I and the Bird

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

A First Time for Everything

Ah yes welcome to my first birdDC post.

Today I was supposed to be scanning the waters off the Delaware coast on a pelagic trip from paulagics.com. I had been watching the weather forecast for weeks, and had seen it change from snow (3 weeks ago) to rain (a week ago) to clouds (Wednesday) to partly cloudy and calm (Friday morning). All was well until I checked my email Friday at 5 and saw that the trip had been cancelled due to high winds. Goddamn weather. I talked to the (very nice) Anita from paulagics and got a spot on the Cape May trip on March 5, which will find most of the same birds, but it will mean I'll have to get a hotel in NJ on that Saturday nigh...ah well what can ya do.

Anyway, in defiance of Delaware's shitty weather (it did turn out to be pretty windy...at least around here) I decided to bird the crap out of northern Virginia in a last ditch effort to track down some new species. See, I started keeping track of birds I've seen on March 21, 2005, and so my first full year will end in about a month. Right now I'm sitting on 190 eastern birds (195 in North America) and would really like to hit 200 eastern birds for the year. This pelagic, I figure, would get me a good chunk of that and then I could fill in the rest. Instead, then, I spend Saturday in Huntley Meadows and Occoquan NWR taking outside shots at Eurasian Teal and Fox Sparrows. Let's pick up the chase!

Although I've read alot about it I've never been to Huntely Meadows. Lately there have been reports of a Eurasian (Common) Teal, closely related to the GreenWinged Teal, frequenting the area. I cruised down to Alexandria to have a look. Right out of the parking lot I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of birds in the area. At the visitor's center feeder were CAROLINA CHICKADEES, HOUSE FINCHES, TUFTED TITMICE, MOURNING DOVES, WT SPARROWS, and DOWNY WOODPECKERS. In the woods between the parking lot and the swamp were teeming with YELLOWRUMPED WARBLERS, DOWNY and REDBELLIED WOODPECKERS, CCHICKADEES and newly arrived AM. ROBINS. The swamp was no less impressive. SWAMP, SONG and WT SPARROWS flitted underneath the boardwalk. In the water, FISH CROWS, RB GULLS, MALLARDS, PINTAILS, GW TEAL, CANADA GEESE and a few GADWALLS and BLACK DUCKS could all be found.

I was interested to see that the fish crows, which I had read about as being especially aggressive, were living up to their billing. Three or four times I watched them harass ringed billed gulls who were just minding their own business. Now, I'm no ornithologist, but I would say that these crows could be scientifically classified as "jerks."

I looked and looked, but had no luck finding the Eurasian Teal. I walked to the far end of the swamp, where the squawking and squealing of birds could be heard from near the parking lot. Turns out the noise was the work of about 500 fish crows and, farther down, about 500 more common grackles (probably regrouping from a long flight from the south).

Overall, the place is awesome. Although I didn't see any new birds, the sheer number of animals was very impressive and made be even more excited for spring. I'll be back.

Alright but the day wasn't over. Time to cruise down to Occoquan NWR to look for some sparrows. I had been there twice before and love the habitat. For the second time of the day, though, the wind got the best of me. The fields which are usually bursting with sparrows were completely quiet. Except for the LESSER SCAUP convention offshore (I would estimate about...5 billion of them), a GOLDENEYE, freshly arrived RW BLACKBIRDS and a immature BALD EAGLE (which was cool, it flew by right as a woman was asking me where she could find eagles...), I didn't see much. Although, reading this list it sounds pretty cool.

Alright that's a lot. Ill see you on the water on March 5.
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