the chorister's c

Washington detours


In the field

last update: Wednesday, 18 May 2005

last link check: Monday 31 March 2003

Visitors CenterOf all the county, regional, state, and national parks in the metro area, the best is Fairfax County's Huntley Meadows Park. Its 1200-plus acres boast an extensive freshwater wetland, along with mixed hardwood/softwood bottomland forest and brushy fields. The wetland, formed by beaver activity, is crossed by a newly-reconstructed boardwalk built to modern accessibility standards. An attractive visitors center has outdoor bird feeders, interpretive displays, and classrooms.

King RailThe park's bird list encompasses more than 200 species. Specialities include American Woodcock (Philohela minor); rails -- King Rail (Rallus elegans) is a local breeder, and Virginia Rail (R. limicola) and Sora (Porzana carolina) are seen in migration; and herons. Unfortunately, the park's resident beavers have abandoned the dam that kept the main wetland flooded, and the receding water levels have caused the rails to move elsewere. Among the herons, the relative quantities vary from year to year with fluctuating water levels, but Great Egret (Casmerodius albus) and Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) are on the upswing. Successful nest box programs support Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) and Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), and efforts were made to encourage Prothonotary Warblers (Prothonotaria citrea) to return.

The land was once a plantation owned by colonial Virginia figure George Mason IV, and was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Parcels were acquired early in this century by Henry Woodhouse, who sought to build the "George Washington Air Junction," a docking station for lighter-than-air ships. The property passed into the hands of the federal government after the Second World War, and hosted, in succession, a test area for asphalt, a Cold War anti-aircraft battery, and a hush-hush military radio antenna. Declared surplus, the acreage was acquired by Fairfax County in 1975.

Huntley Meadows Park has a patron artist, of sorts, in Lyndia Terre, whose meticulously detailed prints feature the park's wildlife. The Park Authority's web page for the park is also useful. Species checklists for birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, wildflowers, and dragonflies and damselflies are available from Friends of Huntley Meadows Park.

To find displaying woodcocks: Visit the park in March or early April, just before dusk. Use the entrance on South Kings Highway, rather than the main entrance on Lockheed Boulevard. There is a small parking lot (8-10 cars); walk in on the paved hike-bike trail a mile or so, past the maintenance yard, to a cleared area.


Huntley Meadows Park
3701 Lockheed Boulevard
Alexandria, VA
yellowHuntington (about 3 miles away)

Stop at the Richmond Highway Krispy Kreme on your way home!

Japanese Tea HouseOn the cultivated side, there is Montgomery County's Brookside Gardens. A 50-acre complex of eleven specialty gardens and conservatories, it is part of Wheaton Regional Park, a complex that includes riding stables, playing fields, and a nature center. There is a garden dedicated to 40 varieties of viburnum, another to roses, and a third to seven acres of azaleas. For me, the highlight is the elegant Gude Garden, nine acres of man-made ponds, outdoor sculpture, and rolling hills featuring mature specimen trees. Adjacent is the Japanese Tea House, an exceedingly tranquil spot (that is, when it's not overrun with children on a sunny weekend). A one-mile blacktop path makes a discreet circuit around the gardens.


Brookside Gardens
1500 Glenallan Avenue
Wheaton, MD
redGlenmont, or Forest Glen (a longer walk, via Sligo Creek Park)

This is the best place to talk about the Audubon Naturalist Society, the region's premiere nature education and conservation organization. Independent of the similarly-named National Audubon Society, ANS is headquartered at the Woodend Sanctuary. The property is an island of biodiversity inside the Capital Beltway in heavily suburban Chevy Chase. In season, volunteers lead introductory birdwalks on the grounds, which include a pond, wildflower meadow, and woods. In the main building, you will find a snug bookstore/gift shop, with plenty of field guides, monographs, gizmos for the kids, bird feeders, and a modest selection of optics.

Having recently celebrated its hundredth anniversary, the Society runs an extensive calendar of educational programs -- everything from parent-and-child outings, to lectures from national experts, to two-week sojourns in Costa Rica. ANS also hosts the Regional Bird Alert for Delaware, Maryland, the District, and Virginia (in part). A new, exciting initiative promotes natural spaces that are accessible in the city and first-ring suburbs via public transportation. The Society recently acquired two properties in suburban Virginia, which have become the Webb and Rust Sanctuaries.


Audubon Naturalist Society

Woodend Sanctuary
8940 Jones Mill Road
Chevy Chase, MD
redMedical Center (about 2 miles away)

Webb Sanctuary
Chestnut Street
Clifton, VA

Rust Sanctuary
802 Children's Center Road
Leesburg, VA

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