Saturday, June 16, 2007

Blue Grosbeaks Under Blue Skies

This morning I returned to the National Arboretum to look for breeding birds. I decided to focus my attention on some of the fields and scrubby areas, since I had been neglecting them during the past month. I had some particular target birds in mind. One of them, the blue grosbeak, made its presence known right away. Several males were singing in the small fields behind the columns. I finally caught a look at one as it sang high in one of the oak trees. I love seeing this species at the Arboretum, not only for its bright blue plumage, but also because blue grosbeaks are relatively rare breeders in the District. In the same general area, I could hear the songs of common yellowthroats and indigo buntings.

On my way past the lilac area, I found an acadian flycatcher constructing a nest about ten feet over the road. It seemed a little late for a migrant bird to be starting its breeding, so perhaps this is a second brood. According to The Birder's Handbook, acadian flycatchers will produce two broods; the 1983 edition of the Maryland breeding bird atlas states that they will lay eggs until August 3. This nest was in the early stages, with only an outline made with catkins.

Proceeding to Beech Spring Pond (the larger of the two ponds), I sat down in the grass to see what birds might present themselves. A small flock of cedar waxwings contested the top of a baldcypress on the far side of the pond. I could hear an eastern kingbird in the tree above me while a small group of tufted titmice and carolina chickadees chattered in a tree nearby.

I only walk about a third of the river trail since I was not thrilled about the idea of spending long periods in the sun. The meadow near the south end hosted at least one pair of nesting indigo buntings. They must have a nest very close to the path because the male on one side of the path and the female on the other side - the latter holding a small caterpillar - were both scolding me as I passed. When I moved on from there, I was treated to a pair of great crested flycatchers. These colorful birds are more often heard than seen since their gray backs and ruddy tails blend into the forest environment, and their lemon colored breasts become countershading. In this case, the two birds sat out in the open at eye level for a long time, so it easily made up for all the times I have had only a simply wheeeeep! to mark their presence.

Dragonflies and butterflies have been out and about. As bird songs start to wind down, I will start paying more attention to them. The best areas for both large insects are in the unmown meadows, particularly around the columns and along the river trail. In the lilac area, I saw a little wood-satyr and had my best look ever at an eastern tailed blue. These tiny butterflies are quite common; they are the bluish-grayish butterflies that flutter at your feet as you walk through a grassy meadow. I missed my favorite dragonfly, the twelve spotted skimmer, but had nice looks at both black and red saddlebags near the columns, as well as several other odonates throughout the Arboretum.

As Reya noted, today was a gorgeous day in Washington; it was sunny and not too hot yet. From a birding perspective, the day was even better. Most birds were still singing, and beautiful birds were plentiful in all corners of the Arboretum.

Canada Goose
Red-shouldered Hawk
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
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Barn Swallow
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
Red-eyed Vireo
Northern Parula
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Cabbage White
Clouded Sulphur
Eastern Tailed-Blue
Variegated Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary
Red Admiral
Little Wood-Satyr

Ebony Jewelwing
Spangled Skimmer
Widow Skimmer
Common Whitetail
Blue Dasher
Eastern Amberwing
Black Saddlebags
Red Saddlebags