See more than 200 bird species, including Wood Duck, Indigo Bunting, and Osprey, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.
By Philip Brandt George | Published: 10/20/2006
Huntley Meadows is where I first began to learn, and continue to develop, the skills and art of birding. I never tire of walking its trails. The place seems ever new and fresh.
A beaver-created wetland – the largest non-tidal freshwater marsh in the Washington, D.C., area – two small creeks, open meadows, and mixed deciduous-evergreen woodlands shelter an incredible variety of wildlife, including deer, frogs, snakes (non-venomous), turtles, butterflies, dragonflies, beaver, and muskrat. Birds, lots of birds, are an ever-rotating, year-round constant throughout the park’s roughly 1,500 acres.
The normal turns of season, variations in local rainfall, and the changing activities of the beaver cause the water level to fluctuate, leading some bird species to leave and others to arrive. Although the mix is constantly changing, birds are always there. I can never predict, therefore, precisely what birds I’ll see when I go there. I can predict only that I will see a lot of them, and that I will not be disappointed. — Philip Brandt George
Philip Brandt George is a veteran writer and editor who has contributed to National Geographic’s BirdWatcher newsletter and its Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America. He works as an instructional designer for K12 Inc. and lives and birds in the Washington, D.C., area.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates to view location:
Wetland, mixed deciduous-evergreen woodlands, and open meadows.
Flat. Approximately two miles of wheelchair-accessible, gravel interpretive trails lead to a half-mile boardwalk, low-rise platform, and two-level observation tower overlooking wetlands.
More than 200 species and nearly 70 known breeders, including Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, American Bittern, Osprey, American Woodcock, Barred Owl, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, six woodpecker species, Acadian Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole. During migration, 8 species of herons and egrets, 9 raptors (Red-shouldered Hawks and Bald Eagles common, Mississippi Kites occasional), 14 shorebirds, 6 vireos, 35 warblers, about a dozen sparrows, Blue Grosbeaks, Rusty Blackbirds, and Baltimore Orioles. Accidentals: White-faced Ibis, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black Rail, Sedge Wren.
When to go
Whenever you can; it’s great all year long.
Chemical toilet in parking lot. Visitor center has drinking fountains, handicapped-accessible restrooms, exhibits, and information about recent sightings, the park, and area. Open all year except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1. Hours vary. Birdwalks leave center every Monday at 7 a.m.
County park. Admission free, but contributions are welcomed. Open dawn to dusk, year-round.
A scope is useful, but binoculars usually suffice. Pesky insects are a problem on occasion.
For more info
Friends of Huntley Meadows Park
Northern Virginia Bird Club
Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, Coastal Area, Mason Neck Loop
Voice of the Naturalist (recent sightings), (301) 652-1088.