Mixed blessings in this week’s report:
Wood Thrush singing in the parking lot, and was that a Little Blue Heron in the main wetland? Warm weather, some good results and some less so.
Boxes #6 and #67 finally hatched, having been overdue. Box #3 apparently only fledged one duckling. Boxes #1 and #77 have new Wood Duck eggs, having already fledged a clutch. On the not so good side, boxes #2 and #10 were abandoned, and we cleaned out those boxes.
So while we had clutches started in 15 of our 16 boxes, which is higher than usual, 4 were abandoned — also higher than usual. Plus the predation of box #13 by a Black Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis). Perhaps it was the same animal that we saw at the box again on Sunday.
I put another patch on the knothole in the roof of box #67.
Down lower Barnyard Run, I found a big patch of Rattlesnakeweed (Hieracium venosum), and about four Fragile Forktails (Ischnura posita), a male and three females.
So we can shift over to spot-checking the remaining boxes with eggs (#77, #84, #1, #5, #61) on our next work day, on 29 May. I am on call for work that day, so I will have my phone charged up.
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Thank you very much!
Breaking: Volunteers on my team report that box #77 fledged yesterday (which would imply hatch on Tuesday, 19 April). The hen and 12 Hooded Merganser ducklings (the complete clutch) exited the box. Smiles all around.
More surprises in this week’s report:
Lots of activity in the boxes and outside, but no new hatches. We have a new clutch started in box #10, and we found 1 in in box #5 that might be the start of a clutch. That brings the total of boxes with eggs to 15 out of 16 (9 Wood Duck, 6 Hooded Merganser), which is unusually high; but it’s not clear that box #13 will be incubated. We saw a group of 7 small Hooded Merganser ducklings and hen in the new pool by the tower, so that group must have come from a natural cavity.
Several boxes were due, or almost due, on Sunday, but did not hatch, so we will have a lot of boxes to check next time.
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Our next work day will be Sunday, 1 May. Much thanks!
A much warmer and more successful morning.
More nests started, and five are incubating! Eight boxes are active. Our first Wood Duck box is #1, in the pool by the tower.
We repaired the hardware cloth on box #68. Access to #84 remains a problem: as mounted, the lid won’t open sufficiently. Next week we plan to repaint the number for box #67 and clean up trash around the tower.
Some splashes of Spring Beauty, with most buds tightly closed in the mid-morning.
Until next week! Arigatoo!
Small disaster. Last week’s cold snap and snow left the ponds iced over on Sunday. Ordinarily, we can break through the ice with our sticks, but the ice was just thick enough that instead, I tried following C’s footsteps out to box #2, the first box off the boardwalk— walking in an area that I didn’t know very well. Almost immediately, I lost my balance and caught some serious mud from the wetland. As a result, we cut the work day short. We’ll get ’em next week.
Fortunately, I had my chest waders on. My jacket got the worst of it.
Another Sunday’s report:
Nests continue to develop. Box #68 added 7 eggs, just as if the hen was reading the calendar. My notes say that we have 4 eggs in #7 and 4 eggs in #77 — I will double check. And the 14 eggs in #6 are now incubating. It’s a little difficult to get a good count for this box.
We screwed together boxes #7 and #77. We also tried to adjust box #84, but in the process, the pole snapped off. It had rusted at the former waterline. So we did what we could, but the box is now low to the ground and a little wobbly.
K and C will leave some hardware cloth in the shed so that we can patch the duckling ladder in box #68.
I was responding to a query from a Friend of Little Hunting Creek: that group is looking to install some nest boxes, and I was sharing some of our experiences. And I realized that I didn’t have a previous blog post to direct them to on the subject of raccoon-resistant box closures. In fact, I couldn’t remember the name of one of the pieces of hardware that we use. So let’s rectify that missing information.
In some cases, a hook-and-eye on a spring has been sufficient.
For the more tenacious critters, we’ve gone to a hasp closed with a quick link. Links come in various sizes, so make sure you have one to fit the hasp. The link looks something like a carabiner, but it doesn’t squeeze open. Rather, you have to twist the hexagonal part. After a few years in the elements, you will need to give the link a bit of lubricating oil.
Water levels are very high in the main wetland and down Barnyard Run. Where there was once a discernible channel is now just flat water. From my e-mail report to the team and staff:
Our merganser friends continue get the jump on us: we have 14 eggs in box #7 and one egg in box #68.
Small problems: the roof is loose on #77, and the back of #7 is held on with a latch. I’ll bring a power screwdriver and we’ll see whether we can tack them back together.
Larger problems: the soil around box #4 has washed away, so we can’t access the box effectively. Stilts, maybe? New box #84 (thank you box makers!) has a roof opening, but because of the way it’s mounted, we can’t access the box interior.
