Birding Wissahickon Park

Wissahickon Gorge

It was a gray and foggy day….as we set out to participate in the 27th Annual Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census in our assigned location in the Wissahickon Park.

Now the Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue, if, indeed, its banks were not parcelled off in lots, at an exorbitant price, as building-sites for the villas of the opulent. Yet it is only within a very few years that any one has more than heard of the Wissahiccon […] the brook is narrow. Its banks are generally, indeed almost universally, precipitous, and consist of high hills, clothed with noble shrubbery near the water, and crowned at a greater elevation, with some of the most magnificent forest trees of America, among which stands conspicuous the liriodendron tulipiferum. The immediate shores, however, are of granite, sharply defined or moss-covered, against which the pellucid water lolls in its gentle flow, as the blue waves of the Mediterranean upon the steps of her palaces of marble….~ Edgar Allen Poe, Morning on the Wissahiccon

Sadly, because of the weather there wasn’t many birds to be seen, but I’m a pretty good ear birder so was able to catch the calls of the expected birds: Robins, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Crows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and a gorgeous Sharp-Shinned Hawk who flew low right over our heads. (Other birders participating in the census did record a lot more species)

But we were determined to do our part, so we spent 4 hours climbing the rocks and hiking the trails in the Wissahickon Gorge, and discovered many mysteries, both natural and man-made.

Wissahickon Creek

Wissahickon Creek

Wissahickon means “catfish creek” in the Lenape language of the original native inhabitants of this land, also known as the Delaware Indians.

Rittenhouse Town marker

Rittenhouse Town marker

We began our day at historic Rittenhouse Town, established in 1690 and site of the first paper mill in the new colonies.

A Paper-Mill near German-Town doth stand,
So that the Flax, which first springs from the Land,
First Flax, then Yarn, and then they must begin
To weave the same, which they took pains to spin.
Also, when on our backs it is well worn,
Some of the same remains Ragged and Torn;
Then of the Rags our Paper is made,
Which in process of time dost waste and fade:
So, what comes from the Earth, appeareth plain,
The same in Time, returns to Earth again.
~Richard Frame, 1692.

Monoshone Creek, Rittenhouse Town, PA

Monoshone Creek, Rittenhouse Town, PA

This small town was built at the confluence of the Monoshone and Wissahickon Creeks, which flow into the Schuylkill River, and eventually into the Delaware River.

Although only 7 of the original homes and buildings remain, there was at one time more than 40 buildings in Rittenhouse Town.

Personally, the sight of a home built over 300 years ago juxtaposed with the very modern air conditioner compressor outside is just very strange and out of place!

Rittenhouse Homestead, Rittenhouse Town, Philadelphia, PA

Rittenhouse Homestead, Rittenhouse Town, Philadelphia, PA

We continued along the trails which parallel the Monoshone Creek down to Forbidden Drive, so called because automobile traffic has been banned on this road since it was built in 1869 so that the wilderness feel of this park would be protected.

Henry Ave Bridge, Wissahickon Creek

Henry Ave Bridge, Wissahickon Creek

Benjamin Franklin recognized the importance of this watershed for protecting a clean water supply for the city of Philadelphia, and urged the city to purchase this land. It was not until 1869, that the city did buy this 1800 acre section of the Wissahickon Valley, and added it to Fairmount Park, a 10,500-acre park system, and the largest municipally operated landscaped park system in the United States.

The land was purchased because so many industries had been built along this creek and it’s waters had become extremely toxic and polluted. The city razed the mills, and restored the land to wilderness because at that time the romantic notion of the value of wild nature had swept the country.

Thankfully, this land has been protected ever since!

The Wissahickon Park is an interesting mix of wild place and surprising elements that remind you that people lived here, built homes and businesses here, and now hold recreational activities here.

Now let’s look at some mysteries.

Mystery 1: Identify Trees by Their Bark

Trees of the Wissahickon

Can you identify trees just by looking at the bark?

Wissahickon Schist

As you walk the trails next to this creek, you see the rock formations that created the Wissahickon Gorge. In fact, this area is quite well know for its rocks. Wissahickon Schist is the primary building material for a large majority of homes in the Philadelphia area, including the foundation of my own home, built in 1913.

Wissahickon Schist

Wissahickon Schist

Mystery 2: Who Built the Dry Stone Wall to Support This Rock Formation?

Mystery -- Who built the dry stone wall to hold up this tree?

Mystery — Who built the dry stone wall to hold up these rocks?

The trees grow right out of this rock

Trees Grow Out of Wissahickon Schist

Trees Grow Out of Wissahickon Schist

In fact, when the tree falls over, you can see how shallow-rooted they are because of the rocks, and how many pieces of rock are entwined in their roots.

Roots Rocks sm

Mystery 3: Why didn’t these trees lose their leaves by January?

Why Leaves Still on Trees sm

And what kind of tree is it that still has its leaves?

