Tag Archives: birds

Day 5 (Sunday) in Washington DC

More from Saturday

Yesterday evening, a few folk from the hostel where I’m staying were going on a bar crawl around the Dupont Circle area, and invited me to join them. On entering the first bar, I was challenged to prove that I was old enough to drink alcohol, for the first time in about 30 years. We were turned away, because another member of the party had no such ID, even though she has a son in his twenties. Madness.

Sadly, though that bar had an interesting beer list, the next two served mass produced keg lagers and ales. I had a Samuel Adams Summer ale and a Sierra Pale ale, and I’d rather have drunk water than either. They were very poor. After my second drink I made my excuses and left, with a couple of the others, but a few hardy souls carried on, and only retuned from their nightclub visit at 3am, apparently!


Yesterday, while we were out birding, encouraged me to try Washington’s “City Bikes” (they’re the same as London’s bike share scheme, known colloquially as “Boris Bikes”). I’m glad she did. I used them several times today, to go down to the Washington Monument, to the Jefferson Memorial (where I saw my first (Larus delawarensis)), over the Arlington Memorial Bridge (and so across the state line into Virginia, briefly), to the Martin Luther King Memorial, and back to the Washington Monument. I even managed to cope with riding on the right, and the other differences between the US traffic system and ours.

As I returned over Arlington Memorial Bridge, a large helicopter flew past at low height —  (or the same under another call-sign). En route, I passed a recreation ground where turf had been recently laid and seep hoses and sprinklers were in use to keep it alive. Taking advantage of the water were big flocks of birds. Nothing new, but I got very good close views of some I’d only seen fleetingly, including another Mocking Bird.

I also saw a fantastic, huge yellow Swallowtail-type butterfly, but it was too fast for me to get a picture. I then had close views of a crow, but it was unhelpfully silent — DC has two species, which are hard to differentiate unless they call.

On my return to the Washington Monument, I lay on the grass to rest a while, and noticed distant spec very high overhead. I grabbed my binoculars, and discovered it to be a large bird, probably a Turkey Vulture. I tried, but couldn’t, to make it a Bald Eagle, but the shape was wrong.

I had a stroll though a “Folklife” festival on the Mall, where various organisations have pitched Marquees to exhibit on various topic related to the environment, and cultural projects. From an outlet from Florida, I had an “Arnold Palmer“, a very refreshing mix of equal parts of lemonade and iced tea. I also had some chicken from the same place, with delicious ““, a type of green cabbage, but much less bitter than those we have at home.

I ended up at the Natural History Museum, where the collection of stuffed birds was very useful in helping to reinforce my recognition of what I’d seen in the flesh. I also saw the Hope Diamond (sorry, Mom, it wasn’t for sale), and a really impressive and well-displayed collection of animal skeletons.

However, either at the museum or just before entering it from the Mall, I lost my beloved Tilley Endurables hat (or it was stolen). I’ve reported it missing, to the museums security office, and it has my business card in a pocket in the inside, so I hope it will turn up. I’ll have to get a cheapo substitute, tomorrow, to keep the sun off.

Also while I was in the museum, one of my trainers split from end-to-end (luckily I brought a spare pair) and it started to rain heavily as I was leaving. I guess that place is a jinx!


I can’t believe I forgot to mention one of the highlights of my trip so far, during Friday’s visit to the National Air and Space Museum — I got to touch the moon! Well, a small piece of it, brought back on an Apollo mission. But still…

Looks like it’s brighting up, now 😉

Day 3 and 4 in Washington DC

Continuing notes on my US visit…


I’m enjoying walking in DC, apart from the heat. The grid system has North-South roads lettered ascendingly, moving away from the river, and east-west roads numbered. That’s not very imaginative, but it makes it very hard to get lost. The central area is also very compact, and thankfully, flat.

I spent most of the day National Air and Space Museum, the whose collection includes aircraft of mind-blowing significance: The Wright Flyer, Liberty Bell, the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound, the first space capsule used for a US spacewalk, the Apollo 11 command capsule, the highest-flying aircraft ever, and so on. It was well worth the time I spent there, and I hope to visit their annexe, with larger aircraft, before I leave.

Then, in the evening, I went to a concert at the Austrian Embassy, who had kindly invited people in town for Wikimania, the conference I’m attending next week. A duo of classical pianist and violinist, both very proficient, performed arrangements of popular tunes, but the drum track made it a bit too James Last for my taste.


Today has been the highlight of my trip so far. , with whom I’ve corresponded on line for a couple of years or so, and who is content director for The Encyclopedia of Life , kindly responded to my appeal for a local birder to show me the ropes, and acted above and beyond the call of duty. She picked me up in her car, drove us to Jug Bay Wetlands nature reserve in Maryland and helped me to find and identify a number of species of birds, almost all new to me (the exceptions being Osprey and Barn Swallow), plus some fantastic butterflies and other “critters”, not least a Beaver. Lindsay Hollister at the reserve’s visitor centre was a welcoming and cordial host.

