Yesterday I spent the afternoon tromping around the Paint Branch Trail and Lake Artemesia. Rather than walking the entire way there and back in the cold, I spared my wonky knee and took the metro one stop to cut the walking distance in half. I probably covered a good three or four miles nonetheless, but I hadn’t used all my energy simply getting to the woods.
Having heard that all manner of waterfowl have been seen on the lake in winter, I was hoping to catch sight of some oddities and add to my slowly expanding lifelist. And, in fact, there were several flocks of ducks of various sorts out on the water. Only one of the species, Ring-necked Ducks, were entirely new to me, but there were some that I’d only seen once or twice before, namely Ruddy Ducks and Buffleheads. In addition to the small flock of Ring-necked Ducks and the larger flock of Ruddy Ducks, there was a flock of American Coots bumbling their way around the place with only one or two Buffleheads sprinkled throughout the group. There was also an enormous (of course) flock of Canada Geese on the far side of the lake, and an assortment of Mallards here and there around the edges.
In addition to the new duck, I saw two woodland species that I’ve never seen before. Just onto the trail from Paint Branch Parkway I saw a female Eastern Towhee rummaging around in the leaf litter. I’d seen the western spotted version, but not previously gotten a firm identification on the eastern species (I suspect I’ve seen one or two in the past, I’ve just never been able to get close enough to conclusively distinguish between either a robin or a thrasher). That path was also good for spotting some old favorites: Carolina Chickadees, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a male Downy Woodpecker. Once at the lake I saw small flocks of Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows, American Robins, American Crows, and Northern Flickers (this last group was traveling with a single Red-Bellied Woodpecker). I was also happy to see a male Belted Kingfisher hanging about and making noise from a lakeside perch; I’d seen them flying along the Anacostia, but always from my bike and never close enough to be able to identify gender.
The best surprise of the day was heading back to the trail to make my way to the metro and coming across a pair of Eastern Bluebirds on a nesting box just off the path. Bluebirds are a bird I’ve wanted to see all my life; we don’t get many bright blue birds in the Midwest, and they always seemed like a wonderful bird to be able to come across in farm fields on the east coast. This pair looked exactly like photos of bluebirds always look: the male was perched on the top of a nesting box, with the female a few feet away on a low branch of a small tree. They stayed long enough for me to get a good look and then flitted off in search of food. I hope they decide to stay and nest, it would be great to be able to see them on regular trips to the lake.
The last bird I saw at the lake was a Killdeer, running around on the grass near the trailhead. Maybe next time I’ll hike around to the far side of the lake and investigate the possibility of sandpipers on the mudflats. Yesterday, though, three new life birds in a single afternoon was enough for me.