Walt Childs and I have been reluctant to do any birding in the greater Washington, DC area. Both of us have lived there, and not only is it a long drive from central Virginia, the traffic there can be terrible. We now live in a county (Nelson) that has only one traffic light, and it is 20 miles from our resort community. But there was a chance for me to get two life birds, so we made plans to go there.
For the past couple of months, there have been reports of Mississippi Kites nesting in the DC suburbs of Burke, VA and Annadale, VA, and Least Bitterns nesting at Dyke Marsh in Alexandria, VA. Mississippi Kites are infrequently seen in our neck of the woods during migrarion, and I haven't been lucky enough to spot one. I have heard Least Bitterns in marshy areas of Virginia and Michigan, but have never seen one.
We planned our trip to try to avoid traffic as best as we could. Walt picked me up at my house at 7:00 a.m. (really early for me), and after stopping to fill up the tank at the local gas station, we headed out on the 134 mile drive to Burke at 7:15. We missed almost all of the morning work traffic, and arrived at the intersection of Gaines and Jackson in Burke at 10:15. Our plan was to look for the Kites there, and if we didn't see one, to try to locate this species at the Annadale site.
Amazingly, as soon as I got out of the car, I saw a Mississippi Kite flying high above. Less than a minute later, one of the local residents arrived in her car, and invited us to park in her driveway, and offered to let us bird from her back yard. We saw two Mississippi Kites there - most of the time they were flying high above us, and after 20 minutes or so of watching them, we left so as to not overstay the local resident's kind hospitality.
Our 16 mile drive to Dyke Marsh met with equally light traffic on the beltway, and after finding a place to park, we started birding on the trail there at 11:20. Right off the bat, we heard a very vocal Osprey, and saw a second one (juvenile). And then we saw the reason for the commotion - a Bald Eagle was flying there as well, and after the eagle landed in a tree, the adult Osprey made several passes at the eagle to warn it to keep its distance.
Adult Osprey and Bald Eagle
Juvenile and Adult Osprey
Walt and I spent a little more than two hours at Dyke Marsh and ended up with 30+ species there, but did not see nor hear a Least Bittern. I did see and hear some rustling in the marsh vegetation at the trail bridge, but couldn't see the bird there. When I got home in the evening, I read a posting that a Least Bittern was seen near the start of the board walk the day before, so perhaps I was once again close to a Least Bittern, but no "cigar." The bright sunshine and dense vegetation made photography difficult on some of the hike.
Juvenile Downy Woodpecker
Great Blue Heron
We saw quite a few Chickadees - most of them were Carolina Chickadees, but a few of them were considerably larger - possibly Black-capped Chickadees or hybrids, but we couldn't confirm this.
We left Dyke Marsh at 1:40, and decided to head south from there instead of going on the beltway back to route 29 for our drive home - bad idea. There was construction on I-95 that caused a 10+ mile back up, and the traffic getting off the interstate caused Highway 1 to also back up. It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes just to get to Fredericksburg, 50 miles south of Dyke Marsh. We treated ourselves to some Carl's ice cream there. I hadn't been to Carl's for more than 15 years, and their ice cream was a first for Walt. (For my St. Louis birder friends - Carl's is like Ted Drewes, only better). The rest of the drive back to Nellysford was uneventful, but it will take a rare bird for us to get back into that kind of traffic again.