadelphia. I

t was a wonderful  place to spend the night

I will write more about the house, it’s history  and neighborhood in another blog. 

After a  quick shower I walked about a half mile to the Vientiane  Cafe on Baltimore Avenue. It was a great meal. I was starving.   For the new followers of my  blog, I am usually starving after my hikes, and when I travel, I like to share photos of  my meals.  I  started with a  bowl of  tom yum soup.

my main course was a  a whole fried pompano fish with a ginger sauce ,

and for dessert, banana chocolate spring rolls

I left the restaurant and had a pleasant, but cold,  walk back to my lodging. A cold front had passed through the area dropping temperatures into the low 30’s with a strong northwesterly wind.  If it weren’t so cold I would have strolled the quaint  streets of the University City  neighborhood.  I was tired but I love exploring the streets of a city at night. Hopefully I will return soon to further explore this neighborhood and the  John Heinz National Wildlife refuge. On Friday I was soon in my room, edited some photos and fell asleep looking forward to a morning hike in the refuge. I love Philadelphia . 

“A city isn’t so unlike a person. They both have the marks to show they have many stories to tell. They see many faces. They tear things down and make new again.”
― Rasmenia Massoud


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