In an effort to get out into nature more, we walked to Lake Artemesia twice from our house in the weeks before our trip.
The first time, we took a meandering route, first heading to check out the new condos going up in Hyattsville. From there, we walked over to the river, and followed that path north to the lake. On that route, past Linson Pool and up behind the College Park airport, we had several good wildlife sightings. Just beyond East-West highway, I finally spotted and identified a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a new life bird. My birding acquaintance had been hearing them nearly every time we were out together, but I hadn’t gotten a good glimpse of one. As we were making our way around the back of the airport, we came across the largest muskrats we’d ever seen chomping away in the grass. Initially we thought it was a groundhog, but as it scuttled off it definitely had the long skinny tail of a muskrat. Finally, once we’d rested and made our way around the lake, we came across a doe on the path back to Paint Branch.
Our second walk to Lake Artemesia was both more direct and less eventful. From our town, we walked to Rhode Island Avenue in College Park and north, crossing Paint Branch to the path where we saw the deer. We brought an early dinner, and had a small picnic on a bench. We saw plenty of birds, although no entirely new ones for me. I did spot a Common Yellowthroat, which I’d only seen a few times before, entirely by accident as I was tracking some Song Sparrows through a bush.
Since those two visits, we’ve been back a couple of times in cars with friends. On our most recent visit together, we spotted several Killdeer, in addition to the general horde of Wood Ducks and the local Great Blue Heron. The most exciting sighting was a pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds chasing each other about; I got a good look at the red collar of the male with the binoculars. That sighting marks only the second time I’ve seen hummingbirds away from feeders, the first being earlier this spring at the pond.
It seems that Killdeer are starting their migration, as I also spotted one at the University Hills pond earlier this week. That particular visit was eventful for me, birdwise, as I got a better look at several Blue-gray gnatcatchers flitting around and spotted a pair of Solitary Sandpipers (another new life bird!). The identification of the Solitary Sandpipers was my best guess based on size, behavior, location, and general non-breeding coloring (as best I could tell, neither the bills nor the legs and feet were yellow). Since they were poking about on a freshwater mudflat, that seemed the most likely species, but I’m open to other suggestions. There isn’t usually a mudflat there at all, so I can thank the drought for bringing them and the Killdeer into the neighborhood. A pair of Wood Ducks was also hanging out with the regular Mallards, and several Eastern Kingbirds were darting about. It’s always fun to see these species which, while common in these environments, are unusual to me after my early life in the woodsy Midwest.
I’ve been told that Lake Artemesia is a favorite resting spot of all kinds of birds during migration, so I’m excited to see what I find there over the next couple of months.