FBC Huntley Meadows Park Field Trip – September 25, 2016

By Scott Byrd

On a truly beautiful early Fall morning, nine participants met up in the visitor center parking lot at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia, for what turned out to be a very nice morning of birding. After chatting for a few minutes in the lot, our guide Bev Arnold, led us down the Heron Trail into a wooded area to start our birding. Things started out very slowly as we did not see many birds along the wooded trail. A stunning Red-headed Woodpecker was our first bird sighted, which more than made up for the quiet journey through the woods.

Things changed abruptly when we exited out of the woods into the open area of the central wetland. Upon entering the open area, we encountered several Gray Catbirds moving about in the vegetation along the boardwalk. Woodpeckers were also abundant in this area. We spotted Downy, Red-bellied, and Red-headed Woodpeckers, and several Northern Flickers too. We also saw a Common Yellowthroat, White-breasted Nuthatch, and an Eastern Phoebe in this area.  A real treat in this part of our trip was a calling Red-shouldered hawk that was partially visible behind a stand of trees.

We then moved further down the boardwalk to the central wetland area where we would look for waders, shorebirds, and waterfowl. We would not be disappointed. Even before we could get our field scopes set up to start scanning the wetland, we were thrilled to see a chase involving a Merlin and a Belted Kingfisher. The Merlin may be quick, but it was no match for the speedy Kingfisher. Coraciiformes 1, Falconiformes 0.


Green Heron

Once the great chase was over, we turned our attention to more mundane things. An initial scan of the wetland with binoculars showed that there were lots of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons present. We could also make out some shorebirds and ducks, which required views through a scope to ID them. On the duck side, we found 5 early Gadwalls, 3 Wood Ducks, and a couple Green-winged teal. We also spotted a large hybrid duck, but could not determine it’s make up. On the shorebird side, identification would prove to be quite the challenge even through a field scope. It was clear there were lots of Yellowlegs present, but differentiating the two species was proving to be difficult. Luckily we heard the calls of both species, confirming that both were present. Other shorebird species were present, but after a good hour of observation, we moved to the far end of the wetland area near the tower. This viewpoint afforded us good views of the aforementioned Wood Ducks and a close encounter with a beautiful Green Heron, which was perched on a log watching the water for its next meal. From there we also observed a flock of about 20 Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly in to perch in a dead tree.


Taking a break for a quick picture

We finished up at the wetland and started the return trip to the parking area via the Deer and Cedar Trails. As we embarked down the trail we immediately spotted another Eastern Phoebe and several Fall warblers, which put our identification skills to the test. First spotted was a Palm Warbler, which lacked its distinctive rusty-colored cap. After initially believing it may be an Empidonax flycatcher, Sally was able to accurately identify it. We would see several more in this area. We also were initially challenged by a brownish warbler with a streaked breast. Fortunately, it flashed its yellow rump area, revealing itself as an immature Yellow-rumped Warbler.

As we ventured further down the trail and into a wooded area, the bird activity seemed to fall off quite a bit. We did encounter a few more Red-bellied Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches, but as with the earlier trip through the woods, things were rather slow in comparison with the wetland area. We did manage to spot a couple of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, which were visible enough to afford us nice views.

After about 20 minutes of walking through the woods we stopped by the visitor center before heading to the parking area to tally our sightings. Overall we had a good day, but the  much anticipated fall warbler encounters just did not occur. We did finish the day with an ID challenge when a juvenile buteo was seen flying over the parking area. It had very distinctive black wing tips. Unfortunately, not distinctive enough, as we were unable to come to agreement on a species. Once that excitement was over, it was time to head back south, a fun morning of birding complete.

Trip Participants

Bev and Jim Arnold

Dave and Georgia Paton

Brenda Chase

Sally Knight

Scott Byrd

Liz Stover

Chloe Tremper


Birds Sighted

Canada Goose (16)

Wood Duck (5)

Gadwall (5)

Green-winged Teal (1)

Great Blue Heron (5)

Great Egret (8)

Green Heron (1)

Turkey Vulture (3)

Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)

Red-shouldered Hawk (1)

Merlin (1)

Killdeer (1)

Greater Yellowlegs (1)

Lesser Yellowlegs (4)

Mourning Dove (3)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (2)

Belted Kingfisher (3)

Red-headed Woodpecker (2)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (5)

Downy Woodpecker (4)

Northern Flicker (3)

Eastern Phoebe (3)

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (20)

Tree Swallow (6)

Carolina Chickadee (3)

Tufted Titmouse (4)

White-breasted Nuthatch (5)

Carolina Wren (3)

Eastern Bluebird (4)

American Robin (2)

Gray Catbird (5)

Common Yellowthroat (1)

Palm Warbler (3)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (2)

Song Sparrow (1)

Northern Cardinal (4)

Common Grackle (15)

House Finch (2)

American Goldfinch (1)

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