I’ve become more and more of a bird person since we moved into our house in 2010. The past week or so has been a bit of a bonanza for me. Without making an effort I have had some delightful bird experiences. I would say it was childlike wonder, but I never had that kind of childlike wonder about birds when I was actually a child.
First up: Owls
We’ve been sleeping with our windows open and the other day we were awakened by the sound of two owls hooting away at 4:00 am. I am fascinated by owls and recently saw a great documentary about them on PBS. I know we have other birds of prey in our neighborhood, but I didn’t think we had owls. So fun to know they are out there killing rodents and being awesome.
The backyard melange
We have the typical assortment of eastern U.S. suburban birds with quite a good population of cardinals which are always so bright and cheery to see. And it looks like our robin pair has decided to make a nest again this year on one of our light fixtures on the back of the house. Looking forward to the goldfinches to get to work on the our verbena seed heads later in the season. We also have more than usual blue jay activity this spring. I hear they can be bullies. Hopefully they don’t scare anything away.
My favorite bird sound
The other day I visited St. Elizabeths, the mental hospital that is being turned into the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve been working on that project on and off since 2005 and have seen it go from an idyllic, if overgrown and abandoned campus to a bustling construction site. Happily, about three years since the Coast Guard moved into their new 1.3 million square foot building, the landscape around the building is starting to heal. Thankfully the landscape designers have opted for a more naturalistic design than the old fashioned Victorian plantings that were typical on the site 100 years ago. When am I going to get to the part about the bird? Soon–I still have more set-up. Anyway, there is a large storm water retention pond that flanks the bottom of the Coast Guard building (that also functions as a security feature). That pond has proven to be a draw for red-winged blackbirds who I don’t remember ever seeing on campus prior to this project. The sound of those birds is so magical to me. It is so evocative of summer and peace and nature. I know that last bit sounds stupid, but it’s just not an urban sound even though I’ve heard it around the pond in Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis. Listen for yourself here.
An absolute first for me
I was on the St. E’s campus to do some field research at the Civil War-era graveyard that is on the slope overlooking the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac and the monumental core beyond that. As I was squatting down to adjust the cemetery survey on my clipboard I looked up and saw an eastern bluebird about 15 feet away from me. I have seen many a picture of this beautiful bird, but I have never seen one in real life. I was convinced they didn’t really exist. Now if I could finally see a Baltimore oriole. I’ve been waiting about 40 years to see one of those.
My daily dose of Blue Herons and Double-Crested Cormorants
Each day I cross the Potomac at a very picturesque spot that is lined with rocks and teeming with rapids and I see majestic blue herons most days and lots and lots of double-crested cormorants. Sometimes a heron will fly in front of me over the bridge and the cormorants are always flying low overhead to and fro. One day last June I got up early on a Saturday morning and went down to the river to see the birds up close.
And to cap it off, the big guy
Almost immediately after being charmed by the cormorants flying right in front of my car, I turned right and drove along the canal next to the river, looked over to my right and saw a bald eagle soaring not too high overhead. Kind of a fitting way to end my week of serendipitous bird watching. I can’t resist sharing this video of the nesting bald eagles at the National Arboretum hunkering down over their eggs during our March snowstorm this year.