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September: Dyke Marsh

Liaising with Alastair, fresh in from Australia and valiantly conquering jet lag, the short evening trip started in Alexandria and headed straight to Hunting Creek at the Stone Bridge. Not the most peaceful birding spot,  standing alongside the George Washington Parkway down to Mount Vernon, under the flight path of planes heading out of National Airport and dodging cyclists intent on their evening exercise. The tide was receding and a good collection of gulls were already on the tidal mud. Scanning through we picked out a number of juvenile and adult Laughing Gulls, some of the latter retaining a large amount of their black summer hoods.
Few Shorebirds were found, mostly yellowlegs and many very distant. The only call heard was the
tu-tu-tu of the larger species and when two birds were at a good studying distance they showed the behavioral and plumage aspects of Greater – more methodical feeding, long bill in relation to head and bulky size. Also wading were several Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. A Cooper’s Hawk conveniently flew past at close range giving an appreciation of bulky size and barrel chest  appearance, Sharp-shinned would have had faster wing beats and been much more delicate in proportion.

We first found an Osprey standing in shallow water near the gulls. Further away two juvenile (first year) Bald Eagles were sitting on the mud and a fine adult joined them later.

Crossing the highway to look in to Hunting Creek, it initially looked quiet. Alastair soon found his first male Wood Duck and we watched a large Snapping Turtle lumbering through the mud.

Scanning through the dozing Mallards we found two groups of smaller female or immature  ducks sleeping but over the next few minutes they preened a little showing clear pale areas to their bills and two birds stretched their wings, showing blue forewingsand 9 Blue-winged Teal were added to the list. As we were watching the ducks a shorebird strolled behind the flock. Pale legs and a streaked breast identified the bird as a Pectoral Sandpiper as it came out from behind the ducks and into better view

We moved a little further down the road to Belle Haven Marina and Dyke Marsh. We studied the now deserted Osprey nest close to the Marina that had been host to both Purple Martin and Song Sparrow nests while the Osprey reared their chicks.

Walking through the woods in the steamy early evening, passerine activity was low. Northern Cardinals and Grey Catbirds were calling but even the latter, usually so inquisitive, stayed deep in cover. Several Carolina Wrens were less reticent and called loudly in the open, several birds somewhat scruffy or short tailed juveniles.

At the end of the boardwalk we watched Chimney Swifts feeding and a procession of gulls and terns down the river.

A distant Black vulture gave instructional views of flat wings with pale wing tips, very short tail and, despite the distance, the pale legs contrasting with the plumage.

As we returned to the car, and the sun slowly sank, bird activity picked up. A Hairy Woodpecker was initially close by but disappeared into the woods before we could break Alistair’s woodpecker duck.  As we neared the end of the path, moving towards the Marina Road, a burst of what was initially Wren activity drew our attention. A fine male Hooded Warbler appeared and gave excellent views as it fed close to the woodland floor and was the last new species for the evening.

Driving back through Old Town, a party of Chimney Swifts wheeled around a chimney stack as they settled in to roost.

The tour ended at the Hyatt Hotel in Rosslyn after some drive by landmark-ticking en route!


`Species and counts

Canada Goose Branta canadensis 25

Wood Duck Aix sponsa 2

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos  60

Blue-winged Teal Anas discors 9

Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus 10

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias 10

Great Egret Ardea alba 15

Black Vulture Coragyps atratus 1

Osprey Pandion haliaetus 6

Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii 1

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus 4

Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca 10

Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla 6

Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos 1

Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla 40

Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis 200

Least Tern Sternula antillarum 2

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia 6

Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri  1

Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus

Rock Pigeon Columba livia  +                

Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura 15 

Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica 10

Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus 1

Fish Crow Corvus ossifragus  5

Carolina Chickadee Poecile carolinensis 2

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus 10

American Robin Turdus migratorius 10

Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis 8

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

European Starling Sturnus vulgaris +

Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina 1 Male

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus 30

American Goldfinch Spinus tristis  4