Friday, February 01, 2013

Tales of an Arlandria Twitcher

Juv_BCNH_Four Mile Run Park_JAN 2013
Juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron 
in Four Mile Run stream

Season 1, Episode 1
By Jake Cuomo


In this column I'll focus on the birds that inhabit our local Arlandria parks, where they are and how to find them.

Quick confession and full disclosure:  Kevin asked me to write him a story on this topic last year but I had recently begun this hobby of birding and I didn't feel all that comfortable giving others advice on the topic. Frankly, I'm still not completely comfortable with it but I spend enough time up to my ankles in glunge in Four Mile Run Park to let you know what I've seen in there lately so I'll take a stab at it.


From the beginning...my bird "hobby" manifested itself less like a hobby and more like a drug addiction (from what I can gather from those shows that you see on TV). The first time I cracked open a field guide and laid eyes on a Pileated Woodpecker and then checked their range map and discovered that they live in our region I knew that I had to try to go and find one. Find one I did on a cold January day on Teddy Roosevelt Island, in fact. I found another few minutes after I found the first after I nearly tripped over it feeding on insects in a downed tree alongside the trail.  After that time I spent nearly every waking moment reading through field guides, old copies of Audubon magazine and anything bird-related that I could get my hands on. I was definitely hooked.

Belted Kingfisher
My point here in all of this is to say that since that time I've been going full throttle--much to the dismay of my gorgeous wife. Only a birder can understand why on a perfectly good Saturday morning I get up at five o'clock and get dressed to face a 24 degree day to maybe, just maybe, get a chance to lay my eyes on that once in a lifetime bird down at Dyke Marsh or Huntley Meadows--99% of the time that doesn't happen--but it's that 1% that keeps you going. (I'm a golfer too so I can relate to those that say it's the good shots that keep you going...but I digress).

So now back to Arlandria, that is why Kevin asked me to write this column after all. 

Some may think that winter would be a dull time to go and look for birds, particularly in the mid-Atlantic or northerly region of the country where we can receive snow, sleet, ice and freezing rain. But, you may be surprised to discover just how many of our avian friends tough it out over the winter around here and how easy it is to locate them if you know where to look.

First, winter is the ideal time for a novice birder to get out there and start searching. The trees are bare and the grass is low so the birds have less places in which to hide.

Second, there aren't any bugs to discourage you from getting out there--there are few things worse than locating your first summertime Green Heron only to be interrupted by the sting of a blood-laden mosquito. (You won't have that issue this time of the year. So get out there!)

Finally, many waterfowl relocate from their more northern ranges and come down to our area to spend the winter so this time of year is a great time to see a wide variety of ducks--especially along the Potomac River.

Great Blue Heron
So finally, Jake, what have you been seeing out there? 
Ok, ok, here I go. 

Since the beginning of the year I've seen several interesting species right here in Arlandria.  There's a pair of Black-Crowned Night-Herons calling Four Mile Run Park home for the winter but you'll have to go to the back side small stream along where the Alexandria Aces play to see them. 

Go up on the small bridge that crosses the stream and look towards the Four Mile Run, you'll normally see the two of them down in there, one is an adult, the other is a juvenile. Also, we have a few residents that you're sure to see if you spend any amount of time in the park.  Several Great Blue Herons are almost always present as well as a male Belted Kingfisher that likes to fly up and down the stream between Mount Vernon Avenue and Route 1. He'll be easy to find by the loud rattling noise that he constantly makes. 

Cooper's Hawk in my backyard near 4MR Park.
There are also plenty of birds of prey to find in the park including Cooper's Hawks, Red-Tailed and Red-Shouldered Hawks,  as well as the occasional Sharp-Shinned Hawk or Bald Eagle. Several species of sparrow are also always present alongside the stream including: Song, White-Throated and Swamp.

Since I've been birding here I've constantly been surprised by what I find in the park on any given day, heck, one day I was out birding and I ran across a fox den with three fox cubs just dancing about in the woods oblivious to the fact that I was even there, I decided to make a hasty exit lest I prompt an inspection from the den mother. 

My point here is that you never know what you'll find in the park so dust off your binoculars and get out there!

Happy Birding! Jake

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In addition to his side-line as a naturalist, Jake Cuomo is an all around neighborhood good guy organizing stream clean-ups of the Four Mile Run, initiating community tree plantings on Earth Day, helping build the new Commonwealth Park on Reed Avenue and the Four Mile Run Park Expansion. Jake is the winner of the 2012 Alexandria Beautification Award, along with his wife, Erin. 

Jake also serves currently as President of the Hume Spring Citizens Association. Look for more of his posts about wildlife in the future on The Arlandrian.


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