The 21 new bird species I saw were:

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Pied Grebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Gray Catbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird

We then had lunch at a rural, roadside “Mom and Pop” diner, where I enjoyed my first ever root beer.

And now I’m off in search of a bar…

[Pictures to be added later]

Unusual behaviour of Blue Tit at nest site

During a walk in , Birmingham, this morning, organised by the RSPB Walsall Local Group (of which I am a committee member, webmaster and speakers’ secretary — I multitask!) we observed what may be unusual behaviour. A bird (or possibly a pair) were entering as nest site in a dead tree stump (probably Silver Birch (Betula pendula) ) by one hole, near the ground, but instead of leaving by the same hole, exiting via another, higher up.

The two holes are marked on my photograph:

Nest holes about 18 inches and 36 inches from the ground.

The adult was (or were, if both parents were involved) obviously bringing in food to feed nestlings inside the tree trunk. We observed five visits to the nest, and on four occasions the adult left by the higher hole. On the other visit, it left by the hole used as an entrance. At no time did we see more than one adult at once. Did each member of the pair perhaps favour one exit over the other?

I managed to grab a brief video of the final visit, using my , which I subsequently cropped heavily using Avidemux video editing software. The entrance is used in the first second or two, so you’ll have to pay close attention! Then there’s not much to see until it leaves 12 seconds later.

Unfortunately, pressure of time prevented further study.

Presumably, the nest was below the bottom hole — so why did the bird(s) pass that hole to leave by the higher one?

Please Help Me to Compile a List of UK Police Forces’ Wildlife Crime Pages

As a birder and general nature lover, wildlife crime concerns me. Whether it’s the poaching and smuggling of ivory and tiger parts, the disturbance of nesting birds, or badger baiting, I want it stopped.

Of course, it’s the responsibility of each police force in the UK to act against such crimes, and to take seriously reported incidents. Some forces appoint specialist “Wildlife Crime Officers”, under various titles. Some have web pages about such officers and their work against wildlife crime, like this excellent example from North Yorkshire Police. Others, sadly, do not.

I’m interested in finding out which police forces do have such officers, and which publicise their existence online. But that’s a big task, and I can’t do it alone. So I’m asking for your help.

Please have a look at this spreadsheet on Google Docs (many thanks to OpenlyLocal for the list of forces and their home pages). Find your own (or any!) force, and, if it’s not already listed search its site for a wildlife crime page. If you find one, add its URL to the spreadsheet. Otherwise, enter “none”.

I’ll find a permanent home for the results; hopefully that will encourage forces which do not have a page about wildlife crime on their website to add and maintain one.

Meanwhile, if you wish to report wildlife crime in progress, call 999, or otherwise report it to Crimestoppers (who will treat the report as anonymous if you wish) on 0800 555 111.

I am not a Twitcher!

Three times this week, people have referred to me, in good faith, as a “twitcher”. I’m not, and I blame lazy tabloid hacks for creating this misconception, which I will now try to lay to rest.

I am a birdwatcher or, if you will, a birder. I like to be outdoors, with my binoculars and sometimes a telescope, to watch birds. I like to travel to different places, such as hills or the coast, to see different kinds of birds, but I also like to watch common birds, like Starlings, in my garden, or as I move around my home city.

[Picture: Common Starling, Sternus vulgaris, from Creative Commons, by Paul Stein; licenced under Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.]

I like to know their life histories, and to read about and study their behaviour, their conservation and their contribution to human folklore.

All together, this brings me a great deal of enjoyment, and helps me to de-stress after spending long hours at a desk in front of a computer, or in stuffy meetings, in my day job. I try to pay some of it back, by sharing my interest with non-birders, and beginners, and by doing voluntary work for the RSPB and the West Midland Bird Club, of which I’m a trustee.

Occasionally, I am pleased to chance upon a rare bird, or to travel a short distance to a local reserve, knowing one is present. The interest in seeing a new species this way is sometimes tempered by the fact that, if it’s a rare vagrant from Siberia or the Americas, it is likely to be exhausted and near death. At the very least, it will never get home or find a mate.

Twitchers, on the other hand, enjoy an extreme, compulsive type of birding, whereby they will hunt out such rarities, competitively, often travelling great distance, at great cost, and enduring considerable discomfort, to do so. They will often prefer to see one bird of a new species, involving a day or more travelling, over the opportunity to spend time looking at a whole range of other, more common birds (which some of them refer to as “trash birds”). There have been cases of twitchers paying hundreds of pounds to charter a boat or plane to get them to The Scillies or The Shetlands, and one once famously left his own wedding reception and missed the start of his honeymoon, to chase after a rarity.

Unlike some birders, who disdain them, I make no judgements about twitchers, and I know that some are very knowledgeable, and are just as likely as other birders to be involved in voluntary and conservation work.

But I’m not one of them. I trust that that’s now clear.