Backyard Hawk

Today was kind of a dreary slow day. It was gray, cloudy and eventually rained a little bit. It actually got cold enough for a little snow. When I write "a little", I mean it. I do not think I would have noticed had I not been outside at the time.

Why was I outside? Well, officially I was (and still am as I write this) procrastinating. I have some work that I must do this evening. I will not have time tomorrow morning and it is due tomorrow. My procrastination included me refilling the bird feeders and moving some trash from inside the house to the outside trashcans. It was when I was coming back in from these chores that I noticed a hawk sitting high up in a tree above my house.

After a couple trips in and out of the house (to fetch first binoculars, and then the camera with tripod), and relocating the bird after it flew into a tree in a neighbor's yard, I did manage to snap a few pictures. This was when the snow mentioned above actually occurred. When I took enough pictures for me to decide that it was not going to get any less fuzzy, and my fingers were getting cold quickly, I came in to complete my procrastination with this blog post. Oh, I almost forgot. This is a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk

DGCA in Winter - Songbirds

After checking out the ducks, I took a short walk down the gravel road behind the visitor center to see what other birds might be lurking about. In total, there were only a few species that I would expect to see in winter that eluded me during the four hours I was there. It was very relaxing to be out there with no agenda and no rush. Just walk slowly and occasionally stop to investigate some sound or movement off in the trees or underbrush.

I again managed to get some pictures. From top to bottom, the pictures are of: Belted Kingfisher (the "belt" is across the breast, so you cannot see it here), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (the ruby color in the crown is usually not something you see...the bird has to "flare" the feathers on top of his head to expose the feathers with the ruby color) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (also known as "Butter-butt").

Belted Kingfisher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler

DGCA in Winter - Ducks

I had today off from work (Martin Luther King Day), so I took advantage of the day by making a trip to Dutch Gap Conservation Area (DGCA) to see what birds are wintering there. It was cloudy and looked like it could rain, but it stayed dry and relatively warm for January. It was also fairly windy.

The usual wintering birds include a good variety of ducks. I had my camera with me so I managed to get a few fuzzy pictures.

DGCA Ducks

The first picture has both Ring-necked Ducks (a male on the left and a female on the right) and American Coots (the three in the center). The water appears to be churning because they are continuously diving for food as I am taking pictures of them. The Coots are actually more closely related to Rails, but they act like Ducks.

DGCA Ducks

The second picture is of Northern Shovelers (with the big flat bills) and Gadwall (the gray bodied duck with a brownish cap on its head in the back left portion of the picture is a male, the brownish bird in the center back is the female). These ducks are "dabblers", meaning that they generally tip their head under water to feed, but usually do not dive under water to feed.

You learn something new every day

As mentioned in the previous post, this weekend Tammy and I traveled to DC. One day was birdwatching, and the other was a visit to the National Mall. We did not really decide which museums to visit until that morning, but ended up checking out the National Museum of the American Indian, the United States Botanic Garden and the National Gallery of Art (West Building).

Since I thought it was going to rain all day, and I expected the museums to have policies against photography, I did not carry my camera with me on this part of our excursion.

Well, I learned a few things. First, the hourly forecast on was pretty darn useless. Each hour it claimed anywhere from a 50% to a 70% chance of rain. In reality, each and every hour was dry. I guess, according to the laws of weathermen, their forecast was accurate because a 50% chance of rain is also a 50% chance of dry. It was my fault for assuming 50% to 70% chance of rain for each of eight straight hours means that I am probably getting wet.

Next I learned, at least for the museums I visited, their policy against cameras is pretty non-existent. The National Museum of the American Indian had no policy against photography at all as far as I could tell. The United States Botanic Garden requires special permission to use a tripod, but otherwise no limits. And the National Gallery of Art, the one that I figured would be really restrictive, had no policy against photography for their standing exhibitions, but did disallow photography for their special exhibitions.

So, I left my camera at the hotel for no good reason. It did not rain and the museums did not care if I had a camera. Next time I will know better.

Pollution Is Bad

This weekend Tammy and I traveled to DC just to be tourists. We split the trip into two pieces, one for birdwatching and one for the National Mall. I watched the weather forecast closely, perhaps too closely, and was convinced that we would be rained on the entire weekend. Despite the potential soaking we went anyway (i.e. Tammy convinced me to ignore the forecast).

