Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hairy Woodpecker Nest, Alexandria, VA

So, my birding buddy Renee and I, early in April at Loftridge Park, saw a Hairy Woodpecker and saw this hole nearby, which we thought might be a nest hole. (Click here for the earlier report.) She's been keeping an eye on it, and reported possible action at the hole. This morning I finally got to go back with her to the location.

Sure enough, a hairy woodpecker was active near the hole, make that high chipping call they make. We watched for awhile (her husband Matt joined us) and there was just a lot of calling but the hairy never went to the hole. So we went about 10 yards farther away and settled in. (Note: bring chairs next time. And beer.) Before too much longer, the male hairy started getting closer and closer to the hole, and finally, the female came out and the male went in! Carrying lunch. You can just barely see the caterpillar or bug in his bill. The top three pictures are of the male at the hole and then going into the nest.

Thrilled, we waited a bit longer, and eventually the female returned, came up to the nest and the male exited. Here she is waiting for him to leave. A great day! We'll keep you posted.

We started at Huntley Meadows, hoping to see the reported King Rail (nope!) but did see an American Bittern fly in.
It was a great morning for birding. Other birds seen today were (Renee, let me know what I've left out):

Huntley Meadows:
Great Blue Heron
American Bittern
Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Solitary Sandpiper
Tree Swallow
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird

Loftridge Park:
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Gray Catbird
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge

We got excellent looks at this Prothonotary Warbler during our visit to the Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge today. By the time we got to the Refuge, the bird banding was done for the day, but the birds we saw on a walk around part of the refuge made up for it! The warbler came very close to check us out.

Another nice sighting was this group of Red-Breasted Mergansers that were close to shore and swam up as we approached. We later saw either part of the same group or a differnet group of five birds.

Including the pictured birds, we saw:
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-tailed Hawk
Wild Turkey
Belted Kingfisher
Tree Swallow
Northern Mockingbird
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Goldfinch
Prothonotary Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle

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Kingfisher at Occoquan NWR

While looking for Rails at Occoquan, we heard and then saw this Kingfisher in the wetlands. Took this picture by holding up my little Pentax to the eyepiece of the scope.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Heronry, Mason Neck State Park

As part of the Eagle Festival at Mason Neck State Park, they took by van into a closed part of the park to see the heronry. There are more than 30 or 40 nests, some of which are shown in these pictures. In the first picture, the heronry is visible as specks in the top of the treeline in the center of the picture. The next two pics zoom in on the herons.

It's amazing to see the nests in the very top of the trees. The Fish and Wildlife Service ranger said they get hit pretty hard in bad weather. Next fall/winter, the FWS people will go out into the marsh to count the nests.

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Eagle Festival I

My sister-in-law Peg and I attended the annual Eagle Festival at nearby Mason Neck State Park. We had a pleasant time, checking out various booths and doing a little birding while we waited for the announced release of a wild eagle that had been rehabilitated at the Wildlife Center of Virginia. After the release, we got to go to see a heronry site; I'll post pictures of that later.

Ed Clark, president of the center, removes the eagle from the carrier. It was a mature bald eagle that had been found by some people picking mushrooms. It had been shot. Ed said it was rare these days finding an eagle that had been shot; more likely they are sick or injured in some other way.

Ed hold the eagle while the gentleman in the blue hat (can't remember who he was) removes the bumpers from the eagle's wings. The bumpers are the things that look like bandages. They are to protect the eagle during transport in the cage. Note the heavily padded glove Ed is wearing.

The eagle is ready to be free. Ed: "Feathers are harder than they look!"

Ed did the rounds of the crowd so we could get a close look at a wild bald eagle.
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Eagle Festival II - The Launch!

With the crowd gathered in a horseshoe around Ed and the eagle, Ed made the pitch toward the open end of the horseshoe.

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Eagle Fest III

And the eagle flies free.

It circled, landed in a tree by the water briefly, then flew on....
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bald Eagle Nest, Great Marsh, Mason Neck NWR

Yesterday, Fred and I went for our usual walk at the Great Marsh Trail, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. This is a great place, there's about a mile walk in through a hardwood forest where we've seen pileated woodpeckers. At the end is a large observation deck overlooking the park with comfortable benches. We've spent many a lazy hour sitting on the deck, letting the birds come to us.

Yesterday, an osprey caught a fish near us, with a big splash. He or she lifted with the fish, flew in a big circle then changed direction and flew right over our heads! Only as it passed did we notice the bald eagle in hot pursuit! We figured it must have been in one of the trees and launched when it saw the osprey with the fish.

A little later I decided to scan the treeline with my binoculars to see if there were any other eagles. I was thrilled to see one perched, so I set up my scope. As I studied the eagle, I realized that there was a nest below and to the right! Later, a second eagle (perhaps the one chasing the osprey?) flew in and perched a little to the left.

Below, a picture of the two eagles and the nest, followed by a picture of the nest itself (note the eagle guano on the branches). One chick can be seen above the nest between the fork.

A view of Great Marsh from the observation platform. The eagle nest is located along the treeline near the middle of the picture. The small branch pointing straight down is aimed almost directly at the nest location.

We'll keep you posted on the eagle's nest.
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Northern Harrier at Great Marsh, Mason Neck NWR

It was great to see this female Northern Harrier flying over the Marsh. She didn't fly low or hover, just some soaring circles. My reference works say this is typical migration flight. You can see the owl-like facial disks. Some think the harrier uses sound to help find their prey.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Birding with Renee

Yesterday I went birding for about an hour with my friend Renee in Loftridge Park. Small park but good birding. We had a five woodpecker day:
Red-bellied, yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy, hairy and flicker.
We were in search of pileated, often seen there, but they wouldn't come out and play.
The sapsuckers put on a good show, though!

Below is the best of my hairy pictures. Once you've actually seen a hairy, you wonder why there was ever any doubt compared to a downy? The head is massive compared to a downy and the beak is so looong! We also checked out a possible nest hole.

We also saw brown creepers (pictured below).

We also saw:
hermit thrush
blue jays
swamp sparrow
song sparrow

(It was definitely a swamp sparrow, but not in a particularly swampy part of the woods. We think the wind, which was pretty strong, forced it down between swamps.)
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