Bonus observations: multiple Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus), including a pair being mobbed by American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) in the main wetland and a juvenile seen at close range, feeding on perhaps an Eastern Ratsnake.
I didn’t go out until the weather cleared and warmed up. I visited my usual patch along the Glade, plus I visited a new-to-me patch in Great Falls called Lexington Estates Park. This park is in my Christmas Count sector, but we did not visit it in 2021. There are no amenities, not even any signs, just a bit of shoulder to park on. Part of the property is mapped as a school site. A single unmarked trail more or less connecting two cul-de-sacs running along some bottomland; a small impounded pound that turned up two Mallard pairs, a Wood Duck pair, and an Eastern Phoebe. The space is big enough to support Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated Woodpecker, so that’s good. On the downside, the biggest individuals of Leatherleaf Mahonia (Berberis bealei) that I’ve ever seen. Combining the two sites, I had a nice species count of 27, for 2:35 of birding time.
I earned my next pin for Virginia’s Trail Quest project, so there’s that.
- A couple-three visits to Walker Nature Center, Reston, Va. (and)
- Great Backyard Bird Count at The Glade, Reston, Va.
- Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Prince George’s County, Md., led by Jeanninne Dorothy
- Blandy Experimental Farm/State Arboretum of Virginia, Clarke County; Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Regional Park, Loudoun County; Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County (roundup)
- Odonates count (led by Larry Meade) and a few other walks and work days at the Clifton Institute, Fauquier County, Va.
- Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve; Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve, Floyd County; Fairy Stone State Park, Patrick County; and Smith Mountain Lake State Park; all Virginia (roundup)
- Crescent Rock and Limberlost Trails, Shenandoah National Park
- Neabsco Boardwalk, Prince William County, Va., led by Barbara Saffir
- Meadow View Trail (again!), Mason Neck State Park, Fairfax County, Va.
- Suitland Bog, Prince George’s County, Md., led by Lynn Rust
- I worked on my skills leading trips with the Seneca Maryland-Virginia CBC, scouting and leading sector 14.
We did get in a full season of nest box monitoring at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Va.
For another year, the Mason and Bailey Club did not meet, alas. I scouted Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington County, Va.; Turkey Run Park, Fairfax County, Va.; Carderock, C&O Canal National Historic Park, Montgomery County, Md.; the Boundary Bridge area of Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. Maybe next year we can do Boundary Bridge, and I really want to show off Huntley Meadows.
I followed the phenology of a patch of Aralia spinosa near my house, down by the Ridge Heights Pool; we liberated a Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) from an overgrowth of non-native invasives at Idylwood Park; and all of us chased cicadas.
Bert Harris at the Clifton Institute sucked me into odonates, so my observation count is up again this year. And of course we had the cicadas to chase.
Next weekend is spoken for, so my first day hike will have to be a Boxing Day walk at Walker Nature Center. It proved to be a rather birdy trip, with 15 species spotted in 75 minutes, including four Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) together in one tree and a Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) high in a White Oak.
The trails in the northern tract look messy on the map, but make more sense on the ground: a box around the property, and an stone dust inner loop, with some connectors between. And I found a footbridge (#37) over the Snakeden Run inlet to Lake Audubon that would make the property easily accessible from home on foot. The bridge wasn’t there the last time I looked, but it’s weathered, so perhaps it was temporarily removed while the stream was being rebuilt.
On Sunday, my plucky team of eight braved winter winds and a brief period of sleet for the sector 14 count. We put up a respectable count of 40 species; next year I hope to squeeze out a bit more (maybe Rock Pigeon at Reston Town Center?). Avian highlight: an adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) being chased out of a Red-tailed Hawk’s (Buteo jamaicensis) airspace above the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail at Leigh Mill Road. Mammalian highlight: two River Otters (Lutra canadensis) doing their otter thing in Lake Fairfax.
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) numbers were down, perhaps reflecting the semi-mysterious illness afflicting songbirds in the mid-Atlantic this past summer.
I spent a lot of time scouting, but the team knowledge was perhaps more important, and a little liberating.
- Plan for a good 20 minutes of logistics conversations at the first meeting point as people trickle in, and especially if you’re going to split the team first off.
- Exchange phone numbers ahead of time. One of my subparties got separated from one another on their way to their first stop.
- Check your batteries for your camera, not just your phone and tablet.
- Use your field notebook, not a copy of the tally sheet on a clipboard. Too easy for the sheet to slip off in a strong wind, and you’re stuck carrying the board all morning.
- The boathouse at Lake Fairfax makes a tolerable windbreak.
Final results for the Seneca circle will be released by the compiler January-February.