Saturday, July 23, 2005

Trip Report: National Arboretum

When I left my apartment this morning, the air felt dramatically cooler than drier than it did over the last sweltering week. Last night a violent thunderstorm passed through the region around 2 am; it was loud enough to get me out of bed. While it brought some relief from the heat, it also wreaked havoc on the trees in the district. The arboretum seemed especially hard hit; they delayed opening until 9 am while they cleared most of the roadways from debris. One tree split and crushed the bus stop near the entrance. While waiting to be allowed into the arboretum, I swatted mosquitos off my legs and listened to a house wren in a magnolia near the gate. By the time visitors were allowed to enter, the strong sun was already melting away the cool air of the morning. Even so, the day did not become nearly as uncomfortable as some days earlier this week.

I took a somewhat unusual route, at least unusual in terms of how I bird the arboretum. I went out to the parking lot near New York Avenue first, and circled up through the conifer area and Asian collection, before taking my usual route back to the visitor center. The area around the parking lot looks like it might be good for migrating sparrows and other field birds in the fall. Today it produced an immature Cooper's hawk. That will be something to monitor as the year continues.

As I found on my trip to Kenilworth the other day, the birds were not very active today, and most had to be sought with difficulty. It seems that we are still in the midst of the usual summer birding doldrums. I did get a rare look at a yellow-billed cuckoo, which swooped from a tree to pounce on a cicada, and then landed on a visible perch as it tried (without much success) to swallow its prey. Cuckoos are fairly common in Washington, but most of the time I only hear them, not see them. (Their call is unmistakable once you have heard it: kek-kek-kek-kek-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp-kowlp.) Another bird that usually hear rather than see is the red-eyed vireo; today I got a look at two birds of that species in one of the hemlocks near the Asian garden. Brown thrashers were plentiful all around the arboretum.

All of the dragonfly identifications are somewhat provisional at this point since I do not have a true field guide. Instead I am using a few useful websites with photographs and checklists. Two local sites are kept by June Tveekrem and Dave Czaplak. I saw great blue skimmers hovering over every pond and meadow. There were many more dragonfly species than the four listed here, but I was not able to identify all of them.

Wildflowers for today included black-eyed susans, Queen Anne's lace, chicory, yellow cinquefoil, and fleabane.


Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Red-eyed Vireo
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle


Zebra Swallowtail
Black Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Checkered White
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulphur
Orange Sulphur
Spring Azure
Red-spotted Purple
Silver-spotted Skipper
Fiery Skipper


Common Whitetail
Great Blue Skimmer
Blue Dasher
Black Saddlebags