Rock Creek Park celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. We speak with two local experts with books about the history, flora, and fauna that abound in Washington's "backyard."
Guest Host: Matt McCleskey
It’s spring, a great time of year for spotting wildlife in our region. Migratory birds are returning, deer and rabbits are flocking to suburban backyards, and raccoons regularly saunter through back alleys. But for the more adventurous, spring is also a great time to visit our region’s parks, where you might see great blue herons, foxes, owls, and bald eagles. We’ve got tips on where to go, and how to observe animals safely and respectfully.
- John Rappole Author, "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Guide;" Research Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s Conservation and Research Center.
- Martin Ogle Chief Naturalist, Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington, VA
Coyote in Potomac Overlook Regional Park
Pablo Codes, an exchange student from Spain interning at Potomac Overlook, set up a motion-detecting videocamera to see what animals might be spotted. In the first five seconds of this video, you’ll see what the naturalists at the park agree is a coyote.
Seasonal Naturalist John Burke at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park shows some pelts from animals common to our area and talks about how human development and nature are bumping up against each other in Arlington:
MR. MATT MCCLESKYFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo. It's spring and around the region that means wildlife is venturing out after the winter months. There are plenty of animals to see right outside your door. Deer and rabbits are making themselves at home in suburban backyards. Raccoons are often sauntering through back alleys and migratory birds are returning. They've exchanged their quieter fall colors for full spring plumage. Look for the more adventurous. Spring is also a great time to visit a local park or wildlife refuge.
MR. MATT MCCLESKYSnakes, frogs and turtles are coming out of hibernation. It's not hard to spot great blue herons, foxes, beavers, even Bald Eagles. We've got tips on where to go, what to bring and what you might see. Joining us this hour to explore the fauna in our region are John Rappole, he's the author of the "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual." And he's also research scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park's Conservation and Research Center.
MR. MATT MCCLESKYAnd Martin Ogle, the chief naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, VA. Thanks for joining us. Good afternoon.
MR. MARTIN OGLEThanks for having us.
MR. JOHN RAPPOLEThanks, Matt.
MCCLESKYJohn, let me start with you. Our region has an impressive diversity of topography and habitats. That means a lot of different kinds of animals, I would imagine. What are some of the features of our area and what does that lead to animal wise?
RAPPOLEWell, we have the Potomac River, which is a lovely thing to have with terms to wildlife. We've got actually with -- the C&O Canal gives us access to a lot of that wildlife and freshwater wetland areas. And within, I'd say within just a short drive of most areas within the D.C. region you can get to the coastal areas and marshes, our saltwater marshes. And if you head west in the other direction you get to mountains and so forth.
RAPPOLEAnd in addition, where we're located in the continent is important, too because you have an entire different fauna in the southeast region of the United States and a different fauna in the northeast region of the United States. So we got a nice overlap here.
MCCLESKYAnd the diversity of habitat means a real range of wildlife. About how many terrestrial species live in our area?
RAPPOLEWell, terrestrial vertebrates -- that is reptiles, amphibians, and mammals and birds -- about 550 species. They were found here common, uncommon or rare. They're here all the time or migratory through.
MCCLESKYNow what animals might we see now in some of the parks around here most likely? Or what would be the most likely ones we'd see?
RAPPOLEWell, we have a lot of things coming back of course and, as you mentioned, coming out of hibernation. So, birds are the easiest things to see. But even in places like the National Mall, you can see lots of interesting wildlife. There's squirrels and ring billed gulls and common grackles and robins and a lot of the normal flora and fauna this area that you can see at any time. But we do have lots of things moving in from the south, as you mentioned. Swallows coming back and robins and warblers and thrushes and so forth and the place is just opening up.
MCCLESKYWell, Martin Ogle, you're chief naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, VA. What animals have you been seeing the last few weeks in your park?
OGLEWell, a lot of the migrants are starting to come back. We've seen a little bird called the blue grey gnat catcher. It's a great little bird, it's a tiny little thing and it usually gets here about mid-April. But it's a little early this year. We're seeing some other migrant birds, some of the frogs coming out of hibernation. Everything from the earliest ones like the wood frog to -- with the toads just started singing yesterday, so a lot of things.
MCCLESKYAnd I would imagine with the cherry blossoms come a little earlier this year, a pretty mild winter. Is that to account you think for some of the birds coming a little early?
OGLEYeah, we weren't sure about what would happen to the bird migration necessarily because just because we're having a warm time doesn't indicate that we'll necessarily have birds coming from south early. But that's proving out to be the case. But all the plants are out two, three weeks early.
MCCLESKYWell, we do what to hear what's happening in your neighborhood and what animals you're seeing. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, that's the phone number. You can also of course take part in the conversation via email at email@example.com. You can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow. And again, that number 800-433-8850. Where would you recommend, John Rappole, that people go if they want to catch a good look at wildlife? I imagine there are a lot of places, but what comes to mind first?
RAPPOLEWell, the Washington, D.C. area, there's probably 100 sites in the region here. But I think that probably the easiest site to visit is the National Zoo for a lot of people. Zoo has a bird pond. And I think a lot of the visitors who visit it think that the birds in the pond are part of the exhibit in the sense that they have been put there by zoo personnel and they are sort of exotic. But actually about 80 percent of the birds in the pond are usually migrants that are just stopping there because they can get food there.
