Week Ending April 13, 2014

This week started off with a rainy day Monday, and a mostly cloudy day on Tuesday. On Tuesday however, I did get out for a 6 mile walk through the neighborhoods of Little Neck for exercise, but didn't bring the camera with me since it was completely overcast. I didn't really see any birds to speak of either so it worked out OK. Had I seen something interesting I'd have beaten myself up for bringing my camera with, like has happened so many times in the past.  Wednesday proved to be a much nicer day, mostly sunny and in the 60s. I went down to First Landing State Park after work hoping I might catch some more migrating songbirds. I did the usual walk, parking at 64th Street outside the park and walking in along the Cape Henry, Long Creek, and Osprey Trails. I got a later start than I'd prefer, so I only walked to the south shore of White Hill Lake & Back, which is about 5.5 miles or thereabouts. I counted a total 4 Osprey nests up and running along the Osprey Trail so far, though there could very well be others that are just out of sight. The leaves in the park are really just starting to show up, but in another week or so it'll probably be completely greened up. Bradford Pears around the area are still in bloom, but are starting to fade it seems. Also along the Osprey Trail, the pair of Canada Geese still appears to be nesting. This is the 2nd year I've seen them in the same spot. Their nest is on a small freshwater pond just south of the trail, but well concealed within a small island of cattails. It is kind of neat that they are able to nest so close in proximity to Ospreys without hesitation, I would have though goose eggs would be like liquid gold for a hungry Osprey family, but maybe they really do stick to just fish.

My first Black Racer (snake) on the season, roughly 4 or 5 feet in length at First Landing SP.

Either way, the geese are there and hopefully they'll hatch out a family of goslings in a few weeks that I can photograph. The next pond to the west held a pair of Snowy Egrets, which took to flight as soon as they saw me unfortunately. Usually about this time of year I'll come across Tricolored Herons at the park, mixed in with Snowy Egrets, so I was on the lookout. Unfortunately though, I didn't spot any, though I did total up 11 Snowy Egrets on the day, which is a career high for me in the park. At the western tidal creek bridge, I could hear a Belted Kingfisher cackling, which is pretty common in this spot as there is one bold Kingfisher that never lets me photograph it with any quality. White Hill Lake was quiet for once, I didn't spot any ducks or herons out on the water, but the Osprey nest on the north side is still active. On the return trip I saw a Bonaparte's Gull right up on the shoreline of Broad Bay, only the second one I have ever seen on the inland side of the park. A Great Blue Heron was out in the western tidal creek marsh, and was pretty weary of me taking photographs so I kept on walking. In the area of the Osprey Trail that I refer to as The Grove (east of the Broad Bay beach about a quarter mile), songbirds were moving about like they typically are. I saw some Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice, the usuals. But also, there was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher hopping around. I tried desperately for a few minutes to get a good photograph but came up with a lot of out-of-focus, or tree branch only photos, with maybe a couple shots that at least were confirmation of the sighting. It was pretty quiet the rest of the way, and close to 7 o'clock when I returned so the setting sun made for difficult shooting. 

Beautiful little Pine Warbler in it's namesake tree at Pleasure House Point.

Thursday I was able to get out to Pleasure House Point since it was yet again a gorgeous spring day out in the 60s & sunny. On the way home from work I had passed a Green Heron on one of the ponds off Kings Grant Road, so on my way back out to the park I stopped and got a couple photographs for the first of the season. At the park, I worked from east to west, having parked at Loch Haven Park again. No Gadwall today in the stormwater retention pond surprisings. The sandbars out in the Lynnhaven were full of Gulls, Terns, Cormorants, and Pelicans like they always are this time of year. No re-sighting of the Harbor Seal I'd seen before here, but it may be that they've moved further north with the warming of the weather the past couple of weeks. Like last visit, the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were present, and provided the best photo opportunities since they're large, slow, not-so-weary, and enjoy being out in the sunlight; pretty much the perfect subject to photograph. I spotted a Green Heron along the shores of the second largest of the freshwater ponds, and later saw a pair of Mallards in the same pond, presumably the same pair I've seen the last few visits. Walking around the largest pond allowed me to sneak up on a Pine Warbler that was calling from about 20 feet up in a large pine tree. I got some photographs of it before it moved onto the next tree.

Horned Grebe in Pleasure House Creek.

They seem to be the only species of warbler I've seen in the park, which I'm OK with since they're beautiful, but it would be nice to get some migration variety. The Pine Warblers are here year-round, and love areas with tall pine trees, which this park has a great deal of. I got some shots of a Great Egret along the ditchlike pond that flows from Marlin Bay Drive out to the river. The pear trees in the park are still blooming & very pretty, as they were at First Landing on Wednesday. Along the river on the way back there was a Horned Grebe in fairly close. When I dove I snuck up on it and got quite a few close shots before it dove again, it didn't seem too bothered by me on the shoreline. When I headed back up to the car I saw an Osprey hovering over the stormwater pond, and while sneaking up on it, inadvertently spooked a Green Heron that was on the shoreline that I hadn't even seen. I tried to re-locate it on the river where it had flown in the direction of but couldn't, and instead yet again scared off another bird, a sparrow this time that may have been a Field Sparrow, I can't say for sure. After having used up my good luck apparently I decided to call it a day, fortunately I had been successful with a few birds earlier, before I started scaring everything off. 

