Yesterday I returned to Washington after spending two weeks out of town. So this afternoon I took some time to start off my DC birding for the new year with trips to some local waterfowl spots.
I started at the National Zoo. The ponds near the bird house held dozens of mallards, as well as a few American black ducks and wood ducks. Nothing beats an up-close look at breeding-plumaged wood ducks! I have been assured by a zoo staffer that the birds in those ponds are currently all wild; the zoo's waterfowl have been moved to other locations for the time being due to renovations. Even so, the zoo has maintained the heated ponds, and continues to leave feed at the regular feeding stations. Wintering at the zoo has to be a pretty good deal for local ducks; it offers a steady food supply, reliably unfrozen water, and no predation or hunting.
Rock Creek below the zoo had more of the same waterfowl. There was a patch of activity near the stone bridge that leads from the zoo to the bicycle path. Most of these turned out to be tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and white-throated sparrows. The activity went on despite the foreboding presence of a red-tailed hawk watching from a snag high above the creek.
Once I finished my walk through the zoo, I headed over to the Potomac since there was still plenty of light left. I walked the normal circuit, down the Washington Channel side and back along the river. Several large flocks of scaup were on both the channel and the river; most of these turned out to be lesser scaup. A few greater scaup were near the seawall on the far side of the channel. One American coot hugged the channel's boat docks.
When a passing helicopter flushed many birds from the trees, three merlins appeared. Eventually they settled on three snags along the road, perched about ten yards from each other. While all had the dark breast streaking characteristic of merlins, one of the three seemed to have have darker and colder brown streaking than the other two, which had a more reddish tone. I had two more merlin sightings on the walk, but I think these may have been some of the same birds.
As I walked back from the tip of the peninsula, I spotted a brown creeper clinging to the trunk of a tree.
SPECIES SEEN: 32Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull