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Awesome places to go birdwatching in the Philadelphia area

By Jared Brey

If you think birds are boring, imagine how boring they find you. Every spring, more than 30 species of warblers pass through Pennsylvania on their migratory route from Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean—not to mention the various species of woodpeckers, finches, flycatchers and shorebirds that visit the region this time of year. They stay to breed or they move on to points north. They carry different patterns of finery and have names like American redstart, Louisiana waterthrush and ovenbird. Your name is just Jared, or whatever, and you’ve spent the past 12 months reading about stuff you hate on Facebook. If you’re looking for a change of pace, here are a few leads to get started.

Free tours at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Little Blue Heron at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge

Photograph: Bill Buchanan/USFWS

You don’t have to wait till it’s warm outside to see some remarkable birds. Throughout the year, volunteers lead bird-watching walks at this wildlife refuge in the southernmost tip of Philadelphia; in February, check out the Winter Waterfowl edition. Regular sightings include ring-necked ducks, ruddy ducks, northern shovelers, gadwalls and northern pintails, according to Wingyi Kung, a visitor service specialist at John Heinz, and the bald eagles that nest in the refuge should be incubating their eggs by then, says Kung. If you don’t have binoculars, borrow a pair at the front desk—and check out the calendar for more spring tours.

Woodcock Dance at Cape May Bird Observatory

American Woodcock Cape May Bird Observatory

Photograph: CC/Flickr/Claudine Lamothe

The American woodcock is a chubby little meatball of a bird with an exceptionally long bill. In the spring, when they’re ready to mate, male woodcocks perform a zigzaggy dance in the air, and the breeze rushing through their wings makes a high-pitched whistling sound that female woodcocks find charming. In March, join the Cape May Bird Observatory on a trip to catch the nuptial flight of the male American woodcock ($20). The event takes place on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, but you’ll have plenty of time to return to town for a green beer at McGillin’s.

Shorebirds on the Delaware Bay

Shorebird on the Delaware Bay

Photograph: Shutterstock

The spring bird population in the Delaware Bay starts to peak in early May, when shorebirds descend on the beach to feast on horseshoe crab eggs. Later in May, the Wetlands Institute throws the annual Spring Shorebird and Horseshoe Crab Festival ($15) in Cape May, NJ. But beginning in April—when herons, egrets, ospreys and black-bellied plovers are common—Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, across the bay from Cape May, hosts walking tours. Keep an eye out for scheduled events, or download one of the park’s bird checklists and strike out on your own.

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