Warblers Cometh

Spring had a slow start in DC this year, so it was a welcome change when the first proper migrants started arriving. When I visited Hains Point in mid-April, the Myrtle Warblers were out and singing in the treetops, looking much smarter in their breeding plumage than they do in the fall. Spring is also when the mammals are more visible, and in this case it was a Red Fox lounging on the Hains Point golf course. 

Myrtle Warbler 
Red Fox

Further down the road I ran into a Merlin devouring what looked like an invasive House Sparrow- not hard to figure out who to root for there! The Potomac at the end of the point held two new 5MR year birds in the form of Common Loon and Bonaparte's Gull, as well as a late Greater Scaup and Common Grackles.

Merlin with its House Sparrow prey 
Bonaparte's Gull

Greater Scaup

Common Grackle

The maintenance road at Hains Point is always fruitful, and this time it had a few Brown Thrashers, a welcome new year bird, as well as an immature Eastern Towhee and some very noisy Blue-grey Gnatcatchers.

Brown Thrasher

Immature Eastern Towhee

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

The next weekend at Teddy Roosevelt Island proved to be excellent- it started slowly bird-wise, but I was distracted by the Zebra Swallowtails, some amazing butterfly lifers for me. The Six-spotted Tiger Beetles were out as well, one of the best of my favorite kind of beetle. Birding picked up with a flyover from a Peregrine Falcon, a bird I'm always happy to get flight shots of. One the boardwalk, I heard an unfamiliar warbler calling. It took a bit of searching before I finally found the source of the noise- a Prothonotary Warbler! It was a lifer for me, and it ended up being the first 2019 record of one in DC. The bird stuck around so I was able to show some other birders as well, and I even ended up seeing another individual elsewhere on the island.

Zebra Swallowtail

Peregrine Falcon

Prothonotary Warbler!

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

After returning from Michigan, I took a long walk along the C&O Canal before my afternoon class, hoping for some of the good warblers that had been seen there recently. The only new warbler I had was a showy but distant Northern Parula, but I did add some other good year birds like Orchard Oriole, Spotted Sandpiper, and Grey Catbird. There was also an extremely showy male Northern Cardinal, a couple of beautiful Wood Ducks, and a Double-crested Cormorant devouring some kind of anadromous shad.

Northern Cardinal

Successful Double-crested Cormorant with a shad (Alosa sp.)

Spotted Sandpiper

Wood Duck

Blue Phlox

Eastern Calligrapher (an amazing species name for this fly)

Jetbead, I think

Creeping Buttercup (I think)

Fragile Forktail

Northern Red-bellied Cooter

That weekend I made my first visit of the season to Monticello Park in Alexandria. The park was hopping with warbler activity, with Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Waterthrush (both lifers!), Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird and Northern Parula. The park was terrible for photography, as it so often is beneath the thick tree canopy, and I only managed record shots of most of the new birds.

Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush


After Monticello Park, I walked over to Four Mile Run Park to look for some water birds and open country birds. Almost immediately, I heard the song of a Yellow Warbler, a welcome addition to my year 5MR list. The park proved to be chock full of Yellow Warblers as a matter of fact, as well as many Myrtle Warblers and some Palm Warblers and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers that proved to be very camera-friendly. The most surprising bird was a female Wild Turkey, an extremely rare bird in metro DC and what was apparently the first (and so far only) record for Alexandria in 2019. It was low tide, so there were also some shorebirds around, all of which were new year records for my 5MR: Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and Solitary Sandpiper, all of which let me get close enough for good pictures. Overall, photographically it was one of my best 5MR birding sessions of the year.

Yellow Warbler

Myrtle Warbler

Palm Warbler

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Wild Turkey!

Barn Swallow


Solitary Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs

That Sunday I did another outing to Teddy Roosevelt Island. It wasn't quite as active as my last two sessions, but I was able to add Swainson's Thrush and Blue Grosbeak to my 5MR list, as well as get my best pictures yet of Ovenbird and Wood Thrush. It was great for non-birds, however, and I was able to further expand my non-bird 5MR list.

Wood Thrush

Blue Grosbeak


Broad-banded Hornet Fly

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle
Yellow Iris

Eastern Carpenter Bee

Five-lined Skink

Star of Bethlehem

Some kind of spider

The next weekend was eBird's Global Big Day, which I decided to treat as a 5MR big day. I spent nearly the entire day out birding, but unfortunately it was just past the peak of spring migration (which seems to last about 45 seconds in DC) so I didn't have many truly spectacular birds. Nonetheless, I ended up with a total of 74 species, including some good new additions to my 5MR year list.

The morning started out in Monticello Park, which turned out to be a mistake since apparently bird activity really only heats up there starting around 10AM. Still, there were some good birds there, including new 5MR year ticks Great Crested Flycatcher, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, a heard-only Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Indigo Bunting. The best birds there were the singing Cape May Warblers in gorgeous breeding plumage, giving better views than they usually do. Black-throated Blue Warblers and Northern Parulas also showed very well.

