Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Birding by Metro: Red Line

This week's birding by Metro post covers sites on the Red Line. The Red Line runs a U-shaped route from eastern Montgomery County south into downtown D.C., and out again through northwest D.C. and central Montgomery County. It is the only Metro rail line that does not share tracks with another line for at least part of its length. As always, you can find information about train schedules and routes at the WMATA website.

Silver Spring

Rock Creek Park has the largest tract of woodland in the District. The best migrant traps in the park are in the central portion, along the ridge near the Nature Center. The northern portion of the park offers upland forest and riparian habitats that can be explored for woodland birds but remains relatively underbirded. Directions: From the Silver Spring station, turn west (left) down Colesville Road, which turns into North Portal Drive at the District border. Turn left from North Portal Drive onto East Beach Drive, bear right onto West Beach Drive (at Kalmia Road), and keep going south along West Beach Drive. Watch for trails into the park on either side of the road.

Fort Totten Station

Fort Totten Park is on a grassy and wooded ridge that surrounds one of the forts built to protect the federal capital during the Civil War. While not a true migrant trap on the scale of Rock Creek Park, Fort Totten does attract birds, particularly in migration. Look for migrant warblers and vireos and nesting flycatchers. Hawks may be seen in all seasons. Directions: From the station, cross the parking lot and follow the asphalt path around the hill.


Catholic University is bordered by small tracts of woodland on its north and west edges. These woods attract migrants in spring and fall. Several species of raptors, including red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, peregrine falcon, and American kestrel have been spotted around the campus in recent years. Fort Bunker Hill Park (at 13th and Otis Streets in the Brookland neighborhood) attracts migrant birds, including red-headed woodpecker, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, and various warblers. Directions: For Catholic University, follow the marked exit from the station and walk across the campus. For Fort Bunker Hill Park, use the Brookland exit and walk east along Otis Street.

Woodley Park / Zoo

The National Zoo stands on a bluff overlooking Rock Creek. The zoo contains many captive animals, but birders are welcome to search the zoo for wild birds. Check the wetlands near the bird house for waterfowl in winter and wild nesting black-crowned night-herons in summer. Red-shouldered hawks sometimes breed in the vicinity. Orioles and kingbirds nest in the sycamores near the big cat enclosures. Wood ducks breed along the creek during the summer and gather there in large numbers during the winter. Occasionally other wild waterfowl will keep them company.

Cleveland Park

Rock Creek Park can also be reached from the Cleveland Park station. The creek at Peirce Mill usually has a wood duck contingent, and swallows breed in the buildings there. By walking north from Peirce Mill, one can reach the traditional hotspots along the ridge. Directions: To reach Peirce Mill, walk north along Connecticut Avenue from the station. Walk down into Rock Creek Park via the ravine trail in Melvin Hazen Park. (N.B.: This trail can be difficult when wet.)


Fort Reno Reservoir is located on Fessenden Street between Wisconsin and Nebraska Avenues. The reservoir is underground and the top of the hill is surrounded by a fence. The lawn inside the fence is sometimes allowed to grow into a meadow. This is a good place to spot open-country birds if the grass in the enclosures has not been mown. As the highest point in DC, Reno Reservoir is a fine place for hawk watching in both spring and fall. Watch for southbound common nighthawks in August and September. Directions: From the station, walk north on Fort Drive to the park.

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, Blue/Orange