Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sparrows and Bitterns at Poplar Point

Last week, someone reported a seaside sparrow - a highly unlikely species in DC - at Poplar Point, a small peninsula that juts into the Anacostia River. Then yesterday, while I was at Bird Fest, other birders reported a slew of other unusual bird species at the same location. So this morning I went over to Poplar Point to see if any of the reported birds were still there.

The walk started out well with a female kestrel and some first-of-the-spring songsters. A Baltimore oriole flew out from one of the locust trees as I walked along the tree line. It was the first of several for today. Just inside the tree line, a gray catbird was mewing, and yellow warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, and common yellowthroats were singing. In a few other spots I could hear house wrens singing. I thought I heard an orchard oriole, but I could not could confirm that with a sight identification.

I failed to find any of the reported grasshopper sparrows, unfortunately. However, the grassy areas were not lacking for sparrows. In addition to the usual suspects, I saw two savannah sparrows, two field sparrows (one singing), and a swamp sparrow. My search for the grasshopper sparrows took me deeper into the meadows than I normally venture, and in the course of my search I flushed two Wilson's snipe in short succession.

Deeper into the meadow, there are some marshy areas, where I flushed a least bittern and then an American bittern. Both stayed airborne long enough for me to get identifying looks at them. The least bittern - a tiny brown bird with a black cap - flushed from reeds near me and landed just out sight behind a tree and some other reeds. The American bittern flushed from a position farther from me and then stayed in the air longer as it flew farther into the swamp. This was my first look at either species. As I turned to leave, I saw a wild turkey walking in and out of the tall grass. It did not seem to be disturbed by my presence.

Leaving the meadow, I made my way along the river from Poplar Point towards Anacostia Park proper. A bobolink flushed from the taller grass near the side of the road, perched in the shrubs, and started singing. It had a fascinating song - not necessarily a pleasing song, but a complex one with a lot of squeaks and gurgles. As I walked further, I checked the mudflats on the river. There were about seven caspian terns among the masses of ring-billed gulls. A few herring and great black-backed gulls are still around. Two osprey were hunting over the river. I later saw one carrying a stick to an unknown destination.

The Least Bittern and Wild Turkey were #199 and #200 on my DC life list. I reached one of my birding goals for the year!

Birds observed: 50 species

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Least Bittern
American Bittern
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey
Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole

Butterflies observed: 8 species

Cabbage White
Clouded Sulphur
American Copper
Gray Hairstreak
Eastern Tailed-Blue
Spring Azure
Mourning Cloak
Wild Indigo Duskywing