She was right. It did not rain on us at all. It turned out to be very nice weather wise.

For the bird watching, I decided to visit a couple of parks that I had not been to before. They are situated on land that juts into the Potomac River, so the chances were good to see lots of diving and dabbling ducks. We started with Mason Neck State Park, then visited the Great Marsh Trail within Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and ended with a brief visit to Pohick Bay Regional Park. The birding was typical for the winter. In the spring and summer, there are places and days where I cannot keep up with the birds. In the winter, most of the birds are more stationary and the pace is just generally slower.

Mason Neck Trash
Shore Erosion

These two pictures are from the boardwalk in Mason Neck State Park. The water is Belmont Bay, part of the Potomac River. In the first picture you can see debris and lots of trash on the shore. And this is just the trash that actually ended up washed up on shore. Reminder to everyone: If you do not pick up your trash and handle it properly, this is where it can end up. Do not litter, on purpose or by accident.

The second picture is from the same location, but I am facing the opposite direction. I wanted to show that big tree that fell due to shoreline erosion. What you cannot see is that pollution is also the cause of that tree falling. There was some information in the park that explained this. Essentially pollution is killing the underwater vegetation, and that underwater vegetation acts as a break against wave action. One of the side effects of the vegetation dying off is that the wave action on the shoreline is increased and erosion is accelerated.

Birding Totals

I took a moment this week to check out some personal bird watching totals from the past two years. I wanted to get an idea of how many birds I saw and where. While I could get much more granular on where I saw birds (e.g. last week I saw a Hooded Merganser in the drainage pond behind the Ukrops located at Virginia Center Marketplace), I am going to just show counts by state here.

First, here are the numbers for 2005:
  • Total in 2005 = 214
  • Total in 2005 - Arizona = 111
  • Total in 2005 - Virginia = 130

Here are the numbers from last year:
  • Total in 2006 = 207
  • Total in 2006 - Florida = 42
  • Total in 2006 - Maine = 92
  • Total in 2006 - Oregon = 31
  • Total in 2006 - Virginia = 137

It looks like last year I birded in more places, but I pretty much saw the same number of birds as in 2005. The birding in Florida and Oregon did not really produce many species of bird, but that is primarily because of limited time. The time in Maine was for the ABA convention and thus was all about the birds.

This year I am tentatively planning on attending the ABA convention again, this time in Louisiana. I am not sure if there will be any other trips outside of Virginia this year, but I hope so.

Finally, the one count that I have not included, but that nearly all birders keep track of, is my life list. Back in 2005, during the ABA convention in Tucson, my laptop crashed with a fried hard drive. I was not making very good computer backups at the time, and I ended up losing the software and data that I was using at the time to keep track of my bird watching records. All I had were the slips of paper that I had used while bird watching to write down the species I was seeing that day, and these only went back to the beginning of 2005. I essentially started my life list over in 2005. I know there are birds that my current data says I have not seen, but that I did see sometime before the start of 2005. Since I lost the records of those sightings, I just decided to start over. One of the other side effects of starting over is that nearly every bird I log now-a-days is a new bird for my life list.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it is not uncommon for a birder to tell you how many new birds they added to their life list in the past year. Since I am rebuilding my life list, this year's number would be silly large. The total of 292 is good enough for now. At the end of 2007 I will report on the new life list total, and then we will see how many new birds I added during the year. While it will probably still be a bit inflated, it should be much more closer to reality.


View from Monticello
Thomas Jefferson Family Cemetary

Today was a very nice, unseasonably warm day, so some sort of outdoor activity was on order. After some brainstorming, it was decided that a visit to Monticello would be that activity. Monticello is located just outside of Charlottesville, so it was not a very far drive to get there. While I cannot say that I left the place stunned with the awesomeness of its history, it certainly did the trick in terms of "something to do on a nice warm January day". They will not let you take pictures inside the house, but you can take pictures on the grounds. Bummer! I wanted to take a picture of the cool clock, the small beds and that cool letter copying machine that Jefferson used. Here are a couple photos from the grounds, including the gate of the small cemetery in which Thomas Jefferson is buried.