It was a soggy 48 hours of birding for team Snap! Grackle! Pop! The trio of Linda Colucci, Adara Ricciutti and Karenna Awtry added a new member to its team this year, Steve Chance. Having an extra set of eyes and ears made for a fruitful first day of birding, picking up 70 species in just three locations.
Day 1 began early on May 1 at Algonkian Regional Park. Before we’d even gotten our birdin’ shoes tied and our sunscreen applied, we spotted an unusual looking blackbird scouting out the bank near the boat launch. Not quite a grackle, not quite a crow – turns out we’d found a Rusty Blackbird. The handsome fella posed for many photos. Meanwhile, our ears were tingling, and Merlin was struggling to keep up with the birdsong surrounding us. It might have been an hour before we left the boat launch area of the park. Tree, Barn and Rough-winged Swallows soared over the fields. Mockingbirds danced around us, flashing their white wing marks and belting out their best cover tunes.
Along the river’s edge we took turns craning our necks to see the warblers darting through the tree tops and leaning over the bank in search of quiet, well-hidden thrush and sandpipers. Eastern Kingbirds commanded attention, alternating between hunting and preening in the occasional sunlight. An Osprey soared overhead before heading off far into the distance. We thought we saw it return, but were instead treated to a juvenile Bald Eagle being harassed by crows as it made its way over the Potomac River. A flock of Double-crested Cormorants flew past in formation. Near the crew boats we were serenaded by Orchard Orioles, Baltimore Orioles and an Indigo Bunting. Great Blue and Green Herons were seen fishing along the water at the end of the trail past the boats. Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos called out from high above. Deep in the woods along the river we saw a Cooper’s Hawk hunting while hopping along fallen trees. It caught us by surprise as we weren’t expecting a hawk at eye level! Later in the day we visited Bles Park and headed to the marsh in search of unusual birds recently reported by bird watchers. The Common Gallinule was right where it had been reported for several days. Blue-winged Teal were spotted, though they seemed to be hiding behind some trees and the larger Canada Geese.
We ended our first evening on a neighborhood trail in Ashburn Farm where we watched a Red-shouldered Hawk capture a snake. The hawks have at least one active nest along the trails in that area and have been thriving there for years in a tiny patch of natural space between suburban neighborhoods.
Day 2 started early at Broadlands Wetlands where we spotted the oft-reported Great Egret. Later in the morning we traveled out to Dulles Wetlands, a protected area only open by permission and a place none of us had before visited. The rain we’d expected all day unfortunately showed up at this special place. Steve was able to teach us a lot about birding by ear, and we spent a good deal of time straining our eyes and ears to find a Tennessee Warbler right at the wetlands entrance. Alas, it remained heard but not seen. Gray Catbirds bopped around in the brush and followed us along the trails as we alternated between looking for birds and looking for shelter from the rain. Prairie Warblers called out from the woods overlooking the wetlands like small spaceships taking flight.
Cold and wet, but determined, we next headed to Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship (now Sweet Run State Park). As we were about to call it a day, a Black-and-white warbler scrambled across the bark of a tree just a few feet away, giving us glimpses of its wings and flashes of its head as it inched along the tree bark. Two days of birding in not-ideal weather netted 82 species for Snap! Grackle! Pop! in its second year. Can’t wait for next year!
Read about the adventures of the other teams on the 2023 Birdathon Team Summaries page.