I and the Bird

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Saturday, April 22, 2006


I've complained a lot about how the weather over the last few months has been beautiful during the work week and lousy on the weekend. Well I've finally decided to stop trying to fight it and start living with it. Last night I waited out the rain delay at RFK instead of assuming the game would be cancelled, and was rewarded with 3 Soriano homeruns and a 7-4 Nationals win. This morning looked equally grim, but I decided that the lure of White-Faced Ibis (which were, contrary to my post, reported at Huntley Meadows yesterday afternoon) was too much to let pass. Cloudy but not raining, thinking the birds were there but without confirmation, I packed up and headed for Alexandria.

The weather turned bad as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. It was not looking good. I made the hike through the woods (which seemed longer than usual thanks to the rain) and made it to the boardwalk. I was hoping that around a bend I would see a cluster of birders with their scopes pointed at the Ibises...but there was no one in sight. I walked to the edge of the pond and saw lots of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Snipe, Rusty Blackbirds, Tree, Barn and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows and a Great Egret. Nice, but I didn't see what I was looking for, plus I was soaked. I thought about turning around, but decided instead to hike over to the two-story observation tower where I could maybe keep dry and keep looking for the Ibis.

Turns out that this is where the birders were keeping themselves, their scopes at the ready. To my surprise (and delight) one of them said that the Ibis were indeed out on the pond. The rain was heavy, and the birds were taking cover in the reeds at the far side of the pond, not being seen for the last 20 minutes or so. In addition, the birds could only be seen from the angle provided by the top of the structure, where the rain was pounding down. I resigned to the relative comfort of the bottom deck and hoped someone would shout if the birds emerged.

Luckily, I kept my binoculars trained on the area where the birds were last seen and sure enough I was the first of the bunch to re-sight them, from the bottom deck no less. A couple had set up their scope next to me and kindly let me have a look at the birds after they got it sighted. White-Faced Ibises, here in Virginia. Success.

The birds provided a few glimpses after the initial ID, but stayed mostly behind the swamp-grass. When the rain slowed a bit most of the birders took the opportunity to start the walk back to the parking lot. Back on the boardwalk, the man who let me use his scope reminded me that an American Bittern had been seen nearby. I was wet and cold and wanted to keep moving, but I told him I'd keep my eyes open. Sure enough, about 5 steps later I spotted the Bittern about 10 feet off the boardwalk in the reeds. Unbelievable looks. The bird moved slowly through the reeds, posing every few steps and giving great looks. I had only seen this bird once before and only for a moment at that. I trudged back to my car wet and happy.

The rain let up completely by the time I made it back to the lot and I decided to look for some warblers on the trails near the welcome center. My binoculars were wet (and I dont think they're waterproof...) and so I couldn't ID some of the birds I saw, but I had good looks at a Hermit Thrush and my first-of-the-year Ovenbird, one of my most familiar birds from the NY woods.

Instead of sitting on my butt all day and complaining about the weather I rolled the dice and went to Virginia...and had a great day. Maybe I'll keep this lucky streak going and check out the Anhinga in MD tomorrow...
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