The Cherry Blossoms of Washington, D.C. at peak bloom.

After a lengthy, traffic-filled, drive up to Fairfax on Friday, I was ready for some photography when Saturday morning rolled around. My girlfriend & her mother and I drove into Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. They were right in their peak this weekend, so it timed out perfectly. We went into the city at 6 am and it was already full of people. The parade was going to be at 10am so I'm sure it only got crazier after we left. I took some photos of the blossoms, and a few of some Robins but didn't see much in the way of wildlife. Mallards, Canada Geese, Double-crested Cormorants, Gulls were about the only birds out, which are all the common ones I should expect in the city. After the festival, Ruth & I did do some walking on the Cross County Trail in Lorton right behind her mother's house. The only notable wildlife we saw was a large number of Toads calling and swimming around in a storm water retention pond. At least it was a beautiful day out in the high 70s with a nice breeze. The leaves up there were just starting out, so about a week behind Hampton Roads. 

More of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Sunday morning I got up early and went out for a long hike on the South Run Trail off Hooes Road, just north of Silverbrook Road. This is a trail I've hiked a number of times as it is very near Ruth's mother's neighborhood, and it has a surprising amount of wildlife along it. The trail encircles Lake Mercer, a reservoir created by damming up the South Run Stream which exits Burke Lake about 3.5 miles upstream. I usually walk around the east side of the lake, then follow the stream up to Burke Lake and back along the west side of the lake. The trail is a paved path, so there is usually a lot of joggers/walkers, and many dogs on the trail. Since it is in a stream valley, the neighborhoods are visible this time of year on either side up on the higher ground. It reminds me a lot of the trails that are common in Williamsburg. These trails are usually there mainly for the purpose of allowing pump trucks access to the sanitary sewer manholes that have been run through the area, utilizing the natural terrain slope to help them flow properly. The paved paths just happen to also function perfectly for recreational uses. With all the residential areas nearby, there are a ton of feeder birds in the stream valley. Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, American Robins, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos are all extremely common in the forests here. The stream valley is also home to a lot of other wildlife though. I actually saw a female Wood Duck about 50 feet up in a tree along the stream, and could hear the calls of a male, but couldn't locate it.

Carolina Chickadee watching as the leaves start to come out in Fairfax County. 

It is possible he was in a tree cavity somewhere where they are nesting for the season. I've seen a number of Red-shouldered Hawks in the valley, including my very first a couple years ago. However, this time I couldn't seem to find any that I could ID. Though, I did see two hawks that were clearly Buteos of some species, but they were in flight and too fast & far away to properly identify. At the Burke Lake dam end of the trail, a pair of nest boxes has been set out for Tree Swallows, which were seen flying all over the place over the shallow waters next to the dam. These waters were full of Toads, just like the previous day, singing & swimming around frantically, I'd imagine it is just the breeding time of year and that's why they are so loud and mobile. I'd never seen it before, but I watched an American Crow actually grab one of the toads up off the water and proceed to devour it. I didn't realize crows would actually take live food, I always have known them as carrion feeders, though I suppose every day isn't garbage day so they must make use of something else for sustenance. The forest also is home to a number of woodpecker species, of which I saw both Downy & Hairy, Pileated, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Northern Flickers. Fortunately, since the leaves aren't totally out yet, I had good vision through the woods to be able to see all these birds, in a week or so it will get a bit more difficult, though, more beautiful. When I'd reached Lake Mercer on the way back, I got to see a number of Mallards, Canada Geese, and even one Great Blue Heron that was frightened off by a dog before I could get close enough to it for a photo. Near the emergency spillway I kept an eye on the treeline but didn't find any foxes this year. Two summers back I saw a mother Red Fox with 5 or 6 young pups walking around on the edge of the treeline. From the top of the dam, I spotted my first Barn Swallows of the year, and also saw what could have been a Beaver swimming around, trying to avoid a fisherman who was in a kayak near the outlet structure of the lake.

White-tailed Deer on the run in the South Run Stream Valley of Fairfax County.

I'd reached the car and thrown my pack into it, turned the key, and realized it was only 9:30 in the morning. I decided I had another couple miles in me, so I walked downstream from the parking area. This turned out to be a great thing, because up til that point, the Wood Duck was really the only out of the ordinary bird I'd seen. But on the ensuing 2 miles, I found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and photographed it. Then, I saw a flock of Rusty Blackbirds, which are now a new addition to my life list! After that I also saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, which is my first of the season. It was quite fast, and in the underbrush, so my photos aren't the best, but this is now the 3rd time I've seen this species, after having added it to my life list just last June at Crabtree Falls. Along the stretch I also had a pair of White-tailed Deer run directly at me, which is highly unnusual. They cut to my right about 50 feet away from me and then bounded across the stream. Something spooked them, and a pair of people were not far from me, so they must have been splitting between us on their run. I could still see them a couple hundred yards off, grazing in the woods, but didn't feel the need to try to sneak back up on them given that they'd already provided me with a good show. I didn't find any of the colorful spring warblers in the woods, but it turned out to be a great hike, and weather right around 70s while I was out, so a perfect end to a good week in the outdoors. Next week, I have Friday off of work for holiday, so I may try to go down to the Great Dismal Swamp NWR where everyone seems to be having good luck with finding colorful migrant birds!

My first Rusty Blackbird, a new life bird, taken in the South Run Stream Valley in Fairfax County near Lorton.