Since I had some free time at the beginning of this month, I resolved to get my birding for this year off to a fast start by hitting as many of DC's better birding spots as possible. I started somewhat slowly with a trip to the zoo on Wednesday, and then the birding built momentum from there. This weekend ends with only a few places - Rock Creek Park, McMillan Reservoir, and the southwest riverfront - left unvisited. As a result, I am already ahead of my 2004 pace, which was my best birding year so far.
This morning I visited Anacostia Park in southeast Washington. This quiet park tends to be good for waterbirds, and occasionally some landbirds that prefer open areas. This morning I did have some good waterbirds here. There was a handful of ruddy ducks across from the Commodore Barry; farther down, a pied-billed grebe swam in the river. All the common local gulls were represented, as well as an adult lesser black-backed gull. I also saw my first ruby-crowned kinglet of the year all the way down near the South Capitol bridge.
I did leave with a question, and that is whether or not I saw a cackling goose. Several cackling geese have been reported in DC so far this winter, but today was the first time I had seen a real candidate for that species. Cackling goose is a composite of several subspecies that used to be considered part of the Canada goose species until the species was split in two last year. Cackling geese look very similar to Canada geese, except that they are smaller, have proportionately shorter necks, and have stubbier bills. The subspecies most likely to be found in the eastern United States, Richardson's cackling goose, is grayer overall, with breast color matching the color of the flanks. One goose among a flock in the Anacostia River matched this description, though the viewing range was a bit too far for my judgment to be conclusive. I took some photographs of this bird; the best of the lot are shown below.
After lunch, I decided to visit the waterways on the other side of town, namely the Georgetown Reservoir and the neighboring C&O canal. The reservoir sometimes has good numbers of waterfowl in winter; today it was mostly deserted except for the gulls. There were some lesser scaup and at least one canvasback all the way on the far side of the water. One adult lesser black-backed gull was among the common gulls on the dike.
Down at Fletcher's boathouse I followed a foottrail leading west along the river instead of the towpath. This trail soon degraded into little more than a deer path, and even that was sketchy at times. Still I pressed on with that route, since I knew I would not get lost; I was in an area bounded by the Potomac and canal, and Fletcher's boathouse and the Chain Bridge. As long as I kept on in the same direction there would eventually be a way out.
The bushwhacking paid off, as I passed through some very birdy meadows. One spot had a female common yellowthroat, which perched on a tree branch at eye level and then glided down into the grass; it showed its yellow underside on the way down. Farther on, close to the Chain Bridge, there was a spot full of sparrows. These included field and savannah sparrows, in addition to the more common ones. Other birds seen along the way included eastern bluebird, belted kingfisher, and red-shouldered hawk. The deer paths, of course, also had deer, which fled before my footsteps.
When I reached the Chain Bridge I went up on the walkway to look at the ponds. These held mostly mallards, but also a hooded merganser and several common mergansers. The view from the Chain Bridge was a lovely way to end a long day of birding.
SPECIES SEEN: 45
Great Blue Heron
Cackling Goose (?)
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull