Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and Park

This morning I took a birding trip to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the adjacent Kenilworth Park. As befits the first day of summer, the water levels were especially high today, so much so that the gardeners had pumps running in several places to avoid flooding in the waterlily impoundments. The beaver dam was entirely covered with water. Of course this meant that there was little to see out in the marsh. One can occasionally see shorebirds out on the flats, but there were no mudflats to be seen today, let alone shorebirds. Common grackles were the dominant species today, and their constant movement and chatter proved distracting as I was looking for other species.

Right at the entrance I was greeted by a brown thrasher standing out in the open among the hollies near the parking lot. Once inside I heard a black-and-white warbler and saw a small group of blue-gray gnatcatchers, a small but hyperactive species. A green heron flew over the impoundments. After that things settled down. I heard common yellowthroats and indigo buntings as I approached the marsh, and passed within feet of a great blue heron standing stock-still in an impoundment.

The boardwalk and overlooks presented little aside from some eastern phoebes. This species seemed to be in relatively high numbers at the aquatic gardens today. I got a nice long look at one posing on a boardwalk railing, and later saw pairs wheeling playfully over the waters of the marsh. They were joined by numerous tree swallows and barn swallows, both of which breed there. The marsh is stocked with nesting boxes for such species. These boxes are carefully monitored by the NPS staff.

The river trail, which curves around the marsh and goes out to the tidal inlet, presented a few more nice finds. My first glimpse for the year of a northern parula came at the start of the trail. I had heard them before but not seen them, because they are hard to spot but have a loud and distinctive call, like a zipper being pulled up. I finally got to see an indigo bunting instead of just hearing them. A prothonotary warbler, unusual for D.C. but in proper habitat, called several times from the swampy wooded area between the trail and the nursery buildings. As I walked the portion of the trail that parallels the river, I could hear a pileated woodpecker call, and shortly afterwards one flew across the path on its way across the marsh. Soon I also heard the distinctive chick-per-ee-o-chick of the white-eyed vireo in more or less the same area where one was breeding last summer.

The best bird of the day was at the end of the trail. There I heard a call that I first tuned out as an alternate white-eyed vireo. But after listening to it for a few minutes I realized it was something different. When I got home and had a chance to listen to my recording, I confirmed my hunch that what I heard was the ritzbew of a willow flycatcher. This was a life bird for me, and brings my life list to 248 species.

On the way back towards the entrance, I spotted a wood duck sitting on a log in the marsh. After that I had no new species in the gardens for the day. Usually when I am done in the gardens I just walk over to the Deanwood station and head home. But today I wanted to check out some good sightings that had been reported from Kenilworth Park, just down Anacostia Avenue from the aquatic gardens. So I walked down and started walking towards the meadow area, where the birds had been found. Along the way I noted an eastern kingbird. As I came to the crest of the hill, I saw about a dozen police cars parked in a line in the gravel parking lot, with another dozen streaming in the entrance. Then a helicopter swooped low over the field. At that point I decided that my birding day was pretty much done. I will have to give that park another try soon. The species reported would be a lifer and a D.C. first for me, so it would be worth another shot, I think. I want to take some photographs of the waterlilies anyway, and it looks like we are near the best time to do that.

Good birding.