early morning birding at Lake Artemesia

Lake Artemesia under early morning mist.

This morning I rode with an acquaintance up to Lake Artemesia for some birding. Once there, we walked our bikes, and just enjoyed being out on the path (nearly) alone. The lake was beautiful, and we spotted a female Wood Duck out in the middle just after we arrived. Our next sighting was of a couple of baby rabbits, and shortly thereafter, of a tree absolutely crawling with Cedar Waxwings. While I’d seen a Waxwing twice before, I hadn’t seen them in the large groups they travel in, nor had I been able to see them so clearly without binoculars.

A short way down the path, we found the place in the sun where the warblers were hanging out and spotted several in quick succession, including two new life birds for me. I found a Yellow Warbler in a treetop, and then, a bit farther along, a Blackpoll Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, young Oriole, and male Wilson’s Warbler all flitting around the same vine-laden tree lakeside. We hung out watching them until the Waxwings descended en masse, and then moved on.

Once my friend continued on to work, I biked slowly around the rest of the lake before heading home. I saw a couple of other familiar birds—Kingbirds and Tree Swallows—and found a Blackpoll Warbler again, after hearing its call in shrubs quite close to the path. I was just thrilled to have seen the warblers, and happy to head home for breakfast at that point.

My trip home was somewhat marred by having to have another ‘f* you, it’s an g-d crosswalk, *hole!’ ‘conversation’ with a driver while crossing Paint Branch Parkway. I don’t mind (that much) when drivers don’t stop to let pedestrians (or cyclists) cross when they’re waiting, but for the love of the baby Jesus, you are required to stop for me when I am already in the road because cars on the other side of the street have stopped to allow me to go. Also, just a thought: how about slowing down a bit and clearing me with no inconvenience? Or, maybe, just don’t speed? I see that you’d rather hit the accelerator and lay on the horn (scaring the bejeezus out of your passenger, I note), but maybe you’re not aware that it’s freaking illegal! One of these days, I am going to be not so blinded by rage that I will actually follow the car and take a photo of the license plate without fearing that it will lead to me instigating an, um, altercation.

Despite that unpleasantness, it was a great morning. I look forward to repeating it, and riding onward to the Patuxent Wildlife Center, on Friday.

early morning birding at Lake Artemesia

Caspian Tern

Yesterday I returned to the pond for the first time in a couple of weeks. In a stroke of luck, I timed my arrival to coincide with the presence of a single Caspian Tern, a bird I’d never seen before. Although I don’t always, this time I had my binoculars and Peterson’s with me. The time it took the tern to catch something to eat—about four or five dives, with some circling in between—was just long enough for me to positively identify it. Once it had the fish, it circled to eat it and then left, flying higher until I couldn’t see which direction it was heading.

It had barely gone when I noticed something odd swimming around out in the middle of the pond. At first I thought it was a small duck, but the trusty binoculars revealed it to be the head of a mammal. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t an otter—the head was too large and square for what I remembered of otters from my many early-childhood visits to Shedd. It seemed unlikely that it was a beaver, and peering at photos once I got home led to the conclusion that it was a muskrat. I don’t know if it’ll stick around; I hadn’t seen it before this weekend.

In addition to those two unusual sightings, I saw several regular favorites: red-winged blackbirds (both male and female), ducks, song sparrows, and a downy woodpecker. I also saw the pair of Canada geese that I saw on my most recent prior visit, and it looks like they’re nesting (one was in the same spot on the island as last time; the other was keeping a pretty close eye on the muskrat). I look forward to seeing the goslings later in the year.

Ever since the years when Trumpet of the Swan was one of my favorite books, I’ve hoped to be able to see birds actually hatching. I’ve never wanted to get too close to their nests, though. Maybe this year—with the nest visible, but not accessible—the timing will be right and I’ll get lucky.

Caspian Tern