RAPPOLESo the zoo is a great place to go right now. Well, last year when I was there in the area where their native animals were located, things like the otter and so forth. There was a red shouldered hawk had a nest right over where the otters were. I just wanted to follow up for a minute on what Martin was saying about birds knowing when to come back and so forth. Because there is a division there in terms of the different kinds of migrants, things like ducks and so forth are what we call facultative migrants that migrate in response really to weather.
RAPPOLESo they head south when weather gets bad and they come back north when weather gets good. But a lot of the species that occur around here, things like the thrushes and warblers for the most part they go a long way south. They have no idea what the weather is up here. They're down in Central or South America. So their calendar is set by photoperiod and they will come back at roughly the same time, just like the swallows to Capistrano. They come back the same time every year, and that's because it's set, it's programmed.
MCCLESKYIt's interesting you mention the National Zoo as a place to see wildlife outside of the cages. I imagine, though, it is right there in Rock Creek Park. Elsewhere up and down Rock Creek, is there a good place to go either birding there or other wildlife? I certainly see deer often when I'm driving across the park?
RAPPOLEThe park is an excellent representative of the kinds of animals that occur in forests and along streams of the entire region. Just the fact it's in the city makes it convenient. But a lot of the species are still present there. It's interesting that you ask specifically about Rock Creek Park because a few years ago, I think about 20 or 30 years ago, some ladies who were conducting censuses in the park noticed that migratory birds were disappearing from the park. And they couldn't see any reason and being changed in the park.
RAPPOLEAnd there had been a lot of debate as to what those cause. But hypotheses that the entire region around the area was just habitats disappearing or if habitats were disappearing somewhere else, say, in the tropics.
MCCLESKYAnd, Martin Ogle, of course your park is also in predominantly urban area, just across the Potomac River in Northern Virginia. How do you find that affects wildlife in Potomac Overlook?
OGLEWell, we're in our urban-suburban area, but we have over 100 acres of woods in the area. So that gives a lot of habitat for various creatures, big and small. We have a lot of deer there, as you might imagine. But we're part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. And there's over 20, 26. It's always changing. It's gone up a little bit. Parks in the system and they're all great to go to to see wildlife.
OGLEI might recommend the Pohick Bay Regional Park, which is down on Masonic Peninsula, both because it's a great place to go and there's also a Masonic State Park, the Masonic National Wildlife Refuge and also Gunston Hall, all right in one place, great places to go to see wildlife.
MCCLESKYOkay. Let's go to the phones. We have a lot of people who are calling in. And let's go to Megan in Glover Park in the District. Megan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MEGANHi. Yeah, thank you so much for the show. Well, I have an interesting experience this morning. I went for a walk. I grew up in Washington, DC my whole life. So, I went for a walk this morning in Glover Park area on Tunlaw Road between Calvert and Nebraska. And I saw an owl. And I was wondering how common that is. Like, I've never seen one actually.
MCCLESKYWhat types of owls are in this area, John Rappole?
RAPPOLEYou have great horned owl, barn owl, screech owl, saw-whet owls here in the winter. What else we got here?
OGLEThose are certainly the most common. Did you get a good look at it that you could describe it?
MEGANYeah, I did get a good look of it. It was brown. It was pretty big. Gosh, I mean, maybe I'd say at least a foot tall. I don't know how else to describe it. All different colors, brown.
OGLEDid it look like it had the tuffs on the head, the ones that some people mistake for ears or whether it was just a rounded head?
MEGANGosh, I don't know if I got a close enough look.
MEGANIt seemed more round. I'm not sure.
OGLEI'm guessing most likely a bard owl that brownish, whitish owl that doesn't have the tuffs.
MEGANIs that pretty common in this area?
OGLEIt's a common owl, not that any of the owls are common. But for the owls that you might expect to see, we see it fairly often. And is there any lowland or kind of swampy area in the area because they often like that kind of habitat?
MEGANOh, I mean, maybe there's a little stream. I'm not really sure.
MEGANYeah. Just really a wooded area, yeah. Well, anyways, well, thank you so much.
OGLEYeah, listen for it, too, because if you hear a sound that sounds something like this, (makes noise) that might be it. Okay?
MEGANOh, very cool.
OGLEThe song of the bard owl.
MEGANThank you so much.
MCCLESKYThanks so much for your call, Megan. We appreciate it. Let's go to James in McLean, VA. A very different animal. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESHey, good afternoon and thanks for the great program and great sound effects. You guys ought to be a (unintelligible). Hey, I work on Capitol Hill and a lot of our work keeps us there until quite late, like in the middle of the night. So, the other day, maybe a couple of months ago, I was coming back down Independence Avenue at about three or four in the morning. And you know how it loops behind the Lincoln Memorial? Well, there was a dog sitting on the sidewalk right there at the bridge behind the Lincoln Memorial.
JAMESAnd I'm very familiar having grown up with coyotes in Texas all my life. And I slowed down. I got real close to it, maybe 20 feet away and I'll be darned if that was not a coyote. And I could really tell when it got up and walked away. And I called it in and the parks service people that, yeah, we're not surprised. And there was a big news item for coyotes in Arlington in the paper yesterday. But I'm here to tell you, they're in the District, in the Mall.
MCCLESKYAll right. And, Martin, you just confirmed a coyote recently at your park, right?
OGLEYeah. I think that's what all the news is about lately. A very interesting story where those exchange student, a young fellow named Pablo. He's from Spain. And he has a motion sensitive wildlife camera. And you set it out to try to find various wildlife in the park and going on for about two, going on three weeks ago, we didn't get a very short but definitive clip of a coyote running through our park.
MCCLESKYAnd our producer, (word?) is telling me now we have a link to that video on our website, kojoshow.org so you can see the Arlington coyote on your computers. Go to kojoshow.org and you can find that link. They certainly do seem to be spreading I've read in recent years around the country. The coyote is expanding into further areas. John Rappole, what's the situation there?
RAPPOLEWell, coyote probably did not occur in this region when there were wolves. Wolves eat coyotes and they compete for the same kinds of things. And you don't find coyotes and wolves in the same region or area very much. If they are in the same region, say, in Northwestern Mexico, then they are in different habitats. Coyote are more open country animals. So they probably moved in as this area was cleared by European settlers and the wolves were cleared out.
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYAnd, correct me if I'm wrong, I believe I've read that, at this point, they're in pretty much all the states?
RAPPOLEThat's probably true. I don't know about Hawaii, but certainly...
MCCLESKEYWell, that would be, I guess, a pretty long swim.
RAPPOLEYes. But probably all the others, certainly. And they seem to be filling the wolf niche pretty well, getting larger and even taking a human now and then, up in Canada, I've heard.
MCCLESKEYWell, let's go to Julius calling us from Upper Marlboro, Md., with a question about frogs. Julius, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JULIUSHi, we live up near, I guess, it's Patuxent River State Park and as we come home, there's a bog on either side and you can hear the frogs singing. And as it gets into summer, we can see them jumping across the road. I haven't had a chance to get a close up look at them. My wife swears they're coquis or something along those lines. But I was just curious as to what they were and if there's a particular kind of thing, you know? Thank you.
MCCLESKEYWell, who wants to respond, Martin Ogle?
OGLEYeah. Well, I think that the coqui, I recalled from being in Puerto Rico, that it's a tropical frog.
RAPPOLEYeah, that sounds right.
OGLESo that's not it. But there's a number of frogs that have already started to sing. I mentioned the wood frog earlier. They give a little kind of a quack-like sound. And there's the spring peeper which is actually the one that most people hear. It sounds like a little tinkling, peeping bell, but they're there in such huge numbers that it's sometimes almost deafening. The toads give a trill that just kind of goes on for several seconds. And they're just starting now. And, less common, but other frogs are out there singing as well. So, yeah, it could've been any of those or more of the more rare ones.
MCCLESKEYAll right. Well, thanks for your call, Julius. Any other identifying...
MCCLESKEY...characteristics we might go on there?
JULIUSNo, they're just -- I know, they're small bodies and there are a huge amount.
RAPPOLEYeah, I think that must be the spring peeper.
MCCLESKEYOkay, well, thanks so much for your call, Julius. You can join us by calling 800-433-8850. You can also email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are going to take a short break. But we are going to come back to the phones. We have a lot of people on the line right now calling with questions about birds so we'll get to some of those on the other side of this break.
MCCLESKEYI'm Matt McCleskey, the host of "Morning Edition," here on WAMU 88.5, filling in today for Kojo Nnamdi. And we're talking this hour with John Rappole, author of "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual." He's researched scientists emeritus at the Smithsonian National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center, and Martin Ogle, the chief and naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, Va. Stick with us and we'll be right back.
MCCLESKEYAnd welcome back, I'm Matt McCleskey, host of "Morning Edition," here on WAMU 88.5, filling in today for Kojo Nnamdi. And we're speaking about wildlife in the Washington region particularly as we're getting into spring. With me this hour, Martin Ogle, chief naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, Va. And John Rappole, author of "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual." We're going to go straight back to the phones now. We do have a lot of questions about birds. So let's first go back to Muriel, calling from Rockville, Md. Muriel, good afternoon, you're on the air.
MURIELThank you. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the towhee. I have one that comes visiting every spring and in the fall too for a couple of weeks. It feeds on my patio which I put sunflower seeds for all the critters around.
MCCLESKEYWhat can you tell us about the way -- what does it look like?
MURIELOh, it's such a beautiful bird. It's small, it's black on top and it has white and red -- it has a red breast and white on its wings. It's like a painted -- it looks like an artist painted it.
MCCLESKEYWell, any idea...
MURIELIt has a long tail.
MCCLESKEYA long tail?
MURIELA long dark tail.
MCCLESKEYAny ideas, John Rappole?
RAPPOLESure, the towhee is a fairly common migrate through our region. They also breed in large parts of the Mid-Atlantic region. The migrate down in the fall, into the Southeastern United States and into Mexico. And that's actually where most of the relatives of the towhee live in the West and the sub-tropics and tropics. But the towhee comes up here about this time of year. They forage on the ground, mostly, and they do some kick scratching.
RAPPOLESo they make a lot of noise. You can hear them rustling around in the brush but there's some concern about the towhee because their basically kind of a second growth habitat old field habitat bird and they've been disappearing in large numbers throughout the Northeast. People thinking that the towhee may be on its way out, as far as being a migrate up here.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks so much.
MURIELI hope not, it's beautiful.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for your call, Muriel.
MURIELWell, thank you.
MCCLESKEYWe appreciate your calling in. Let's go to Karen in Alexandria, Va., with a question about mockingbirds. Hi, Karen, you're on the air.
KARENHi, I am so glad that you're having this show today. And actually, what I'm about to say has to do with your previous show on animal adaptability. I'm an experienced bird watcher and a country girl and all of this. And I live in the city right now and my apartment is right outside of a -- well, it's surrounding by a parking lot and there are a lot of cars and then there are a lot of trees adjacent to the parking lot and lots and lots of birds live in these trees.
KARENAnd it's lovely to hear. Like, last night I heard, you know, at sunset when they raise their cacophony. But for the past few days, I'm convinced that what I'm hearing -- and I actually walked toward the bird to see if I could hear him better. I'm convinced that this mockingbird that I have been hearing for the past few days has learned to imitate the sound of a car alarm. And you know how mocking birds go through their repertoire of various calls, the whoop, whoop, whoop, of a car alarm is part of his repertoire. And it's so funny. And I can't imagine what else it could be. I mean, it is a bird calling a car alarm sound. So it has to be a mockingbird.
MCCLESKEYWell, have you heard of other mockingbirds doing things like that Martin Ogle?
OGLEWell, the mockingbird probably has more stories about it than just about any other bird because they are home bodies and they're always around city areas. And as far as their ability to mock, you think of them mostly mocking other birds and who knows? Maybe they're mocking other sounds around, too. It is interesting that, sometimes, when you're trying to teach people what different birds sounds like, you might say about the cardinal, that it sounds like a little car alarm. It whoop, whoop, choo, choo, choo, choo, choo. But the mockingbird will imitate just about anything that seems to be in its vicinity.
MCCLESKEYAnd John Rappole, you've heard of mockingbirds, what sort of things have heard of them mocking?
RAPPOLEWell, as Martin was saying, they'll mock just about anything and they'll mock tractor sounds, they'll mock all sorts of sounds that they pick up. And it's fascinating in that the, you go to listen to a mockingbird in a particular area, say in this area as Martin was saying, they pick up cardinals, a common one that they copy or chickadees or nuthatches or robins or just the birds that are around here. You go down into South Texas and you'll hear them mocking green jays and Anis and a whole different range of things. So they aren't picking up things -- Gene Mortner (sp?) , used to work at the National Zoo as a student of mockingbirds.
RAPPOLEAnd he said that what the mockingbirds are trying to do, they don't care what they're mocking, they don't care that it's another bird. What they care about is increasing their repertoire. They want as broad repertoire as possible and that's why they do it to try to compete with other mockingbirds and to confuse other males in the region and to attract females. The bigger your repertoire, the more attractive you are.
MCCLESKEYOkay. So car alarms are right in there in their repertoire.
RAPPOLECar alarms is fine. They'll mock them, no problem.
MCCLESKEYOkay, thanks so much for your call, Karen. We appreciate it. Let's go to Mel in Bethesda, Md., a question about where to see eagles around the area. Mel, you're on the air. Go ahead.
MELYes, I have children who live in (word?) Germany and they would love to see eagles. Where can we see them easily?
OGLEYeah, I think the Mason Neck that I described earlier is the best place to go. It's a little out of the city but it will only take you about 30, 40 minutes to get there if there's no traffic. And both Pohick Bay Regional Park and the Mason Neck State Park are easy to get to the places where you can see them. And then the National Wildlife Refuge where you kind of have to kike in a little ways to get out to the marsh is another great place to see eagles as well.
MCCLESKEYAnd I've been kayaking on the Potomac and have seen eagles in some of the trees just as you're floating down.
OGLEYeah. There's a nesting pair of eagles, right where Spout Run blends into the GW Parkway, there's a nest right in the median there. And so we've been seeing eagles flying up and down the river, largely from that nest, I imagine.
MCCLESKEYAnd have they come back to this area in greater numbers in recent years, John Rappole?
RAPPOLEYes, they have. I think they've increased tenfold in the last 20 years or so.
MCCLESKEYNow, what's the reason behind that?
RAPPOLEWell, bald eagles was one of the species that was hit hard by pesticides as the ospreys were. And so they were just wiped out and they've come back pretty strongly.
MCCLESKEYWell, Nadine, calling us from Alexandria, Va., has another idea about where to go to see bald eagles. Nadine, you're on the air. Go ahead.
NADINEYes. I live just in Northern Virginia, just south of Old Town, kind of between the Walton Bridge and Mount Vernon. And I've been surprised at the amount of bald eagles that we've seen for the last couple of years. And I just wanted to recommend one park, it's Huntley Meadows Park. I think it's off of Route 1 and it's just a great, great place to view wildlife. Really fortunate where we live. I mean, I see beavers and fox and deer, rabbit. I saw a snapping turtle giving birth the other day when we were at that park. So it's pretty amazing to take kids there and being able to show them these things.
MCCLESKEYAnd you're nodding your head, John Rappole. You familiar with Huntley Meadows?
RAPPOLEYeah, it's a famous wetland area that got tracks, as the caller says, a large variety of vertebrates.
MCCLESKEYWell, one of the...
NADINEYeah, and they do a great job of just up keeping it. There's a beautiful boardwalk that you can walk out on. So...
MCCLESKEYAll right. Well, Nadine, thanks so much for your call and that recommendation. Where do you like to go to connect with nature and to see wildlife, give us a call. Our phone lines are open, 800-433-8850, that's 800-433-8850. You can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @kojoshow. One of the animals or birds that I've seen out and about, particularly, going up and down the Potomac, where the C&O Canal, are the blue herons which are very impressive birds. You can actually get pretty close and get a really nice view if you're going by boat. Do you see blue herons at all at Potomac Overlook?
OGLEWell, Potomac Overlook sits up in the upland portion. We're just on inland from the GW Parkway...
MCCLESKEYHence the overlook.
OGLE...yeah, hence the overlook. But that's a separate story. We don't really have a overlook anymore. But interestingly we have this tiny little manmade pond. And every so often you'll go out there and in this little puddle, basically, you'll see a great blue heron. I guess they spotted it as they were going by and they're trying to catch a goldfish or something.
MCCLESKEYWell, they're always great to see fishing. And then occasionally they'll lift off if you get too close and fly on up the creek of the river. But I've seen both in Virginia, out at Bull Run and the Manassas area and also down along the Potomac.
RAPPOLEYeah, great blue herons are one of the species interesting because they're basically, mostly, migratory although there will be some here all winter long. But they come back fairly early and start breeding about this time or even a little earlier especially along the coast but I saw one as I was driving in from Fort Royal this morning, so.
MCCLESKEYOkay. Let's go to Jim in Annapolis, Md. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMIt's about time. Thanks for taking my call. I live off of the South River, Broad Creek and Annapolis. And we're so fortunate here with a variety of wildlife. And the conversation seems to be centered on birds so I'll frame my question that way. But, you know, we do have eagles and we have osprey and a number of hawks, owls. Is there a conflict between those sort of predatory birds? Are they all going through the same thing or do they battle with each other?
MCCLESKEYI suppose another quick question would be are they all native species and how to do they interact? John Rappole.
RAPPOLEWell, everything has a potential to interact, I suppose, if they have similar food sources. But in fact, the eagle and the osprey are pretty different. The osprey really is good at catching live fish. They will eat dead fish and they'll eat fish that they find and they'll eat other things too if there's a sleepy duck or something of that sort. But they really are focusing on catching live fish. The bald eagle will catch live fish but it will eat a lot of other things too and it'll steal stuff from ospreys. It'll try to fight them for -- in that way. But they don't make a living doing that.
RAPPOLEAnd they'll eat ducks too. So they eat a wide variety of things. And what happens, I think, is that most predators are opportunistic and they'll take what they can but it when things are scarce, then they concentrate at what they're best at. And so the eagle and the osprey are better at different things. A osprey, by the way, is a long distance migrant. They migrate all the way down into South America and at least for the majority of them do. The young ones, maybe not that far. And the bald eagle usually only migrates only a few hundred miles.
MCCLESKEYNow, go ahead.
OGLEI was going to say something about the bald eagle too is that in our area we seem to have three different populations, kind of along the lines of what John was saying earlier about the Mid-Atlantic. So we have kind of a homebody population that lives here all year long, one that's up in the Northeast and comes down here during the winters. Our population on Mason Neck, for instance, increases during the winter. And then down along the Potomac River at Caledonia State Park, for instance, there's a summering population that breeds there. And they fly back down South for the winter. So it's real interesting crossover.
MCCLESKEYWell, we've been talking a lot about birds as Jim mentioned. And Jim, thank you so much for your call. I do want to get back to some other animals and other types of wildlife, but first, a couple of more points on birds. We received an email from Meg who says her sister in Vienna, Va., has a pair of owls in her trees this year. And she says, "and they really do say who cooks for you."
OGLEThat's what I was trying to say earlier, couldn't you tell?
MCCLESKEYWell, there you go. Meg picked right up on that. Also, an email from Scott regarding a large bird. HGe says, "a wild turkey was in a tree last Sunday, directly across from Arena Stage. No idea how it got there. How common are wild turkeys?"
OGLEAnecdotal in the sort of in the city. But just outside the city, it's not uncommon to see them. And in fact, interestingly, the place that I've seen the most often is at Turkey Run along the GW Parkway.
OGLENot that they're common there but I've seen them there a couple times and the other day I was driving up into New England. And along New Jersey, along I-95, a turkey flew right over the road. That's rather odd -- interesting.
OGLEJust 50 yards or so.
MCCLESKEYVery low. Well, one more bird note. An email from Randy, he says, "Help me provide bird housing for anybody but the sparrows." They've taken over his yard in Herndon. He said even bats would be better. So if your yard is taken over by sparrows, any idea how to bring in some other birds?
RAPPOLEWell, you put us in a difficult position here. I mean, so there are some birds that are better than others. Sparrows, certainly, I assume the callers or the writer is speaking about house sparrows which introduce species who've been here for a hundred years or so now. And they start nesting earlier than a lot of the other whole nesting species around here. So they do get into places. As they're building the nests, you can remove the nests and then they'll go someplace other, presumably. But they do compete with things like blue birds and chickadees and things that other whole nesting species. But one bird is as good as another for some people.
MCCLESKEYIndeed. Since Randy's not on the phone, we can't ask him, but perhaps saying just a little variety might be more interesting in his yard. I don’t know if he's necessarily anti-sparrow. I'm talking with John Rappole. He's author of "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual." Also Martin Ogle, chief naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, Va. And we do want to get back to more of your calls about wildlife around the Washington region. And we will do that just on the other side of a break. I'm Matt McCleskey, sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi, the local host of Morning Edition, here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in for Kojo. And we will continue this conversation, just on the other side, thanks for listening.
MCCLESKEYWelcome back. I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi, and we're talking about while life this spring in the Washington region with Martin Ogle, chief naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, Va., and John Rappole, author of "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual." He's also a research scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center.
MCCLESKEYAnd I want to get right back to the phones. We've talked a lot about birds in the last few minutes, but there are other animals, of course, that are visible this spring and making their way back out into nature after the winter. Let's start with Craig calling from Suitland Parkway in Maryland. Craig, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CRAIGHi, how you doing today?
MCCLESKEYDoing great, thanks.
CRAIGI'm a sailor. I sail the Chesapeake Bay just like south of the Bay Bridge, and I was out last spring and I thought I saw what appeared to be a River Otter swimming across the bay, and I was just wondering if it's a possibility that could have been what I saw.
MCCLESKEYOkay. River Otters. Have we encountered them in our area?
OGLEYeah. River Otters are native to Virginia. In fact, other than around urban-suburban areas, they could be found just about anywhere, and they are found all over parts of the Chesapeake. Swimming across the bay would be an interesting one. I don't know what kind of movements they have, but they can be found on the lower title Potomacs and James Rivers, Rappohannock, et cetera.
MCCLESKEYAll right. So it could well have been an otter, Craig.
CRAIGOh, great. Good to know. Thanks a lot.
MCCLESKEYThank you. What about beavers, for example? I've seen certainly evidence of beavers hiking out along the Potomac, on Billy Goat Trail you'll occasionally see the tree with the conical narrowing where they've chewed it down. Do we have a lot of beavers, John Rappole?
RAPPOLEYes. It's interesting in that species like the turkey, the otter, the beaver, Martin was just talking during the break about mink, they were species that were in large parts of the Mid-Atlantic that were completely trapped or hunted out, and they've just only begun to come back within the last 30, 40 years where we now have -- well, some areas, of course, beavers and so forth were always common, but the other areas that were completely extirpated. And so they're coming back and they're found in a larger and larger part of the region.
MCCLESKEYWhat does it take for the population to be able to come back? What' leading to that?
RAPPOLEWell, in some cases, it takes reintroduction as has been done with ospreys and peregrine falcons and bald eagles. If they're completely -- if they're wiped out, you have to bring them back from someplace where they still exist. In other cases, like the Canada goose, which is another species, we used to think of Canada geese basically as migratory. They would come through, but now they're here as residents, and in some cases there were reintroductions that were involved, and in other cases they probably reintroduced themselves.
MCCLESKEYAll right. Well, let's go back to the phones. Thomas calling from Fairfax, Va. Thomas, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THOMASThank you. As a wildlife lover, I've just got one question and a comment. I live in Fairfax City, which is pretty heavy populated except for one cul-de-sac I live off, and it's nothing to wake up and see a deer or fawn, and I noticed last year there was a fox that had a couple of pups, and they ended up in my backyard late one evening, and I guess the mother was trying to train them how to catch these rabbits, and it was about four or five rabbits, and these two pups were trying to chase them, and it was quite the comic to watch them.
THOMASBut it's amazing the wildlife that we have in this area. But one question is, there's a stream that runs right beside my house, and there's two ducks. I think they're Wood Ducks. I don't know, they may be Squealers. But every year they always come back. Is it a chance that it could be the same two ducks that come and (unintelligible) in this particular stream?
MCCLESKEYJohn Rappole, do ducks return to the same nesting sites?
RAPPOLEWhat happens with -- it depend on now what we're talking about. Probably they could be Mallards, they could be Wood Ducks. It depends on where the caller exactly is located, but ducks are interesting in that the females home to the place where they bred, the males follow the females back. So they've -- if they migrate south, some of ducks are actually resident year round here, some of the Mallards in any case, and they may maintain a pair bond all year. So it could be the same pair.
RAPPOLEBut if they migrate south, they'll pair during the winter. The female will select a male and the male will accompany her back to the place where she bred the previous year.
THOMASYeah. Well, these aren't Mallards, so I'm assuming they're probably a Wood Duck, but every year about the same time, within the week or two, I look up and they're back out in their little pond of water just loving life.
OGLEJust to see if they are Wood Ducks, they're fairly distinctive in that the female is kind of drab looking but has a white spot around the eye, and then the male is very colorful. It is the most colorful North American duck. So if it fits that description, it's probably the Wood Duck.
THOMASThat's it. Well, I sure appreciate your comments.
MCCLESKEYAll right. Well, thanks so much for your call, Thomas. We appreciate it. You know, we haven't talked this hour about fish very much. We do have another call from Virginia, John in Manassas, calling about spawning Gar Pike. John what have you seen?
JOHNWell, I wanted to recommend Leesylvania State Park, and specifically Powell's Creek with Leesylvania rents canoes, and if people go to Leesylvania, rent a canoe, make a nice trip. Wait until about mid-May. If they peddle all the way up Powell's Creek to near Route 1, in about 18 inches of water they can see Gar up to near 20 pounds and nearly five feet long spawning in about 12 to 18 inches of water. It's really a sight to see. You'll also see numerous Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Cormorants, Beavers, Otters. So I would highly recommend a canoe trip at Leesylvania, very reasonably priced.
MCCLESKEYWell, I've certainly, having gotten out on the Potomac and done some kayaking and canoeing, can say it's a great way to see wildlife and the natural environment. Martin Ogle, at your park what do you have in the way of events planned to get outside, whether it's in a canoe or otherwise.
OGLEWell, our staff at Potomac Overlook is the naturalist staff for the Park Authority, and so we do not only programs at the park, but also at others, and the canoe trips that the caller just mentioned, we also hold canoe trips at Pohick Bay Regional Park, and they're starting on the 29th of April is our first one, and they can call us to make reservations. We also have other talks and walks and hikes and things, and we have an event that occurs every Sunday afternoon, and it's a much more informal thing meant to just encourage families to get outside, and it's called Meet Me on a Sunday, and we encourage people just to come out to the park on a Sunday afternoon and see a number of exhibits and talk to a naturalist and otherwise enjoy the park.
MCCLESKEYMm-hmm. Well, have you see wildlife by boat or perhaps from the trail? Give us a call and let us know what you look out for and where you like to go to see wildlife. 800-433-8850 is the number. 800-433-8850. You can also email to email@example.com. I want to go to Jenny now in Frederick, Md. Jenny, good afternoon.
JENNYHi, thanks for the show. My question is, we've seen a bird that we can't identify. We looked in both the Eastern and Western Peterson Field Guides, and we managed to take several photographs. The bird acts like a male protecting a nest. I was wondering if somebody locally could help us identify this bird.
MCCLESKEYWell, perhaps. John Rappole has written the book on identifying birds and other wildlife. So what would ask, John?
RAPPOLEWell, what's the color, what's the size?
JENNYIt's slightly bigger than a robin. It has a red breast very much like a robin, but it has a slightly different shaped beak, more pointy like it eats, you know, it digs around, and then the head is mottled. It's sort of white or off white, kind of mottled around with, you know, brownish-gray.
RAPPOLEIt's not clicking right at the moment here.
MCCLESKEYWell, let me ask you another question, to turn it around a little bit. If people are getting out and wanting to have a guide perhaps with them, but leafing through a book might be one potion, or if they have a Smartphone, are there apps that people can use to take with them and help to try to identify birds or other wildlife?
RAPPOLEYes. There are apps. There's an app that Peterson Field Guide puts out, and there's an app that the Sibley Guide puts out for birds, both of these, and there's also a lot -- there are many other resources on the Internet that you can use for help and identification in terms of vocalization and so forth.
MCCLESKEYAnd if you were to -- where could you send Jenny perhaps for help in terms of where perhaps she might send her picture or to compare her picture to other possibilities?
RAPPOLEShe might try the Audobon Naturalist Society, but I think if you were to bring Martin a picture, Martin could identify if for you. I'm not -- I'm sure that the picture would be easily identifiable.
MCCLESKEYAll right, Jenny. Well, thanks for your call. Maybe one of your parks in Maryland could also help with a Naturalist there. Let's go to Pete on Solomon's Island in Maryland. Pete, thanks so much for calling us.
PETEHey, yeah. I just thought I'd share a story. I brought my boat back from Hooper's Island the other day down here and I saw a dolphin, and I see them frequently in summer, and I just had never seen one at this time of year, and I thought your audience might be curious to find out that there were dolphins so close to Washington D.C. I think it's a little counterintuitive to hear Washington D.C. and dolphins in the same sentence.
MCCLESKEYWell, but I guess.
PETEOr porpoise, excuse me.
MCCLESKEYWell, John Rappole, I guess we are very close to the estuary that's both salt and fresh water coming in there. Is it unusual to see a porpoise?
RAPPOLEI would not know, but I would think that it's not necessarily unusual, especially with the warm weather we have, and the water's warming up.
MCCLESKEYAnd Pete, you say it's more usual to see them in summer time?
PETEOh, yeah. We see tons of them, and they actually came almost into the harbor a couple years ago, I don't know, a couple dozen of them. So it's -- maybe if people can get out a little bit and travel and not have to go as far, and they can see some pretty cool stuff close to the beltway.
MCCLESKEYIndeed. That's exactly what we're talking about this hour, so thanks so much for your call. We do appreciate it. And let's go now to see what someone else has been seeing recently. Erik from the Eastern Shore in Maryland. Erik, you're on the air. Thanks so much.
ERIKYes. I moved over to the Eastern Shore about a year and a half ago, and one of the great things is that the (word?) of wildlife here, birds particularly, and I just saw, just the other day, two Bald Eagles, they're easy to recognize in a tree up by Route 50, and I wanted to know if the situation is improving in this area for them. That's my question, but I've also seen a pileated woodpecker, I saw a horned owl and ospreys, it's just great. It's actually -- and you see them in everyday course of events.
MCCLESKEYAll right. Well, Erik, a little bit earlier we did talk about -- in this immediate Washington area, the number of bald eagles going up, but there on the Eastern Shore, John Rappole, is the same thing holding true over there?
RAPPOLEYes, I think it is. I think that the bald eagles are increasing throughout the region.
MCCLESKEYAnd do we see typically different -- are there variations in terms of the species that one might see on the Eastern Shore as opposed to here in the Washington area due to flight-ways or any other reasons?
RAPPOLEYes. You get a lot of things on the Eastern Shore that you wouldn't see in the D.C. area. For one thing, although Peregrine Falcons are not rare here, during migration they're abundant along the Eastern Shore, and of course, a huge Shorebird migrations and so forth. So yes, there's quite a difference.
MCCLESKEYThanks for your call, Erik. And Martin Ogle, you had a response?
ERIKThanks a lot.
OGLEYeah. I was gonna say about the Bald Eagles, before I came to work for the Park Authority, I was working on a Bald Eagle project through Virginia Tech on the Bay. We were actually stationed up near the Northern Bay, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and it was just then when the Bald Eagles were starting to make their comeback, and now it's not unusual at all to see them anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic and along the Chesapeake in particular. So nowadays you can pretty sure to see a Bald Eagle if you go to one of the hotspots, whereas, you know, it used to be a rare treat.
MCCLESKEYAll right. Let's go to Samuel calling us from Washington. Samuel, you're on the air. Go ahead. Thanks.
SAMUELYes. Regarding the wild turkeys we see in the area, are they true wild turkeys, or are they feral domestic turkeys?
RAPPOLEThey're true wild turkeys.
SAMUELI see. Thank you.
MCCLESKEYThank you. Do we ever see feral domestic turkeys that take up and go wild?
RAPPOLEI would never say never...
RAPPOLE...but I think it would be highly unusual.
MCCLESKEYOkay. So they're the original wild turkey?
OGLEPlus the domestic turkey I usually think of as being white and kind of bred out as opposed to anything near looking like a wild turkey.
MCCLESKEYYeah. Wild turkeys are much -- I don't want to use the word stringy, but maybe, they're thinner.
OGLEYes. Sleek and colorful.
MCCLESKEYMm-hmm. All right. Let's got to Eileen calling us from Charles County in Maryland. Eileen, you're on the air. Thanks for the call.
EILEENThank you for taking the call. This is not the typical question about white-tailed deer, so I'm so glad that you went ahead and took it. We live on farm surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods, and it's a mixed area. There are some housing developments as well. We see lots of deer and lots of fawns, and this last summer, late summer, early fall, we began to notice that we were seeing fawns dead by the side of our driveway, which is about a half a mile long. All the fawns, five of them, were over a period of about a month, late August, early September.
EILEENWe learned that it was probably something called EHD, which is apparently a disease that's spread by tiny insects that bite fawns and cause them to die, and I wondered -- I understand that this disease is very sporadically appears in various places, and I guess it's much more common in the western states, but is there any increase in this disease or are you familiar with it?
MCCLESKEYAre either of you familiar with this EHD?
OGLEI'm not, and probably the best people to ask about something like that would be the Wildlife officers in the respective counties, and either directly employed by a county or through the game and fish divisions in those counties.
MCCLESKEYAnd John Rappole, any idea?
RAPPOLEI think that's a good suggestion. The deer -- part of these disease problems come from the fact that our deer populations have skyrocketed too.
RAPPOLESo we have high populations, they become more susceptible to disease, and they also spread it more rapidly.
MCCLESKEYAll right. Well, thanks for your call, Eileen. We very much appreciate it. We got to wrap this hour. I've been talking with John Rappole, the author of "Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual." He's a research scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center as well, and is the author of 11 other books, including "Birds of the Mid-Atlantic Region" and "The Ecology of Migrant Birds." Thanks so much for joining us.
MCCLESKEYAnd also, Martin Ogle, chief naturalist at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, Va. Thank you for being on the show.
OGLEThanks for having us too.
MCCLESKEY"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Diane Vogel, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff with help from Kathy Goldgeier, A.C. Valedez, and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5 filling in today for Kojo, and thanks for listening.
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