Friday, 10 September 2010

Raglans Wood, Tyson's Corner, Fairfax, VA, USA.

During a trip to Washington DC, we stay at a hotel in Tyson's Corner, McClean Fairfax County, Va. A layover here would usually involve a walk around the local area which contains office blocks separated by wooded plots. The birding here can often be rewarding, but I was picked up by the police last time I tried.
OK, so I was in my camouflage gear, creeping furtively through the woods between the offices with my binoculars and a big paparazzi-style camera. How was I to know that these were government buildings? If I had known I might have thought twice about wearing the balaclava (it was very cold). Three squad cars and seven officers attended the scene. Two pulled their guns when I reached into my jacket to produce my hotel room key to prove that I was staying close by.
At Raglan Road Park, there was none of this excitement, although I did get a funny look from an elderly gent when I inadvertently found myself in his backyard.
I found Ragland Road Park as a green smudge on the map and had no idea what to expect when I set out. It is an easy 5 minute, one and a half kilometre, minute ride from The Crowne Plaza Hotel at Tysons Corner, in a shallow valley with a small stream running through it. Access is via a path at the end of Tyspring St. (Google Earth ref; 38 55' 24"N 77 14' 27"W).
The thick canopy made it very gloomy inside the deciduous wood. A White-tailed Deer stepped out onto the path ahead and stood stock-still, checking me out, while I got the camera attached to the tripod and prepared for the first shot of the day. She was accompanied by a young, spotted fawn and I was surprised at how close she allowed me to approach.
A little further along, another group of deer was browsing in a dappled glade (how come glades are always dappled?). They continued to feed even though the path passed within 10 meters of them. The adult females had a darker coat with whisps of the fawny brown hair on their flanks. I wonder if they are shedding into a darker winter coat?
Soon I came to the stream. It is rocky in places, but a muddy bank showed signs of Racoon activity. The path either went into a residential road, or by skipping the stream, into the back lots of some offices. There was a narrow margin of trees between the car park and the stream. As I walked along, I flushed a large brown bird which flew silently away and out of sight. I felt sure that it was an owl and tried to predict its trajectory to judge where it might have come to rest.
For the next forty minutes or so, I scoured the search-zone, then retreated and approached from another direction. I crossed the stream on precariously placed rocks and found another angle to search from. In the distance a Blue Jay was calling hysterically. It was beyond the search zone, so I ignored it for the moment.
By a small ornamental pond, I found what looked like an owl pellet. It was on top of a light post (regurgitated there or found and placed, I do not know) and contained a lot of beetle casings, crustacian shell fragments, fish (could they be frog?) scales and thin rib bones. This might suggest a diet for an Eastern Screech Owl, but my elusive owl had been much bigger.
I was distracted by the outfall from the pond by a variable Dancer.
There had been no sign of the owl, but there is a lot of dead wood and it could easily have found somewhere to hide. A crow had now joined the jay and both were calling strongly a little way off, so I decided that it might be worth a try. As it turned out, it was not an hysterical jay, but a Red-shouldered Hawk that flew off as soon as it saw me. I reckon that it was the hawk that I flushed earlier and mistook it for an owl, although the bars on the hawk’s tail are very obvious inflight. I wonder how I might have missed them? The birding had been very slow today and the owl would have added a bit of glamour to an otherwise unimpressive list. A more practiced ear than mine may have noted the difference between the hawk and the jay’s calls, but after playing back my Peterson’s tapes, I still would not care to put money on it.
Beyond the ornamental pond and nursery school the path had a tarmac surface. Someone had tried to install a trim track, but it had been washed away. Apart from that and a couple of picnic tables for local smokers, the wood seemed unmanaged. There was a lot of dead wood and it was riddled with woodpecker activity.
On my return, I encountered the deer again, close to the path.
As a bird watching exercise, my visit to Raglan Road Park was very unproductive with only 5 species seen and none photographed. But as a relaxing walk it was very pleasant and being able to get so close to the deer was a real treat. I suspect that the woods may have more to offer and will try them again.
Hurricane Earl was due to pass through today. It was downgraded last night to a storm, category 2 and grazed the coast about 200 miles away.

Bird species; 5

Red-shouldered Hawk 2, Northern Mockingbird 1, Song Sparrow 2, American Goldfinch 2, Northern Cardinal 3.

Mammal species; 2

Grey Squirrel 8, White-tailed Deer 9.

Odonata species;

Variable Dancer Argia fumipennis 5, Eastern Pondhawk Erythemis simplicicollis 4.

Follow the links below for other posts from Washington;
http://redgannet.blogspot.com/2011/03/great-falls-park-virginia.html
http://redgannet.blogspot.com/2011/05/great-falls-park-virginia-april.html
http://redgannet.blogspot.com/2011/03/tysons-corner-virginia-iad.html

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for other posts from the region
Raglan's Wood, Tyson's Corner, IAD, USA