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Friday, September 01, 2006

Fall Migration: Where to Be in DC

September somethingth will mark my 1 year anniversary of living and birding in Washington, DC. When I first got here I lived with my aunt and uncle in Woodbridge, VA...which was hell. Not that there was anything wrong with my aunt and uncle, or anything wrong with Woodbridge per se, it's just that for a then-22-year-old intern who was moving to a big city for the first time, 4 hour daily commutes and 0 social life (because the last possible train left DC at 7pm) was not what I was looking for.

Long story short: I didn't have any time to bird until I moved into my Ames Place house in October and by then I had missed the fall migration. So the current months (late-August and September) are my first fall migration in DC. Problem is, I don't know where I should go. So, I asked the users of the Va-Bird and MDOsprey listservs for their help, and got a lot of responses.

Using their expert suggestions, I have created the following list of Official and Recommended DC-Area Fall Migration Spots! Enjoy!

The New York Monuments at Manassas National Battlefield Park
MapQuest directions from DC

This was far and away the most suggested spot for birding the fall migration (and only the fall migration). It's located off Route 29, behind the monuments set up to honor regiments from New York, and it's Stop #8 on this map.

Bev Leeuwenburg provided these detailed directions from Route 29, a mile west of the intersection with Rt. 234:
"You'll pass a private farm with a pond, including fountain, on the left.After that you'll be going up a slight rise with woods on the left; before the top ofthe hill there's an entrance (drive) to the monument on the left. If you follow thispast the field you're traversing, upon entering the woods there's a parking area. Park. Bird the grown up area in front or the carpark and the field to the left,not neglecting the edges!"

The park is open 8:30AM to 5PM, but most birders recommended getting there early. Also, Jim Coleman provided this valuable piece of advice: "use plenty of bug spray on your legs and ankles to ward off the ticks and chiggers."
Also thanks to Bill D and Larry Meade for their help.

Snickers Gap Hawk Watch
MapQuest directions to Sky Meadows, then follow this map to #4.

Down near Sky Meadows State Park in Loudoun County is the Snickers Gap Hawkwatch. According to the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail website, the watch is at its peak from September 14-21, when thousands of raptors and passerines cruise through each day. Bev Leeuwenburg praised the watch's convenience, as there are no hills to climb or equipment to lug, just a parking area with some excellent birding. Sounds good to me. Thanks also to Laura Weidner, who suggested checking out the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy website for some other good spots in that county.

Turkey Point Hawk Watch
Directions from NE DC

Located inside the Elk Neck State Park along the top edge of the Chesapeake in Maryland, Turkey Point Hawk Watch is a great place to look for 17 kinds of migrating raptor, as well as passerines. According to the Turkey Point website, the hawk watch will start the official tally any day now (not so much fun in Ernesto, though), and there is a bird walk scheduled for tomorrow. Thanks for Pat Valdata for the information.

Rock Creek Park
MapQuest map of the center of the park

In fall as it is in spring, Rock Creek Park (and especially the back of the maintenance yard) is a great place to see migrating passerines. Canada, Blue-Winged, Nashville, Magnolia, Black-and-White and Chestnut-sided warblers have already been seen along with several warblers-whose-name-doesnt-include-the-word-warbler: American Redstart and Ovenbird. Also appearing already are wrens, orioles, woodpeckers, vireos and a ton of other stuff.

Assateague Island National Seashore
Driving Directions. About 3 hrs from DC.

If there's one thing I've learned from birding around DC it's that DelMarVa is the shit. Cool vibe, good beaches, good restaurants and bars and a lot of great birding...and I've never been below Ocean City. If you keep your eye on the MD-Osprey listserve like I do you'll quickly recognize that Assateague Island (and nearby Chincoteague) are great places to find migratory birds. Mark Hoffman put it simply and sweetly: "Assateague Island is the premier place for fall birding in MD - both for the fly-over warblers and the rarities." Good enough for me.

Tyson's Corner Nighthawks
Try the Cable & Wireless Building at Gallows Rd. and Boone Blvd

There is no better spectacle in Metro-DC birding that the nighthawks displaying at Tyson's Corner. I think the largest numbers were in mid-August, when birders were seeing 50 or more nighthawks, but as of last night more than 20 birds were present. Runner-up option: Try RFK stadium before the season is over. Nighthawks have been seen there a couple times (but not by me, I've only seen a Sharp-Shinned Hawk), plus you get to see the Alfonso Soriano, which is always a treat. Thanks fro John Hubbell and Paul Woodward for this advice.

This afternoon, in Ernesto's rain, I struck out for the reflecting pool on the mall hoping for some warbler fallout...and got nada. Looks like I better start listening to the advice of all these DC birders...
Hi, I was just passing by and came across your blog.

I see you've put a fair bit of effort into it. My own blog covers the subject of Color Contact lenses.

Drop by sometime.


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