Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Birding by Metro: Blue and Orange Lines

This week's post in my series about birding by Metro covers sites on the Blue and Orange Lines, which run together on an east-west route through center of Washington. They run separately through northern Virginia, converge at the Rosslyn station, and then part again the the Stadium-Armory station, with the Orange Line running northeast and the Blue Line running east. These subway lines offer relatively close access to some of the best birding that the District has to offer.

Blue and Orange Lines


Roosevelt Island, Washington's monument to our 26th president, offers a variety of habitats in its 91 acres. Look through the upland hardwood forest that covers the north and west sides of the island for warblers and tanagers in migration, nesting red-shouldered hawks, and wandering mixed-species flocks in winter. The tidal marsh offers views of wood ducks and sparrows. The wooded swamp is reliable in winter for fox and swamp sparrows, winter wrens, and brown creepers. Prothonotary and yellow-throated warblers are regular visitors to the island in the spring. Directions: Walk from the station towards the Key Bridge. Just after crossing Washington Parkway, turn right onto the bicycle path, which will take you to the parking lot and foot bridge to Roosevelt Island.

Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom is the District's only Metro station with close access to the C&O Canal. Unfortunately birding possibilities at the start of the canal are rather limited, compared to conditions farther upstream. Check the river for waterbirds and watch the sides of the towpath for songbirds. Bird life along the canal becomes more interesting after about milepost 3. Directions: Walk west from the station along Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street to 30th Street. Turn left and walk along 30th Street to the canal.


Hains Point and the Tidal Basin are at their best in winter, when crowds of tourists give way to migrant waterfowl and gulls - and the birders who come to look for them. At times, the number of gulls will grow into the thousands; search among them for less common gulls like lesser-black-backed, glaucous and Thayer's, which tend to show up during late-winter deep freezes. Scaup, mergansers, buffleheads, grebes, and coots are common at both locations; loons sometimes appear. The golf course regularly hosts open country species and shorebirds; at least one merlin visits each winter, and as many as three have been seen at once on this small territory. Check the holly trees for flocks of cedar waxwings and kinglets. The 14th Street railroad bridge hosts an osprey nest each spring, and peregrine falcons love to perch on its trusses. Directions: From the Independence Avenue exit, walk west on Independence and south along 15th Street to the Tidal Basin. To reach Hains Point, walk clockwise around the Basin and under the series of highway and railroad bridges. Most of Hains Point is a golf course, but a walkway around the edge of the island is open to the public.

Constitution Gardens is located north of the World War II Memorial and east of the Vietnam Memorial. In winter and early spring migration, look for ring-necked ducks, bufflehead, and wigeons on the lake. During later spring migration, warblers, vireos, and orioles may be in the trees. Check the shrubs around the lake and the lawn near the Vietnam Memorial for sparrows. White-crowned and Lincoln's sparrows have visited here. Directions: Walk diagonally from the station across the grounds of the Washington Monument.

The DC Veterans WWI Memorial is a quiet, lesser-known spot tucked in the woods away from the WWII Memorial. The memorial itself is a simple bandshell. This spot regularly attracts warblers and thrushes during songbird migration in spring and fall. Directions: Cross the grounds of the Washington Monument and bear left around the WWII Memorial; watch for the bandshell to your left.

Among the museums on the south side of the Mall there are a series of gardens. These small oases of green sometimes attract birds during migration. The Enid Haupt Garden (behind the Smithsonian Castle) and Hirschorn's sculpture garden have the usual urban birds, but more unusual species occasionally drop in. Ripley Gardens (adjacent to the Arts and Industries Building) hosted black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds in 2003-4. Directions: All three gardens are just west of the Mall entrance to the Smithsonian station.

Federal Center SW

This station is close to two other small gardens. The National Museum of the American Indian created a series of gardens to demonstrate the sorts of plants common in the area before the arrival of Europeans. For birding purposes, the best spot is the wetland area east of the museum, which attracts swamp sparrows and red-winged blackbirds. Outdoor gardens maintained by the U.S. Botanic Gardens feature sparrows in winter and ruby-throated hummingbirds in summer. An occasional warbler may be present in migration.

Potomac Avenue - Central Anacostia Park

Anacostia River Park is a thin strip of parkland running along both sides of the Anacostia River, from its mouth north into Prince Georges County. The best areas for birding are on either side of the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge. In winter, watch for gulls, ducks, and other waterbirds. Check for migrant shorebirds on the playing fields at high tide; at low tide check the mudflats for gulls and terns. Directions: From the station, walk south along Pennsylvania Avenue and across the river. (Visiting this park by Metro involves much walking, so allot enough time for the walk to the park, in addition to time you might spend there.)


Kingman and Heritage Islands sit in the middle of the Anacostia River just south of Benning Road. Eventually the islands will host an environmental education center and trails; currently access to the islands is irregular. Waterfowl and herons use the river year-round. Gulls, terns, and shorebirds may be present on mudflats around the islands during migration. Check brushy areas for songbirds. Directions: From the station, walk north past the stadium and cross the parking lots to a footbridge that connects to the islands. The gate may or may not be open.

Blue Line Only

I do not know of any good birding sites accessible only from the Blue Line. If you happen to know of one, please note it in the comments.

Orange Line Only

Minnesota Avenue

Kenilworth Park on the east bank of the Anacostia River has open playing fields and managed meadows. This is the most likely site in D.C. to see such open-country birds as meadowlarks, horned larks, bobolinks, and vesper and savannah sparrows during their appropriate seasons. Sometimes shorebirds appear at high tide during May and August. Blue grosbeaks have nested in the park. Falcons and northern harriers appear here occasionally in winter. Directions: Use the west station exit for a pedestrian bridge that crosses 295. Walk one block west to Kenilworth
Terrace, and then two blocks north to the park entrance.


Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is one of the top two birding spots in the District. Visits here are fruitful in all seasons. Display ponds for aquatic plants are surrounded by a 77-acre tidal wetland that includes a large tract of wooded swamp. From the park's visitor center, you can walk through the display ponds to boardwalks that lead out into the marsh. There is also a river trail that curves around the tidal marsh and through the wooded swamp. Waterfowl, herons, shorebirds, and occasionally rails may be seen in the marsh and around the display ponds. Sparrows, including field, fox, Lincoln's, and white-crowned, are found along the boardwalk and the river trail. Prothonotary warblers, both orioles, indigo buntings, and warbling and white-eyed vireos breed along the river trail. Directions: Walking west from the station, use the pedestrian overpass to cross 295, then walk west along Douglass Street and north along Anacostia Avenue to reach the gardens.

If you know of good, Metro-accessible sites not listed here, please note them in the comments. I especially would appreciate learning about sites outside of Washington's borders. Any feedback is welcome.

Other posts in this series: Introduction, Green/Yellow