Birds of a Feather
By Ruffian Tittmann, Executive Director
Along with falling leaves, mums, and pumpkin spice lattes, migrating birds are one of the sure signs of fall. The Wissahickon Valley Park is host to over 200 species of birds, earning the designation as an Audubon Important Bird Area for conserving bird populations by providing essential habitat for breeding, wintering and/or migrating birds. In the Northeast, fall bird migration ranges from mid-August through October, with different species migrating at different times during this period.
I was recently chatting about the wonders of this yearly ritual with hobby naturalist and wildlife photographer Troy Bynum, who features his wonderful photos of birds and other local animals as host of “Wildlife Wednesdays” on FOW’s Instagram page. Although he has been inspired by nature since childhood, he discovered an interest in birds, fittingly, in the Wissahickon after he moved back to Philadelphia in 2017 and went hiking every weekend with friends. He spoke about a seminal day in the park when he saw what he calls his “spark” bird – the one that truly sparked his interest in bird photography: a beautiful green heron. Troy has long been drawn to color, as well as patterns, in nature and certainly there’s no shortage of either when it comes to birds.
Last spring, another avian expert and one of FOW’s dear friends, Ruth Pfeffer, passed away. Troy met Ruth just last year, coincidentally during fall migration season, at a birding walk she was leading in the Wissahickon. He recounts seeing on that chilly day lots of migrants stocking up on food to continue their trips as well as learning how to identify several warbler species. One of Troy’s best memories of that day was Ruth’s encouragement to keep going with what he calls his ornithological journey.
Ruth started watching birds in the Wissahickon when she was eight years old, which led to her career in birding and bird photography, for which she was world renowned for her passion and extraordinary knowledge. She and Troy had discussed starting a nonprofit to help expose Philadelphia youth to the Wissahickon and other green spaces to explore nature and develop environmental awareness. He plans to keep working toward that goal.
And, like Ruth, Troy enjoys sharing his love of birds with others. His advice for people new to birding is to “get out early and often, be patient and enjoy what nature has to offer. You can never go wrong if you’re having fun outside.”
He also encourages both novice and experienced birders to join bird walks and talks, like the one he’ll be doing as guest speaker at our next fall Valley Talk on October 18. At this talk, which we’re holding in honor of Ruth, Troy will discuss fall migration and which birds have already left or are planning to depart the Wissahickon and explain the rich food and shelter resources our feathered friends find in the park.