[va-bird] The Great Marsh of Mason Neck, Frfx Co, 8/25/03

VA BIRDers,
Chip Johnston and I motored out to Mason Neck early this morning for a canoe 
visit into the Great Marsh.  Kudos to Scott Baron who also came up with the 
idea to visit the Great Marsh of Mason Neck. Some of his great birds we also 
noted - and added a few others, too!

Chip (who helps run the sailing school at the Belle Haven/Dyke Marsh marina 
and a an outstanding sailor) and I left the BH dock at about 0615 heading south 
to Mason Neck via the Potomac River.  We encountered the typical 4 gulls and 
2 terns on our first leg along with 4 Bald Eagles flying over the river before 
dawn between Mt Vernon and Ft Belvoir.  We also passed about a dozen Osprey 
that were flying about except for old number "73" sitting out the sunrise on 
green marker #73 about half way between Mt Vernon and Colonial Farm, MD.

We anchored off the mouth of the Great Marsh, lowered the canoe and paddled 
in.  The tide was high upon our entrance into the marsh,.

There are 3 creek arms coming out of the Great Marsh (which helps explain its 
extent) and we explored 2 of those arms.  I am unsure of the area but 
estimate the marsh occupies ca. 300 acres?  (I promise to find out the actual 
number.)  Major marsh plants were cattails (maybe narrow leaf?), spadderdock, 
wild 
rice and phragmites - the latter accounting for about 5% of the area and 
suggests a looming problem.  Lots of other plants mixed in, the best I can 
manage in 
trms of ID is Rose Mallow and a few Willow Trees.  The mouth of the marsh had 
a good SAV mat (submerged aquatic vegetation - used to be called hydrilla) 
which was being used by about 7 Lesser Yellowlegs.  Not too many mosquitos, but 
there were some smaller bugs which were annoying at times in shallow water.  As 
we entered, several species of swallow coursed the air over our heads.

In our travels up the arms we quickly noted a Snowy Egret mixed in with a few 
Great Egrets.  Several Great Blue Herons were about as well as Green Herons.  
As we paddled in, we flushed a few groups of Mallards and noted a few Wood 
Ducks and 3 Blue-winged Teal were mixed in.  As we pushed further into the 
marsh, larger groups of Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal would take flight, with 
a 
few Green Heron mixed in.

We noted 4 Bald Eagles over and near the marsh, including one rather large HY 
bird which hung out on a old snag tree on the forest line close to the nest 
site - undoubtably waiting for ma and da to bring brunch!

Several good sized groups of Red-winged Blackbirds were noted as well as two 
Bobolinks calling from somewhere out of sight in the air.  Near our furthest 
penetration of the marsh we heard a King Rail close to the shoreline.  This is 
the area where the largest flocks of Blue-winged Teal were noted.

On our return back to our "shuttle craft" we encountered a Northern Harrier 
foraging over the marsh. Cannot say if it was young or old, but it was a 
magnificent vision flying just over the vegetation tops, occasionally hidden 
from 
our sight.  A fine August sighting!

Here is a list summarizing the species we observed.

Kurt Gaskill

DC Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 6
Snowy Egret 1
Green Heron 5
Canada Goose 125
Wood Duck 22
Mallard 26
Blue-winged Teal 30
Osprey 4
Bald Eagle 4: 2 ad, 1 HY, 1 2nd yr
No. Harrier 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
King Rail 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Lesser Yellowelegs 7
C. Swift 6
RT Hummingbird 4
No. Flicker 1
Pileated WP 1
EW Pewee 3
E. Kingbird 3
crow sp. 6 (also some distant American Crows)
Purple Martin 6
Tree Swallow 8
No. Rough-winged Sw 14
Bank Swallow 1
Barn Sw 6
Com. Yellowthroat 2
Song Sp 2
Bobolink 2
Red-winged Blackbird ca. 250
Am. Goldfinch 10


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