Sunday, March 12, 2006

Early Migrants at the National Arboretum

When I arrived at the Arboretum this morning and was greeted immediately by the calls and songs of common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and northern mockingbirds, I knew that it was going to be a good day. A little while later, when I heard and then saw a great skein of tundra swans high overhead - numbering about 250 to 300 - I knew that it was going to be a great day for birding.

It seems that the southerly winds pushed through a load of migrants overnight. Flocks of sparrows were in numbers not seen for quite some time. On Beechwood Road there were several fox sparrows mixed with a flock of song sparrows and white-throated sparrows. In the same area, field sparrows were singing from the shrubs. I flushed a red-tailed hawk in the same area, and it flew away carrying a limp squirrel in its talons.

Pine warblers sang both on Hickey Hill and in the state tree grove. At the latter location, I managed to find the singer and watch it perform. It would cock its head back and sing, and then poke its bill under a flake of bark to pull out a grub of some sort. And then it would repeat the process, sometimes singing several times before probing again. It was fairly active, but not nearly as much as the frenetic ruby-crowned kinglet in the same pine.

Eastern phoebes must have made a major push this weekend as well. I had been seeing one fairly regularly throughout the winter, but today there were at least a dozen, spread all over the arboretum. Many of them were singing, making this the first time I have heard their song this year.

The red-headed woodpecker was near its usual spot, but this time in a tree across the road from the columns parking lot. I suspected it moved around a bit, but this was the first time I saw it anywhere but on the snags. It gave some great looks, too, and called a bit before I was distracted by a pair of red-tailed hawks wheeling about and screaming overhead. With the red-headed, I came within a hairy of a seven-woodpecker day.

A few other birds I saw included a yellow-rumped warbler near the Bonsai building a yellow-bellied sapsucker at the Asian Gardens, hooded mergansers in Beech Spring Pond, wood ducks in flight over the Anacostia, a winter wren calling on the other side of the river, and a brown creeper along the river trail. Red-breasted nuthatches were again on Hickey Hill, as was a hermit thrush. Eastern towhees were warming up their songs after a fall and winter of disuse.

Finally, I heard an eastern screech owl at the Arboretum today. It was just the type of day when one might hear an owl - overcast enough to give a crepuscular feeling even at mid-morning. It was giving its 'pinging' call rather than the 'scream' that gives the species its name. Even though the owl called repeatedly over a short period, I was unable to triangulate the sound well enough to spot it. (Read more about screech owls at Owlpages.)


Tundra Swan
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Hooded Merganser
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
American Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
American Goldfinch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle


Cabbage White
Clouded Sulphur
Eastern Comma
Mourning Cloak