On the road

Actually, I did go back to Rock Creek Park this morning, but to a new bit with some different people.  Greg Butcher, the Conservation Director of National Audubon was kind enough to take me birding and on a stroll through the park next to Rock Creek itself.

We added to the warbler list with Tennessee Warbler being a good edition, but also Swainson’s Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker and Great Crested Flycatcher being good editions to my Rock Creek list.  And Red-winged Blackbird, Brown Thrasher, Solitary Sandpiper and Osprey being additions elsewhere.

I’ve been busy in Washington DC – but it’s been a good type of busy – birding, lunching, meeting people and a little bit of sightseeing.  Here are a few thoughts about the capital:

  • the White House is still there
  • the Capitol area is very nice
  • the Tabard Inn is quirky but would still be my first choice of Washington Hotel – no TVs, good food, nice staff and quaint.
  • there are amazing numbers of starlings and house sparrows in DC considering how rare they are getting in the UK
  • for fans of the West Wing, I met a Republican Josh Lyman figure (and if he is reading this blog – Drive with Strength!)
  • most of the conversations about the environment and nature conservation are similar to ones happening in the UK and Europe
  • I wish there were a Rock Creek Park close to Central London
  • The Museum of the American Indian is a lovely building but was rather disappointing – I didn’t learn much

But I have now swapped the smell of power in Washington for the smell of seaspray at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  I dawdled and got lost on the way but still managed some good large birds from the car – Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Brown Pelican and Killdeer.

It’s just occurred to me that if I were still working for the RSPB I would be on a Council weekend in South Wales.  I miss my friends, of course, but the Louisiana shrimps on the way down, in a diner, were very good, it’s shirt sleeve weather and I probably would have missed the pelicans in Wales…

The soundtrack in the car today was Bruce Springsteen (greatest hits) and Carly Simon (also greatest hits).


Rock Creek Park 2

Yesterday was great, and today was even better.  Better in several senses – I was less jet-lagged, we had some good birds and we had some great views of a stunning Magnolia Warbler.

The Rock Creek Park Crowd were regathering together in this green, wooded area within Washington DC soon after 615am.  Warbler species added to my list today were Cape May, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia.

Whilst many sightings were at the top of trees the Magnolia Warbler was close and at eye-level.  What a stunning sight! A really beautiful bird.

Although I’ve only been to Rock Creek Park twice in my life, it has now entered my soul – those migrating warblers bring back hope and sound and colour to the world each spring.

I’m grateful to Wallace Kornack for being such a kind and knowledgeable host and to the rest of the Rock Creek Park Crowd for making me feel so welcome.  Good birding to you all in the mornings ahead.


Confusing spring warblers

My old copy of the Peterson field guide has a couple of plates of confusing fall warblers.  And they do look confusing.

But this morning I got confused too – in the famous Rock Creek Park.  I joined a group of birders and we were looking for migrating warblers high up in the trees.    My guide was Wallace Kornack who certainly knows his birds – he was a great mentor for me.  But the other birders present were all very helpful and friendly to a UK birder who doesn’t know his Black-throated Green from his Magnolia.  Thank you from me to all of them.

We saw and heard a lot.  There were: Black-throated Greens and Black-throated Blues, Parulas, lots of Yellow-rumps, American Redstarts, Black and Whites, Yellowthroat, Bay-breasteds (maybe the best one of the lot if you know what you’re doing) and Nashville.  There were others but these are the ones I saw or heard.

And they don’t all look the same but many of them are yellow and black and white with some blue or red or brown.  And they hide behind leaves.  And the sexes are different. And they stay at the tops of the trees. And, and, and… And they move like lightening.

But they are beautiful – really beautiful.  And they are amazing and lovely.

So I am going back for another lesson in lessening confusion with Wallace tomorrow.  And I am really looking forward to it.


The same and different

You never imagine your holidays in the rain do you? But when I woke up at 4am local time it was raining hard.  Still a Northern Mockingbird sang outside – I didn’t feel mocked at all.

As well as the birds being different – or some of them anyway – we’ll come back to that – so is the human language.   I’ve had to repeat myself several times for others and ask them to repeat things for me – I don’t know what it is but there’s a slight communications glitch between us.

And the birds aren’t all different – starlings and house sparrows are, by far, the commonest birds I have seen.

I’ve bought a cell phone and a netbook so this blog is, fingers crossed, up and running.  Many thanks to a guy called Mario and the Geek Squad in Best Buy Columbia Heights who got me sorted out – much appreciated.

As I passed time while they did their stuff I was coming up the remarkably slow elevator out of the metro onto the sidewalk when I heard an unfamiliar bird song.  At present, almost all the bird songs are unfamiliar, of course, but this one sounded like it should be a warbler.

In the small group of trees by the Navy Memorial it sang its trill.  There were lots of sparrows in the tree, getting in the way, and then I saw a warbler with two white wing bars and a yellow throat and breast with an orange blob on it – a Northern Parula.  If you are a US birder then nothing to write home about, but since I am not, I am.

And meanwhile, back home, the Guardian has published a comment piece by me on the state of nature conservation.  James Meikle writes a piece about it and the NFU President Peter Kendall gets hot under the collar about it – but doesn’t actually address the points made.


A cure for jet lag?

I spent yesterday evening with a bunch of nature conservationists in Washington Zoo. And then we sat outside in the warm evening air, had a beer or two and talked about nature conservation and about birds. Not so different from Home really.

In fact the topics were very similar – do we do nature conservation for nature’s sake or for ours? How do we get the public fired up? What about marine ecosystems? Do commercially important fish count as wildlife too? What will be the impact of Government spending cuts?

And which spring migrants have been seen? A Blackburnian? A Black-throated green? Lots of Yellow-rumps? Only the species are different.

There were three people I talked to whom I might more usually have met in Cambridge – the picture on Jane’s face when she saw me there! – and several existing US friends and some new ones.

As we sat outside a Nighthawk flew over to add itself to Gray Catbird, American Robin, Chimney Swift and House Sparrow. Yes, dear Reader, seeing nature and meeting friends make a cure for jet lag.