Monday, January 23, 2006

Mid-winter Bird Count: C&O Canal Birding

On Saturday, birders fanned out along the length of the 184.5-mile C&O Canal to count birds. The C&O Canal mid-winter bird count is sponsored annually by the DC Audubon Society. This is the eighth year that this count has occurred. In that time, coverage of the canal has increased from 138 miles in 1999 to a record 181.5 miles in 2005. It will be interesting to see how many miles were covered this year as one previous coordinator has died and another left the executive board, leaving the count's leadership somewhat in flux. The extent of the coverage for 2006 will not be known until all reports have been submitted and tallied. The full results will be posted on DC Audubon's canal count webpage later in the spring.

I was assigned to miles 134-137, along with another DCAS board member (who was the lead counter for this section) and my sister. On the drive to the site, we passed through some beautiful landscapes, especially once we got off the interstates and onto local roads. Where there is not forest, the land is covered by northern-type forests of mixed oak, hickory, and pine trees. The land here is very hilly, and the ridges of the Appalachians were visible in the distance. The photo above shows a lake near the start of mile 134 that illustrates a typical scene from this area.

When we arrived at our access point at the start of mile 136, we found another birder who was covering half of the area we were assigned. So rather than fighting over the territory, we simply took miles 134-135 and called it a day. The photo above shows the lock tenders' house at lock 56 in mile 136. We also passed locks 55 and 54 in mile 134. (To see how a lock works, see the animation at this British website.)

The species diversity for this stretch was not very high; we only found 26 species. (The full list is below.) I think our tally would have been higher had we been covering areas in Washington, DC, or Montgomery County, MD. However, it was still a fun walk. I saw one new species for my Maryland life list, the black-capped chickadee. While this species is ubiquitous farther north, in Maryland it is rare outside the western mountainous counties. Pileated woodpeckers, one of the more spectacular woodpeckers in this area, could be heard up and down the length of the two miles, even though we only saw one. Eastern bluebirds, brown creepers, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and a winter wren were among the other avian highlights of this segment. In addition to bird life, we found evidence for the presence of other animals; one example is the beaver house shown below.

The scnery, though, was the best part of counting along this segment of the canal. For much of the day, the sky was overcast, with occasional light rain showers. At one point the sun broke through the clouds and reflected off the water of the Potomac River. An attempt to capture this beautiful moment is shown below.

Related Information:


Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
American Goldfinch
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

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