You are here

Paradise Creek Nature Park is for the Birds

"I'm Dave Gibson, the 'resident birder' here. I want to do two things: plug birds and plug this park, a bird
sanctuary. Last spring my wife and I participated along with [Urban Park Ranger] Sarah and [ERP Staff Member]
Dave Koubsky in a Cradock Middle School afterschool program here at the park. [Ranger] Sarah had asked
me to talk to the kids about birds and birding. At one point we all ventured down to the dock. I had my field
gear including my spotting scope. A male Red-winged Blackbird, a striking jet black bird with scarlet and
yellow shoulder patches, landed nearby on a post
.
I set up my scope to find the bird and so the kids could
take a look. The first student to take a look was in awe, as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
I remember him saying something like: 'Wow..the colors! The others quickly followed suit, and each student
was equally amazed
. It was an unforgettable outing. And what happened was illustrative.

Birds captivate us with their entrancing beauty and beautiful songs. They also capture our imagination
in a way few things do. They're the most visible form of wildlife and observing them and appreciating
them connects us to nature. Birds are also indicators of environmental health, much like the
mummichog fish. This is why I'm excited that 146 bird species from many, diverse bird families (32 to
be exact) have been observed here.

Let me put the number 146 into perspective. 800 plus bird species occur in the U.S. About 450 occur in
the state of VA. A full one third of Virginia's birds have been seen in this park. Furthermore, the
numbers seen here are comparable to the numbers seen at various hotspots in the Great Dismal Swamp,
an area considered a 'national natural landmark'. The exact same number of birds have been recorded at
Paradise Creek as have been recorded along the Great Dismal Swamp Canal Trail.

This park is a destination for birds. I'll illustrate. One breeder here is the Indigo Bunting, a deep blue,
almost iridescent, bird. These birds winter in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. On April 25, 2017 an
early migrant showed up locally in one spot, and one spot only. No other Indigo Buntings had yet
arrived in the area. The bird didn't show up at the Chesapeake Arboretum, or at Hoffler Creek Wildlife
Preserve, or at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, or along the Great Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, It
showed up at Paradise Creek.

This park is a destination for breeders, but more importantly, it is a destination for transients. At least
one quarter of all Paradise Creek birds are birds that stop here during migration to rest and refuel
.
Most of these are neotropical migrants and most are in decline. This is critical stopover habitat.  Two
good examples are the Bobolink and the Blackpoll Warbler. The Bobolink travels an astounding
12,000 miles from its wintering grounds in South America to its breeding grounds in North America
and back. It is also a grassland bird and due to grassland habitat loss, its numbers are declining. This is
true of many other grassland species. It was listed on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch
List. Yet the Bobolink has shown up in the meadows of Paradise Creek in the spring. The Blackpoll
Warbler, the size of my fist and the weight of 2 quarters travels several thousand miles over open ocean
from the Northeast and points south to the Caribbean and on to South America in the fall. Blackpolls
have been spotted at Paradise Creek in the fall, where they were fattening up for the journey.
Blackpolls also show up here in the spring when they follow an overland route.

Interestingly, there are other grassland birds that have visited here. Two Vesper Sparrows, a species of
special conservation concern and listed in places as endangered or threatened, visited here in January a
few years ago. The pair stayed for a few days. Vesper Sparrows are rare winter visitors here. Another
grassland species, the widespread but near threatened Northern Bobwhite has occurred here several
times, including as recently as yesterday morning.

A number of shorebirds, about a dozen members of the Wood Warbler family, and various thrushes stop
here during migration. Some are on recent Watch Lists (the Short-billed Dowitcher, the Prairie Warbler
and the Wood Thrush). A regular spring and fall visitor, the Yellow-billed Cukoo, is on the 2016 list and
is also threatened in some areas. Many waterfowl occur here the winter, especially in the creek. Five
American Black Ducks, a listed and declining species, were spotted here on February 15th. A Sora, a member of
the Rail family, an elusive marsh bird, and rare here, especially in early April, showed up on April 1st of this
year. There are no other records of Soras along the Elizabeth River or its tributaries. Clapper Rails,
another Rail, are very common here, but there are very few records of it anywhere else in the
watershed. Another rare bird, a female Painted Bunting, visited in January of 2016. It was far outside of
its range. Painted Buntings winter in southern Florida and points south. This one stayed here for 3
weeks.

I've mentioned a number of listed birds that have found their way here. But a number of delisted
birds, no longer endangered or threatened, have shown up here as well: the Brown Pelican, the Osprey,
the Bald Eagle, and the Peregrine Falcon. And the occurance here of all these all these birds, listed or not, rare or not, provides solid evidence of the vitality, and the imporance to birds and other wildlife, of this restored habitat.

-David Gibson, May 10, 2017