Monday, July 18, 2005

Capitol Hill Peregrine

One January a couple years ago – a few months after I had started birding – I was suffering from another bout of a chronic illness. About an hour before sunset I was feeling well enough to go out, so I took a short walk from my apartment down past the Capitol to Bartholdi Park. It was very cold and windy but sunny.

As I walked along the drive in front of the Capitol building, I watched ring-billed gulls and European starlings fly around overhead. Gulls tend to cluster in that area because they get easy pickings from the tourists that pass through every day. Suddenly I saw a bird that I realized was not a gull, and soon I realized that it was a falcon, violating restricted airspace. As I watched it soar overhead, it suddenly stooped over one of the congressional office buildings, and then sped in hot pursuit of a flock of starlings. It came close but did not catch any. I then watched it overhead some more until it disappeared behind the dome of the Capitol.

This was a most spectacular way of seeing my first peregrine falcon. In the time since then, I have seen many more, both in the District and on field trips farther away. But that first sighting is strongly etched into my memory, for the way it lifted my spirits after a trying day, and for the place where I saw it.