Saturday, November 18, 2006

Visit to Blackwater

Today I went out to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge with DC Audubon. Blackwater is a large tract of land that encompasses the marshes of the Little Blackwater River just south of Cambridge, Maryland. In addition to marshes and freshwater impoundments, the refuge includes managed agricultural fields and some of the largest stands of loblolly pine on the Eastern Shore. The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a five-mile Wildlife Drive that winds through most of the habitat types that the refuge offers. Recently two new hiking trails opened, and roads around the outside of the refuge include good birding spots as well.

The chief attractions for birders in the fall are the waterfowl that gather at Blackwater in large numbers. Canada geese, of course, were well represented, as were snow geese. A few tundra and mute swans were present as well. The first impoundment, pictured above, had about a dozen of my favorite duck - northern shoveler. Several impoundments had northern pintails, including one at close enough range for us to study the pattern of white and brown on the back of its head. Other waterfowl species were seen more sporadically today, mostly on Shorters Wharf road east and south of the refuge. There, a nice mixed group included blue-winged and green-winged teal, plus American wigeons.

Bald eagles, which breed at the refuge, are also a major attraction. Several times we had groups of up to 4 eagles circling overhead. It was about as good of a view of eagles as one could ask for. While the eagles kept our attention up high, northern harriers searched low over the fields for small rodents.

The large stands of loblolly pines offer an Eastern Shore specialty. The Eastern Shore is the northern limit of brown-headed nuthatches, which are residents of the southeastern U.S. These nuthatches are smaller cousins of the white-breasted nuthatch, have brown caps instead of black, and emit a call that sounds a bit like a squeaky toy. We caught up with about a dozen brown-headed nuthatches along the road near the Marsh Edge Trail. They flit around quickly near the tops of the pines to gather seeds from the cones, then break the seeds open against the bark of the trees. Other birds were using the same stand of pines: ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and a blue-headed vireo.

We saw too many other birds for me to go into detail on all of them. Then, since we were traveling in several cars, each carload of birders had a slightly different experience. Our little group saw a juvenile black-crowned night-heron. Others saw birds that I missed, including American white pelicans.

More images from the trip are available at the DC Audubon website. The species list appended to this post is my personal list for the day.


Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Greater Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Blue-headed Vireo
House Finch
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle