Monday, August 22, 2005

Birding on the Mall

I took advantage of the cooler weather to take an evening bird walk on the Mall, and to see if last night's northwest winds had brought any early migrants. Taking the Metro to the Smithsonian stop, I started out down by the Washington Monument. My initial objective was Constitution Gardens, a lake bordered by trees wedged between the World War II and Vietnam memorials.

No migrants were to be seen, but there were plenty of signs of the end of summer. One northern mockingbird was clearly a fledgling, but its feathers had grown enough for it to fly. A young brown-headed cowbird foraged amid a small flock of European starlings, which presumably had raised it. Male mallards were in various stages of molt, some close to basic plumage and some closer to alternate. I spotted two wood ducks in basic plumage among the mallards only because the wood ducks are so much smaller. One red-winged blackbird had begun to disguise his red epaulettes, as his species is wont to do during the winter months.

Somewhat disappointed with the pickings at Constitution Gardens, I moved on to the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park (known to birders as Haines Point). I did not see many more birds down along the river, but I did have a nice long walk on a pleasant evening. Many people were sitting or lying along the riverfront to view tonight's spectacular sunset. Thin bands of clouds stretched across the sky from north to south, and these clouds became colored with a series of golds, reds, and purples as the sun sank further into the horizon. Later, after the sun finally set, I caught a glimpse of a black-crowned night-heron flying south along Washington Channel.

Before heading back to the Metro, I stopped one last time to train my binoculars at the Washington Monument, which is illuminated at night by giant floodlights. Sure enough, I found a small number of common nighthawks fluttering in and out of the beams of light. I assume that this represents the first trickle of migrants; as far as I can tell, no nighthawks were found breeding in Washington this summer. These were the first nighthawks I have seen in Washington this year.


Black-crowned Night-Heron
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Kingbird
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird