For the Gone Pishing team (Bryan Henson, Allison Gallo and Jane Yocum), this year’s Birdathon contained a twist. Due to a change in travel plans and other logistics, we were doing the Big Sit event all day on Saturday, May 6 — the weekend of our Birdathon. We would not normally spend 10 hours in one location during our Birdathon since we are trying to visit many of the birding hot spots throughout the county. Knowing that this might present some challenges in getting to some of our usual birding locations and rain was predicted for Sunday, we made a last-minute decision to start on Friday evening. The fact that Bryan found quite a few shorebirds Friday afternoon, some of which can be difficult to find in the county, helped us to make that decision. We decided to go back to see if the shorebirds were still there Friday evening, and since they were, the Birdathon began.
We started off at Meadowbrook Farm’s pond and were happy to find a nice mix of shorebirds including: Least Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and Greater Yellowlegs. We also picked up a great bird by finding a Horned Lark. Because the fields of Loudoun have been turned into data centers, grassland birds have become harder to find. Another nice grassland bird found at Meadowbrook was a handful of Savannah Sparrows. On a non-avian note, we also found a bunny.
As the sun was already starting to set, we decided to try and find some owls. Our search for Screech and Barred Owls was fruitless, but we found two young Great Horned Owls in the Lucketts area in a known breeding spot. We headed home and rested for the Big Sit.
We started around 6:00am for the Big Sit at Morven Park. If you are ever interested in birding, or know someone who is, the Big Sit is a great event to attend. We spent all day hanging out there so that people can come and go to bird with us throughout the day. We had some great looks at several different species during the Big Sit including Black-and-white Warbler, White-eyed Vireo and Great Crested Flycatcher. We took turns taking a short trip to visit a friend’s house just down the road from Morven Park, and that proved to be a bonanza of great birds including: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blackburnian Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and many more.
The Big Sit wrapped up at 4:00pm and we headed to Bles and Algonkian Parks to try and find more birds. Yellow-throated Vireos and Nashville Warblers were good finds at the waterpark area of Algonkian. As we pulled up to the boat ramp, we saw a large number of gulls on the Potomac. Interestingly, they were all Ring-billed Gulls which was the biggest flock of gulls Bryan has seen this late in the year in our area. Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-breasted Merganser, Swainson’s Thrush and Prothonotary Warbler were all great pickups, but the highlight was when we were leaving and saw Common Nighthawks from the parking lot.
The next morning, we decided to start at Algonkian Park to pick up a few birds we missed, and we found Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Double-crested Cormorant, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Wood-Pewee and Acadian Flycatcher. Then we were off to Bles Park to look for some recent rarities seen there: Common Gallinule and Least Bittern. On the way there we picked up Osprey, Common Raven and pigeons. Unfortunately, the Common Gallinule eluded us, but we did get the Least Bittern and much to our surprise we also got an American Bittern, which had previously been seen at the park but had not been seen for several days. Next we stopped by the backside of Dulles Airport hoping for American Kestrel and others. Instead we ended up spotting two Peregrine Falcons. Another special moment occurred when we found a family of Killdeer. Baby Killdeer are born precocial (they can walk and feed themselves), and so we were able to watch itty bitty tiny Killdeer — so cute! Next, we headed to Middlesex Drive Pond and picked up Mute Swan, Great Egret and Green Heron.
Our next stop was the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (BRCES), which is about to become Sweet Run State Park. Our targets were BRCES specialties: Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Kentucky Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat. Unfortunately, we missed all of those species except for Kentucky Warbler, but the Kentucky Warbler sighting was special. The bird was singing and visible for several minutes. Kentucky Warblers are normally pretty secretive and hard to find, so it is usually hard to get a good look. We felt very lucky to have such a wonderful encounter.
After BRCES, we decided to try and pick up Cliff Swallows. They nest under a bridge over the Potomac along Berlin Turnpike. Shortly after picking up the Cliff Swallows, we had another special moment when we saw a family of Common Mergansers (see photo below). What a sight!
From there, we decided to hit up a local spot that has Bobolinks. These birds produce the most amazing sounds, and happily they were hanging out in a field where we could hear them as we drove up. We were in a bit of a rush at this point with time winding down, but Allison and Bryan came back a couple of days later to take some pictures of these special birds: https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/569002231 .
With little time left, we stopped at a spot well known for having Trumpeter Swan and then, with only a few minutes left, to Banshee Reeks as our very last stop to look for Yellow-breasted Chat. Luckily we found them both very quickly because our time was up.
Our 48 hours of birding (minus a few hours for sleep) had netted us 125 species of birds, a record number for our team. Allison found two other birds that Jane and Bryan didn’t see, Blue-headed Vireo and Cooper’s Hawk. More importantly we connected with some new birders, spent some time with friends, raised some money (we hit our goal!) for Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, and we had some special moments with a few birds. You can see a list of all the birds we found on eBird at: https://ebird.org/tripreport/125763.
Read about the adventures of the other teams on the 2023 Birdathon Team Summaries page.