In Love With Dutch Gap (part 2)
January 13th, 2018
On my second visit to Dutch Gap (the day after Christmas), it was the Gadwall
who came in close.
(female in front, two males behind)
"Understated elegance" is how AllAboutBirds describes them. I agree with that.
Gadwall drakes aren't flashy, but I find them handsome. I particularly like
those softly peach-tinted back feathers. When they take flight, they reveal
chestnut wing patches, and both sexes show striking white wing patches that
help identify them at a distance.
(female in front, male behind)
A tiny Ruby-Crowned Kinglet distracted me away from the ducks as it foraged in
the marshside vegetation. It was a cold morning (for Virginia), and cold
mornings are always the best time for viewing kinglets! (When it's warm enough
to get them up to speed, they move at approximately the speed of sound. At
least it feels that way when you're trying to photograph one.) Both species of
kinglets (Ruby-Crowned and Golden-Crowned) winter in Virginia and are a common
sight, even in suburban front yards, though likely unnoticed by non-birders.
They are some of the smallest birds in North America after hummingbirds.
Note in each of these photos the teeny glimpse of the hidden ruby crown,
identifying this as a male.
In Ottawa, nature-lovers seem to have pretty well gotten the message that
bread is very unhealthy (in some cases even fatal) for birds. Sadly this is
not the case everywhere. Someone had scattered bread below one of the marsh
overlooks, and this was one of the birds who came in to investigate. Brown
Thrashers are mimids, part of a family of birds skilled at mimicking the songs
of other birds. (Mockingbirds are in the same family.) They are often skulky
and hard to see.
Field Sparrows seem to be fairly common wintering birds at Dutch Gap. In
summer you can find them in Ottawa at Carp Ridge, among other places, singing
a series of sweet, plaintive whistles that accelerate into a trill. But they
are rather shy on their breeding grounds and I'd never managed to photograph
one well. Note the distinct white eye ring which is one of the field marks for
A final surprise to end the day: this fellow circling directly over me in the
parking lot. I had just called my folks' place on the cell phone, and ended up
frantically juggling phone and camera, not wanting to hang up on anyone but
not wanting to miss the opportunity either! Bald Eagles nest along the James
and are a delightfully common sight there year-round, so that part wasn't a
surprise. Having one show such an intense interest in me was. Fortunately it
decided I was too big for a meal.