Sunday, October 09, 2005

Field Trip: National Arboretum

This was our first dry day since Thursday, so I made sure to do some birding in the morning. I headed over to the National Arboretum, my usual patch. Today the Arboretum is holding its annual fall orchid sale. This show is very popular, so as usual it made the entrance and the area around the visitor center a bit of a zoo. Luckily the areas away from the show were quiet.

I started off at the hill near the entrance since I had been successful there in the past few visits. Today the birding was fairly slow. My only warbler was a common yellowthroat that I called out of the tall grass. (I think my pishing is getting better.) Some thrushes were flitting around in the tree tops, but they were teases; the only one I could identify was a wood thrush since the others would not stay out in the open long enough. As I approached the top of the hill there was a flock of blue jays angrily scolding something. I never found the object of their ire. I did see a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk on my way down, but I do not know if that was their target.

At the top I searched in vain through the trees for any sign of warblers. All I could find were woodpeckers. (Northern flickers were especially common today.) That is, until I turned around and saw a small brown bird sitting out in the middle of the path. As I checked through its field marks - olive-brown back, overall thrush shape, lack of a distinct eye-ring, grayish face - I realized it could only be one bird - a gray-cheeked thrush. (Well, I suppose Bicknell's is a possibility, but I would not try to claim it off of its breeding range.) A Swainson's thrush was nearby to provide a helpful contrast.

On the way down the hill I ran into a small patch of birds. These included my first yellow-bellied sapsucker of the fall. There were also two scarlet tanagers (male and female), a red-eyed vireo, and one warbler that I missed. One flycatcher perched briefly on an open hemlock branch, but not long enough for a good look.

Fern Valley turned up a few more Swainson's thrushes, along with a rose-breasted grosbeak. Other than that it was mostly quiet, there and during the rest of the walk. The end of the river trail near the golf course had a single palm warbler, compulsively flicking its tail as if it had a nervous tic. The river itself had a lone great blue heron keeping watch from a fallen tree and a couple of double-crested cormorants flying overhead. I suppose it is still a little too early for bay ducks to be coming up the Anacostia.

On the way back to the visitor center I checked the parking areas around the New York Ave entrance. Those had struck me as possibly good sparrow haunts, but all I turned up today were a few American goldfinches, beautiful birds in their own right, but not quite what I was looking for.

Fortunately no rain fell while I was out. I think there is a chance this afternoon. All morning the sky was draped with thick gloomy clouds that diffused the sunlight and made it difficult to see color. We appear at this point to have hit an intermediate phase of fall migration. The early migrants like warblers seem to have mostly moved on, while the winter residents are only starting to appear.


Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
American Goldfinch
Palm Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal