Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge Field Trip Report, March 11, 2017

By Jim Goehring

Eight club members, dressed and braced for the cold, enjoyed a morning of birding at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, followed by a friendly conversation over lunch at Dixie Bones BBQ. While the temperature only rose to 39 degrees and mild winds occasionally exacerbated the cold, sunny skies made for an overall pleasant experience with good sightings and wonderful views. Participants included Scot Byrd, Brenda Chase, Jim Goehring, Maureen Hamm, Mike Lott, Mark Miller, and Dave and Georgia Patton.  Mike and Jim served as co-leaders.

We gathered in the refuge parking lot at 9:00 am and collected our first few species there, including a nice view of a singing Eastern Towhee, before heading out on our day’s walk. The day’s route back-tracked down Dawson Beach Road to Lake Drive and then followed Deephole Point Road out along the arc of Occoquan Bay to the marsh just beyond Easy Road, after which we returned via Easy Road back to the parking lot.

The field at the corner of Dawson Beach Road and Lake Drive was filled with Song Sparrows, which served as the beginning of their frequent appearance, along with Dark-eyed Juncos, all along our route. A stop at the blind on Marumsco Creek offered views of Hooded Mergansers, Green-winged Teal, a lone Mallard, and the first of the two Belted Kingfishers seen for the day. Here too we found an adult Red-headed Woodpecker. Beyond the mouth of the creek, we had our first glimpse in the distance of the rafts of Scaup awaiting us on Occoquan Bay.

The arc along the bay, buffeted at times by the wind, presented frequent vantage points to view and scope the thousands of waterfowl. Rafts of scaup aligned at various distances with the arc of the shore mottled the surface. We speculated that they                      numbered at least 5,000. While we imagined that the rafts included a few Greater Scaup, those that we saw and identified all appeared to be Lesser Scaup. A group of twenty Red-breasted Mergansers maneuvered among the Scaup, and we found a few Canvasback with their sloped bills diving along the edge of one raft, as well as a single Horned Grebe nearer the shore. The initial absence of any Bufflehead surprised us, though a few finally turned up towards the end of the road along the bay. The brush and treed areas along this section also offered opportunities to add to our list. A number of American Black Ducks turned up at the first marshy inlet that led to the bay, and two Winter Wrens were spotted in the brush along the shore. Here too we added two Hairy Woodpeckers, as well as additional Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. One Downy Woodpecker was particularly obliging for those with cameras as it worked a branch low and near the path.

Continuing on past Easy Road to the marsh, it proved empty of waterfowl, though a lone Belted Kingfisher and a single Great Blue Heron worked its waters. Shortly before we decided to turn back towards Easy Road, however, movement against the muddy shore of a small rill of water close to the path revealed a single Wilson’s Snipe. Its proximity and seemingly unfazed concern at our ogling presence quickly made it the star of the day. Its gorgeous bright colors and intricate patterning amazed everyone, and all remarked on its perpetual “bobbing” as it moved along probing the mud, which on occasion coated and obscured its yellow legs.

The path back to the parking lot along Easy Road added a Common Grackle, and one of the adult Red-tailed Hawks of the day seemed to soar along with us as we moved along. Bald Eagles were common throughout the day, including two engaged in some close aerial contact. Osprey had returned, including one seen on a platform nest near the parking lot, and both Black and Turkey Vultures were seen. As we returned to our vehicles and stowed our gear, all expressed satisfaction for an enjoyable day and an eager desire to continue conversation over lunch.

Species List

Double-crested Cormorant 2

Horned Grebe 1

Great Blue Heron 7

Canada Goose 11

Mallard 1

American Black Duck 8

Green-winged Teal 10

Wood Duck 1

Canvasback 4

Lesser Scaup 5,000 (estimate)

Bufflehead 7

Hooded Merganser 6

Red-breasted Merganser 21

Turkey Vulture 9

Black Vulture 5

Bald Eagle 7

Osprey 4

Red-tailed Hawk 3

Wilson’s Snipe 1

Ring-billed Gull 37

Herring Gull 2

Belted Kingfisher 2

Red-headed Woodpecker 1

Red-bellied Woodpecker 2

Downy Woodpecker 3

Hairy Woodpecker 2

Northern Flicker 3

Blue Jay 3

American Crow 4

Fish Crow 6

Eastern Phoebe 1

Carolina Chickadee 9

Tufted Titmouse 3

Carolina Wren 9

Winter Wren 2

Golden-crowned Kinglet 1

Eastern Bluebird 2

American Robin 1

Northern Mockingbird 1

Northern Cardinal 5

Eastern Towhee 5

Song Sparrow 66

White-throated Sparrow 7

Field Sparrow 1

Red-winged Blackbird 4

Common Grackle 1

Dark-eye Junco 26

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