In their second Birdathon, the Flying Kites (Eric, Kiersten, Abby, Rua, Sadie and Henry Anderson) once again pulled out their binoculars, keen ears, and paper and digital checklists to explore many of their favorite outdoor spots across Loudoun County. Over two days of birding, we saw and heard 97 species throughout the county, with a closing highlight provided by incredible views of a pair of our team’s namesake, the Mississippi Kite.
We started off on Saturday, May 16 with expectations of rain, but were glad to see the skies still holding out as we packed our bags in the morning. Like last year, we started off with a smaller crew to enjoy some early birdsong and try to build a strong foundation for our list — we’ve learned from experience that a full flock of Flying Kites can sometimes make it hard to hear and see other birds. So Abby and Eric headed to Algonkian Regional Park, while the others packed to cheer on Rua at a soccer game. At Algonkian we enjoyed views of Bald Eagles flying down the Potomac and perched on the Maryland tree line, a lone female Hooded Merganser floating down the river, a small army of warblers singing from the trees, and four species of swallows zipping in the air above the river and fields. In total, we added 60 species to our list, making us feel pretty good about our start as the rain started to pick up. On our way to pick up the rest of the Kites, we stopped at the fields west of Dulles Airport to enjoy meadowlarks singing and to hear the soft buzz of the Grasshopper Sparrows.
With more rain expected, we picked up the rest of the team for the rest of the day’s adventures — first Bles Park and then a few of Loudoun’s ponds and wetlands. At Bles Park the whole family enjoyed hearing the rising trill of a Prairie Warbler and seeing a couple of Wood Ducks swimming in the wetlands. We then drove to Meadowbrook Farm Ponds in Leesburg, where Rua and Eric circled the pond while the others took a break at the playground. The pond was fruitful, with a late female Ruddy Duck hanging out in the center of the water, and three sandpiper species (Solitary, Spotted and Least) scurrying along the pond edges. Wrapping up in Leesburg, we headed to Broadland Wetlands Nature Preserve in Ashburn. Everyone’s highlight there was watching an American Redstart moving silently back and forth low in the trees along the boardwalk.
Our last pond of the day was Middlesex Drive Pond, just south of Dulles Airport, where we saw the resident Mute Swan that we missed last year. (It was apparently less thrilled to see us, coming onto the bank where we were standing with what we can only generously interpret as rude hisses.) Using our scope, we also viewed a special Semipalmated Plover feeding in the mudflats along with some larger Killdeer cousins. After our own dinner, we made one last call to swing back to Algonkian Regional Park and try our luck with migrating, nocturnal Common Nighthawks that had been seen there over the past few days. We were delighted to see eight flying over the Maryland trees and one zigzag right above our heads as it fed on insects mid-flight.
The next day, early on May 17th, we headed out to the new Sweet Run State Park (formerly the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship) in west Loudoun. While eager to pick up a few less common birds once we got there, the whole team kept their eyes open on the drive for a much more common species: the Rock Pigeon. We missed this bird last year, but keen eyes paid off and we picked up a few along the bridges and telephone wires along the drive. As we arrived at the state park, we were greeted by a chatty Yellow-Breasted Chat by the parking lot. We went on to enjoy views of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird that hovered a few feet in front of us, Bay-Breasted Warblers singing high in the canopy, and a Louisiana Waterthrush singing along Piney Run. After wrapping up with some time at their nature playground (the real highlight of the day for most of the Kites), we drove over to Upperville to find a Red-Headed Woodpecker and Trumpeter Swan.
With 96 species on our list, everyone was feeling pretty worn out. But there was still one last bird to see if we could add to our list — our team’s namesake the Mississippi Kite. A pair had recently returned to their residence in an Ashburn neighborhood, so we went over to see if we could see them. After talking with a homeowner across the street and waiting about ten minutes, to our excitement the pair flew in, circled the nest in graceful flight, and landed in the tree right across from us. Their gray bodies, white heads, long wings, dark eyes and sleek appearance impressed us and even got some high fives across the team. It made us glad that while still rare to find in Loudoun County, these migrants from central South America can still be found here locally.
With only a few species left to hit 100, we decided to make one last stop at Claude Moore Park. While we saw and heard many of our favorite birds there, we didn’t add any new ones. So we decided to call it a day, pretty happy that we’d been able to see so much and pretty exhausted at the same time. It was fun to participate for the second time and to raise money and awareness for so many of our favorite friends and their habitats in Loudoun County and all that Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is doing to support them.
Read about the adventures of the other teams on the 2023 Birdathon Team Summaries page.