Why Leaves 2 sm

Mystery 4: What’s this Black stuff?

Black Stuff 1 sm

Black Stuff 2 sm

Black Stuff 3 sm

Want to know what this Black Stuff is? I solved the mystery in Exploring the Wissahickon.

Mystery 5? What’s This structure for? Abandoned Structure sm

It’s an odd feeling as you walk in these woods and climb the rocky trails to come upon abandoned human-made structures. They seem so out of place, but a reminder of the long history hidden among the trees.

Horse Trough sm

Fun Fungi Fungi 1 sm

Fungi 2 sm

Fungi 3 sm

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my walk along the Wissahickon! What are you enjoying in nature lately?

See Part 2: Exploring Wissahickon Park

Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.

© 2013 – 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

Related Posts with Thumbnails
About Carole Sevilla Brown

Carole Sevilla Brown is a Conservation Biologist who firmly believes that wildlife conservation begins in your own back yard. Carole is an author, educator, speaker, and passionate birder, butterfly watcher,  and naturalist who travels around the country teaching people to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife. She gardens for wildlife in Philadelphia, zone 6b, and created the philosophy of Ecosystem Gardening. Watch for her book Ecosystem Gardening, due out soon. Carole is managing editor of  Beautiful Wildlife Garden, and also  Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. Follow Carole on Facebook and also @CB4wildlife and on Google+

Comments

  1. Debra says:

    I can’t wait to hear your knowledgable readers share perspectives on these “mysteries” we observed …especially that curious black mold! It was a good day in the woods, even if so few birds were flying ;-)

  2. Love the article! I don’t get to the Wissahickon as often as I’d like, but when we do spend a long afternoon hiking it is always wonderful. LOVE the mysteries you unfold. One wintry January or February we saw a hawk there that allowed me to photography and observe him a long time (he made it into my book)…so it’s always an adventure.

  3. That tunnel at the river looks so amazing. You got a great picture of it. I am so impressed at all the different bird sounds you were able to recognize.
    Tanya recently posted..Making a Fresh Start in the New Year

  4. Carole, I love the photos. There is something so evocative about manmade structures slowly being assimilated back into nature. Sad and beautiful and mysterious all at once. With a few exceptions, we don’t have the depth of time in our old structures out here. Another reason to head east!
    Christy Peterson recently posted..Stories in the Snow

    • Christy, there’s definitely something to be said for these old homes made out of this beautiful stone. These structures have stood for over 300 years now, even while the forest grows up around them. It’s kind of a fun surprise to stumble upon these reminders of human habitation hidden among the trees.
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Wildlife Gardeners Spin the Cycle of Life

  5. Lora Gorwala says:

    Greetings Carole!

    Thank you for giving us readers a little history behind such beautiful photography!
    My favorite was the up-close black berms on the bark and leaf. Sorry, I’m not recalling the scientific name at this point in the morning!
    Great stuff!
    Your Mainer gardener,
    Lora Gurwala

  6. The Wissahickon was my awesome childhood playground where we hiked, fished, ice skated, went sledding and collected treasured memories. Your photos are fabulous and bring back many fond memories. While I no longer have a backyard garden I do plant my deck flower boxes to attract the hummers and butterflies. Thanks for the reminder to get my feeders ready for the charming little hummers.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I had the honor of participating in the 27th Annual Mid-Winter Bird Census this past week, and my assigned location was in Wissahickon Park, a watershed gorge along the Monoshone and Wissahickon Creeks. Sadly, I didn’t see many birds that day, but I did discover many mysteries and natural wonders while hiking the rocky trails of the Wissahickon. [...]

  2. [...] Gorge, and discovered many mysteries, both natural and man-made….read more of Birding Wissahickon Park at Ecosystem [...]

  3. [...] 189. Birding Wissahickon Park–It was a gray and foggy day….as we set out to participate in the 27th Annual Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census in our assigned location in the Wissahickon Park. Sadly, because of the weather there wasn’t many birds to be seen, but I’m a pretty good ear birder so was able to catch the calls of the expected birds… ~Carole Sevilla Brown [...]

  4. […] area that day. We’ll be in our usual annual spot at Wissahickon Park. Check out my report of Birding Wissahickon Park from last year’s winter bird […]

  5. […] I had the honor of participating in the 27th Annual Mid-Winter Bird Census this past week, and my assigned location was in Wissahickon Park, a watershed gorge along the Monoshone and Wissahickon Creeks. Sadly, I didn’t see many birds that day, but I did discover many mysteries and natural wonders while hiking the rocky trails of the Wissahickon. […]

  6. […] is Mother Nature’s ability to reclaim her space after human disturbance. In my neighborhood Wissahickon Park is a prime example of this. As you walk through the seemingly undisturbed woods, you suddenly come […]

Speak Your Mind

*

Current day month ye@r *

CommentLuv badge