Sunday, September 11, 2005

Field Trip: National Arboretum

I have not written a post in over a week. Partly this was because I wanted to keep the last I and the Bird entry at the top of my page. It was also a result of being busy and not having much that I wanted to write about. Earlier last week I had a few walks in the woods that produced some common wood warblers and other birds - common nighthawks at RFK Stadium, a northern parula at the Arboretum, and some black-throated green warblers and American redstarts in other places outside D.C. But none of my little walks were quite productive enough to inspire a blog post. There are also some current issues that I considered writing about, primarily the H5N1 flu spreading in Asia and the environmental impact of Katrina, but I am not sure I could add much to what already has been written in various blogs (e.g., here, here, and here). I still may write something about those issues, though. Having said all that, let's move on to my latest sightings.

This morning I took the bus up to the National Arboretum in the hopes of finding some of the migrants passing through the area. The day warmed quickly, but there was still a hint of fall in the air, in the very cool conditions when I left my apartment, and in the trees that are starting to turn. Most still had green leaves, but the birches have already turned mostly golden, while some leaves on the mighty tulip poplars are beginning to turn yellow. I have noticed trees in my neighborhood, as well as in the Arboretum, turning straight from green to brown; I think this may be a result of the persistant drought in the area. Washington does not seem to have it as bad as northern New Jersey and New York City, but it is still very dry here.

Initially I was disappointed with the passerine turnout. American redstarts and common yellowthroats - both very common in this area during migration - were the only warblers I saw for the first couple hours of my walk. Added to these was a rose-breasted grosbeak. The latter was in a hemlock near the Asian Garden. It had some kind of fruit - about the size of the fruits that gingkos produce - that it was banging on a tree limb as it ate. It appeared to be a male, but in fall plumage, so that the rose breast was only faintly visible. One eye-level red-eyed vireo greeted me at the entrance to Fern Valley; inside that patch of woods I saw several more redstarts.

Meanwhile, a good selection of hawks made up for the slow passerine day. The usual red-shouldered hawk was watching over Heart Pond. Oddly enough, it did not scream at all when I flushed it. As I walked up the road in the direction of the Asian Garden, one young Cooper's hawk flew into a patch of trees in pursuit of some robins; I do not know if it was successful. Completing the accipiter day, a sharp-shinned hawk was waiting for me down by the river. Finally, an American kestrel flew out of some hemlocks and passed over Hickey Hill. Kestrels are not that common of a sight in Washington because of the lack of appropriate habitat. The Arboretum is one of the few places I have seen them in this city.

Passing along the side of the state trees area, I spotted a few eastern bluebirds that seem to be regulars around there. There was also an empidonax flycatcher in one of the pines. I think it was a least flycatcher because it was too small and too gray for an Acadian or yellow-bellied and in the wrong habitat for either of the Traill's-type flycatchers. That identification has to remain somewhat tentative, however. (Later on, I did hear an Acadian flycatcher calling in a different part of the Arboretum.)

As my walk wound down, I debated whether or not to go all the way up the hill near the entrance. I almost did not, but then I changed my mind, partly to get the extra exercise from climbing the hill. Most of the time I do not see that many birds on the hill. But today I hit the jackpot. At the top of the hill, my attention was drawn first by a worm-eating warbler picking through some dead leaves. Then, in quick succession, I started seeing lots of other warblers: first more redstarts, then a northern parula, then Nashville and black-and-white warblers. Turning around, I found black-throated green and magnolia warblers at the top of one of the shorter oaks. One parula was still singing its buzzy song.

On the way down the hill, I ran into yet more migrants. An ovenbird picked its way through the brush on one side of the trail. Further down, I had a scarlet tanager and a Swainson's thrush, the latter a year bird since I missed it in the spring. I caught a glimpse of one partially-concealed great-crested flycatcher; the tree where it was perched was already turning yellow so that it was even better camouflaged than usual. To top off the morning, I saw a young chestnut-sided warbler, showing off its distinctive lime-green back.

The walk up that hill provided me with my first real migrant fallout of the fall, with ten warbler species and several other birds. So today's birding lesson is: stay persistant, and cover the area you have not covered, even if it does not look promising. (Actually I sort of knew that already, but I tend to forget it when I am tired.)

Now that migration is picking up, I plan to make some more birding trips out to the local hotspots, so there should be some more sightings reported here. In any case, there should not be another week-and-a-half gap in posts for a while.


Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
American Kestrel
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Acadian Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher (probably)
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
Red-eyed Vireo
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak