Article by FMNs Barbara Saffir and Janet Quinn; all photos by Barbara Saffir
Lions, and tigers, and bears? Heck, no — but holding wild birds, snakes galore, and close encounters with yellow birds that glow like the sun were some highlights during a recent
Fairfax Master Naturalists’ continuing education hike. Hike leaders Barbara Saffir and Janet Quinn led eight FMNs on the “Hold A Wild Bird” hike and visited a bird banding at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge on April 24. Since Covid rules for the banding forced the 10 hardy hikers to break into two smaller groups, Barbara’s group watched two Gray Catbirds, two Northern Waterthrushes, a Hermit Thrush, a House Wren,
and a Swamp Sparrow being banded. Janet’s group had a different experience. The banders netted three birds during their visit and all three had previously been banded. One was the Northern Waterthrush Barbara’s group had seen banded as well as a Song Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow. The White-throated Sparrow was a “significant event” because it had been banded in 2017. Any bird captured which is older than five years is such an event. The banders, all volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, measured, sexed, weighed, and banded the birds. The group members then took turns learning how to safely hold the birds to release them. (Photos and a slo-mo video of one release are attached.) FMN 2022 trainee Deirdre “Dee” Pistochini, said it best: ” It was such a thrill to hold a wild creature so close that you can feel their heartbeat. A once in a lifetime experience.”
Both groups also visited a great horned owls’ nest near Painted Turtle Pond. The big, fluffy, ivory-colored “babies” were napping when one group visited but the two owlets were standing tall and checking out their human admirers when the second group came to call.
After that, the naturalists took a two-mile spin around the refuge. First they encountered four frisky northern black racers, then another racer poking its head out, and four northern watersnakes in two separate hideaways. Ospreys were parading around everywhere — and two were even caught in a Valentine’s Day act. The group also eyeballed at least three eagles, a horned grebe in breeding colors, hundreds of blue jays flying over in small flocks toward their summer homes, and more. But the bird of the day outside the banding was a prothonotary warbler, a tiny sunflower-yellow bird with a big personality — and seemingly a fondness for humans. Four of the darlings came close to say hello. Barbara could have sworn they also asked the hikers if they would return in a few weeks so they could show off their babies.
Want to see more? Download these videos of the day taken by FMN Dee Pistochino:
And even more! The handout created for the hikers.