I and the Bird

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Last Look for 200

Over the last couple weeks I've chronicled my search for 200 year birds from March 21, 2005 to March 21, 2006. So far I've seen 194 eastern birds and 5 western birds, for a total of 199. 199! So close! I had to pick up Kate at the airport yesterday, so today was pretty much my last shot at getting to the milestone. We took a morning trip down to Occoquan NWR, where at least 5 would-be life birds have been recently reported: peregrine Falcon (I can't believe I haven't seen one either), Fox Sparrows, Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, Vesper Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds. It was a beautiful day, and I was feeling lucky.

Unfortunately, the weather at Occoquan was less than ideal. As has been the case the last 3 times I've been there, it was very windy. The sparrows that I hoped would be calling and flitting about in the fields were instead tucked away against the wind. There was a lot of activity, though. Tree swallows made themselves apparent by struggling mightily to fly against the wind. Ospreys, at least 8 individuals, were actively collecting nesting material and hunting over the river. An adult and a juvenile Bald Eagle were also spotted by the riverside. The wind, though, was proving too much. I got many looks at sparrows, but they were difficult to identify through the grass.

Kate went back to the car while I went up to the pond to see if I could find what I thought was a flock of rusty blackbirds that had flown overhead soon after we arrived. In the woods on the other side of the pond I thought I had found my birds. Feeding in a flock of about 10 were short-tailed rusty colored birds that I didn't recall seeing before. I took several pictures for later identification, patted myself on the back for reaching 200 and headed for the car.

It wasn't til 95 on the way home that I realized I may have been mistaken. There was another rusty colored bird around: a female red-winged blackbird. I looked in the Peterson and realized right away that it was these that I saw. Too streaked, too dark, buffy throat...no question. 199. Oh well. As a lifelong redsox fan, I'm used to telling myself 'We'll get them next year." On the other hand, maybe I'll see a peregrine on my way to work tomorrow...you never know.
You should have gone out to Hughes Hollow instead - there were several dozen Rusties out there. Sometimes you can pick up a Fox Sparrow at Roosevelt Island in the area where the boardwalk goes into the wooded swamp. I have also seen them at KAG on the river trail and at the start of the boardwalk, and at the Arboretum on the hill near the entrance. Peregrine you really just have to get lucky. NRWS is probably out of the question just yet.
Scott Priebe on Va-Bird reported a 'fly-by of 5 Rough-Winged Swallows" on the 18th at Occoquan and so I was feeling lucky. The wind was a factor though...part of the reason I got such good looks at tree swallows was because trying to fly into the wind was like running on a treadmill. Were the rustys you've seen still, well, rusty?
No, they weren't all that rusty. Well, the females still had a bit of the rusty coloration. The males were evident more from the white eyes and bill and tail shape.
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