Thursday, August 25, 2005

Trip Report: Rock Creek Park

All this week we have had much better weather than has been typical for the last two months in Washington. The same weather pattern that brought us cooler temperatures has also made possible a wave of fall migration. With winds out of the northwest this week I have been trying to get out and do some birding when I can. Yesterday there was a very good report from Rock Creek Park on the local birding listserve, so I headed over there this morning. Yesterday birders there had seen a golden-winged warbler and a yellow-bellied flycatcher.

Well, this morning the birding was much slower. Neither of the reported species was there, or at least if they were I did not see them. I went to the Maintenance Yard first. I was greeted immediately by a series of ruby-throated hummingbirds, all of which appeared to be immatures since they lacked the distinctive red throat of the adults. I searched around the public areas of the yard and turned up some gray catbirds and American goldfinches, as well as quite a lot of blue-gray gnatcatchers. It was not until I was about to leave that I finally saw a chestnut-sided warbler, the best bird for today.

I walked over to the picnic areas on the other side of the ridge, but I did not turn up much more. On the way there and back the local pileated woodpeckers were calling in the woods. When I returned to the Nature Center parking lot, I found what was probably the most active area this morning. Even this was mostly common species, but it included a Baltimore oriole. This week I have had small taste of this year's fall migration, but in a couple weeks the trickle will turn into a flood.

SPECIES SEEN AND HEARD: 28

Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
House Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
American Goldfinch
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole

A few notes on Rock Creek Park: During migration the best area for finding migrants is the ridge south of the Nature Center. There are two main hotspots: picnic areas 17/18 and the Maintenance Yard. I generally find the latter location best because the birds are closer to eye level. (The yard also has piles of marble left over from the old fa├žade of the Capitol.) The picnic areas have a large walnut tree that serves as the center of bird activity; one local birder referred to it as a 7-Eleven. To reach this area without a car, one can take the Red Line to either Fort Totten or Friendship Heights, and then transfer to either the E2 or E4, getting off at the intersection of Military Road and Glover Road.