Croasdale

Tony Croasdale examines the bird-friendly garden planted in his Roxborough yard.

Some of Philadelphia’s greenest people happily call Roxborough home. One of the newest is Tony Croasdale, who moved with his newlywed bride to the bottom of Summit Avenue only in December.

One of the city’s great birders, he can stand at his front door and see Fairmount Park – the Wissahickon, of course – just downhill from his home. For work, he runs the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center in West Philadelphia, tucked up against another great city creek. So his life is bookended by two key parcels of Fairmount Park.

I visited Tony is his home recently, where bird feeders feature prominently on his front lawn, and his living room windowsill aptly includes a pair of binoculars, ready for Tony to grab to see whoever is visiting at the moment. So far he was counted 54 species of birds visiting or flying over his property, including what he calls “some pretty crazy stuff,” like bald eagle and broad-winged hawk overhead, and a Baltimore oriole visiting off-season in December. House wrens are right now nesting in his yard in a birdhouse given to him as a wedding present.

“If you’re a person who likes nature,” he asked, “what’s the neighborhood you’re going to move to in Philadelphia?” Then he answered his own question, “Roxborough, of course. Here you’ve got the Wissahickon, the Schuylkill Center, the reservoir, the river, the canal, and more. It’s great. Plus,” he confessed a little sheepishly,” you get great bang for the buck in buying a home here.”

The son of a Mayfair firefighter he fondly and jokingly calls “a rowhouse redneck,” Tony’s dad took him hunting, fishing, and camping, and they enjoyed “archery and shooting guns with my dad and his firefighter buddies.” But he remembers going hunting with his dad when he was very young, and while waiting for deer, he was enchanted by a brown creeper – a small very brown bird able to walk up and down tree trunks – and he has been watching birds ever since.

His dad also took him to the Pennypack Environmental Center in the Northeast when he was 9, where he met that site’s director, Peter Kurtz. “He told me about kingfishers,” Tony said, a bird that completely intrigued Tony. “Soon, when people began asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be Peter Kurtz. Now, he and I are good friends and hold similar positions,” Peter still running Pennypack – where he has been for more than 30 years – and Tony managing Cobbs Creek, two of the city's three environmental centers, the Wissahickon Environmental Center being the third.

And he still loves kingfishers, as that bird is immortalized in a tattoo on his calf.

Speaking of tattoos, Tony might just be the region’s most tattooed environmental educator. In addition to the kingfisher (near a T. rex on his legs), he’s got a sleeve of dinosaur bone tattoos down his right arm, and an extraordinary collection of images, including birds and people, spilling down his left. The latter includes three vulture portraits, plus a full-bodied rendition of a greater racket-tailed drongo, an Asian bird with an amazingly long tennis-racket-shaped tail. This bird might be a stand-in for the many birds he has seen in his travels.

“I toured the world with my punk rock band Rambo,” he told me, grinning, knowing there are precious few birders who can claim this as well. What instrument did he play? Lead singer, he offered, couching it this way: “I yell roughly in time to the music.” But touring allowed him to bird in Kenya, Brazil, Peru, Belize, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and more. His eBird (a widely used birding app) list includes 1,893 species, quite the remarkable number, as he has seen almost one in five of the world’s 10,000 birds.

A podcaster, he co-hosts the Urban Wildlife podcast with naturalist and writer Billy Brown. Released once or twice a month, the latest pod is titled “Black Beast of the Urban Wild,” and first features Billy – an avid reptile and amphibian specialist – successfully searching for his Holy Grail, a black rat snake, and then Tony talking with the Game Commission volunteer who caught that infamous Roxborough bear back in June.

While this is his only first growing season in his new home, he and his wife, Angie, have been busily transforming their yard from suburban lawn to wildlife friendly habitat. He’s crammed a diverse collection of native flowers, shrubs and trees, including plants that produce fruits craved by birds, like blueberries, chokeberries, viburnum sumac, and more. He’s got a small meadow with black-eyed Susans, butterflyweed, bee balm, and more, and in a corner where his neighbor’s large spruce drops its needles, “I’m making this corner a little ode to the Pine Barrens,” even planting an Atlantic white cedar. And he’s not done; one side of the house will become another meadow, and more formal rhododendrons will adorn the front.

So while Roxborough is already home to a rich collection of green architects, planners, naturalists, non-profit executives, and more, there’s only one globe-trotting, punk-rocking, heavily-tattooed, pocasting birder, our new friend Tony Croasdale.

Welcome to the neighborhood!

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Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org

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