Monday, May 12, 2014

The Wonders of Occoquan

For my 11th straight day of birding, I arrived at Occoquan early this morning in hopes of hearing or seeing something unusual. I sat at the closed gate for about 40 minutes, just listening to the Prairie Warblers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos marking their territories. Once through the gates, it became clear that the yellow-hued warblers--Prairies, Yellow Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and even a Yellow-breasted Chat--were in the majority.

By far, the highlight for me was finally capturing a King Rail crossing the path! Since first reading about other folks fortunate enough to witness this event (or Sora at Huntley Meadows, or Virginia Rails at CBEC), I've been desperate to have a glimpse of my own. Persistence finally paid off.

The wonders of Occoquan really were on full display this morning: Wild Turkeys strolling through the meadow; a just-cooperative-enough Marsh Wren (a lifer!); Eagles, Osprey, and Eastern Kingbirds in their nests; Cuckoos, Thrashers, and Orioles (Orchard and Baltimore) seemingly everywhere; a Beaver carrying supplies across the pond; and a stealthy Raccoon clearly looking to stir up some trouble. It's mornings like this that keep me sane.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

First Cape May @ Monticello Park

Arrived at Huntley Meadows at 6:30 AM and found myself completely alone in
the park--just me and the birds. There was a hazy drizzle all about, so the birds weren't moving much, but boy were they singing. Aside from the many warblers and vireos, I picked up the sounds of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, a Virginia Rail, and a Northern Bobwhite. Those latter two birds were lifers and very exciting to hear, but I enjoyed watching the Hooded Merganser mamas and chicks just as much. As of 8 AM, I counted 3 female adults and 8 chicks in tow. This count for the chicks is slightly fewer than last Saturday when we counted two separate families, and it appears that the two families have merged. Here's hoping there's safety in numbers!

But the plan today was simply to whet my whistle with a stroll at Huntley before immersing myself in the warbler warmth at Monticello Park. For many months, countless birders have been urging me to visit Monticello, but I kept putting it off because I thought folks were telling me to drive to Charlottesville for that Monticello. No one ever explained that it was just a few miles from home. Anyway. To say Monticello Park didn't disappoint would be gross understatement. The very first bird I saw was a Blackburnian splashed in orange, and within 10 minutes I'd picked up Cape May, Canada, Wilson's, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Nashville (all 100% confirmed, some with the help of local birders). By the end of the 75 minutes of my visit, I'd added Blue-winged and Bay-breasted, as well as many other "common" warblers of Northern Virginia.

In fact, the Bay-breasted came right at the end of my walk. I was talking with another birder who apparently is one of the locals, and he was explaining that even for Monticello's high standards, this was an exceptional morning. I'd just asked him about what would really be the icing, and he said Bay-breasted, and literally within 10 seconds, I exclaimed "Rufous cap!" Sure enough, a Bay-breasted plopped right down next to a Chestnut-sided bathing in the creek. The two spent a few non-combative moments together in the bath before the Bay-breasted flew away. (The Chestnut-sided can be seen below post-bath.)