Red-eyed Vireo

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Great Crested Flycatcher devouring a dragonfly

Northern Parula

Cape May Warbler

Wild Geranium

The next stop of the day was Daingerfield Island, which wasn't terribly active bird-wise but for some noisily displaying Red-winged Blackbirds and some Tree Swallows collecting nesting material. Biodiversity-wise it was great, however, with a pair of Northern Water Snakes and some good moth additions to my lepidoptera list.

Tree Swallow

Displaying Red-winged Blackbirds

Northern Water Snakes

Common Buckeye

Chickweed Geometer Moth

Vetch Looper Moth

Pearl Crescent

Four Mile Run Park, my next stop, was fairly quiet as well, although I added Yellow Warbler to my day list. The most surprising bird of the day was seen there, however: a White-crowned Sparrow, a new 5MR record and an extremely uncommon bird for that date and time of year.

White-crowned Sparrow

Citrine Forktail

After lunch and a nap, I headed to Fort C.F. Smith Park so I could add Great Horned Owl to my day list. Before I got to the owls I got distracted by some warbler activity near the entrance: Black-throated Blue Warblers and a very friendly Black-and-white Warbler. When I got to the owl site, I was surprised to see the nest was empty: the owlets had fledged earlier than I expected. However, I saw some flapping out the corner of my eye, and looked over to see a very fuzzy fledgling Great Horned Owl clumsily making its way along a tree branch, closely watched over by its parent.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

Male House Finch

Baby Great Horned Owl

Further along in the park was an Indigo Bunting I was able to get a halfway decent picture of, plus some Tree Swallows posing on top of their perches. I hadn't realized how beautiful swallows were until I saw them up close like this, with their iridescence fully visible. Easily the best-looking swallow on the East Coast in my opinion, at least when vagrant Violet-green Swallows aren't around.

Indigo Bunting

House Wren

Celery Leaftier Moth

Red Fox

My final stop of Big Day was at Hains Point. The birding started off with the addition of Common Loon and a very late-staying Horned Grebe to my day list, the latter one the only one of the day that set off a rarity alert for me (and the only DC Big Day record of it). I also added Brown Thrasher and Eastern Kingbird to my Big Day list and Eastern Wood-pewee to my 5MR year list. A tiny moth I couldn't ID at first proved to be a Sooty-winged Chalcoela Moth, the first DC record ever for that species on iNaturalist.

Common Loon

Male Mallard

Eastern Wood-pewee

Sooty-winged Chalcoela Moth

I visited Hains Point again the following weekend, my last weekend in DC (and the United States!). It was much more active than the previous visit, and started out with a rarity: a Pine Siskin perched on the top of a dead tree. I also had my best looks of the year at Eastern Kingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird, while a Northern Flicker was poking her head out of a nest hole. Later in the day I got good looks at a Blackpoll Warbler a male Orchard Oriole, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings. It was also good for non-bird animals, including the first Woodchuck I've seen in DC, weird, horse-faced Common Picture-winged Flies, and a huge and exquisite Long-tailed Giant Ichneumon Wasp that flew in so close I couldn't get a full-body picture.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Pine Siskin

Eastern Kingbird

Northern Flicker in a nest hole

Male Orchard Oriole

Blackpoll Warbler

Great Crested Flycatcher

Cedar Waxwing

Swainson's Thrush

Common Picture-winged Fly

Long-tailed Giant Ichneumon Wasp

Lucerne Moth

Celery Leaftier Moth

Bittersweet Nightshade

May 17 was my last day in the US (yes, that means this blog is now less than a month delayed for the first time in about 3 years, though I'm sure that won't last!), and I spent the morning making one last trip to Monticello Park. A number of other birders were there as well, and with them I made my last three 5MR ticks in a long time in the form of a late Blue-headed Vireo, a Canada Warbler, and a Magnolia Warbler, all nice birds to see. Just as I was about to leave, we came across a small flock of birds bathing in the stream, including Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, American Redstarts, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler- the perfect way to end a nice morning before I had to return home and start moving out of my room.

Blue-headed Vireo

Canada Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Scarlet Tanager bathing

As I've hinted a couple of times in this entry, I'm not actually living in the US anymore- I've since moved to Ethiopia for the summer, which I suppose means my blog is about to get much more interesting. But that will have to wait for my next post.


  1. So many beautiful photos! And are Red Foxes native to North America, or were they introduced there like in Australia?

    I'm looking forward to hearing about birding in Ethiopia!!

    1. Thanks Emma! They actually are native to North America, and might even have evolved into a different species by now. So it's cooler to see them in the US than it is in Australia...


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