C&O Canal Association Bird Walk

Today Kurt Schwarz of the Maryland Ornithological Society led a bird walk that started at the Cushwa Basin on the C&O Canal.  In spite of a cold rain and a temperature of forty-five degrees, the hike was both enjoyable and productive.  Most people who hike, bike, or jog on the towpath have tunnel vision and often miss out on the subtleties that nature has to offer.   We would generally include ourselves with this crowd, but today was different.  We stopped, looked, listened, and learned plenty of interesting facts about our feathered friends.

What do you see?

Candee was very enthused about the birds, but I have to admit that I did more people watching and was fascinated that Kurt and several others in group easily spotted (and heard) their quarry.  Using binoculars to locate birds truly is a talent in and of itself and takes a little bit of practice.   We learned to spot a fixed landmark near the bird, such as a forked branch or a patch of colorful leaves, and then finding the bird became much easier when peering through the lenses.  If you look through the binoculars first, you will spend the rest of the day scanning the tress while everyone else has spotted their bird and moved on.

We were especially thrilled to see two Bald Eagles flying on the West Virginia side of the Potomac.  Unfortunately, birds are pretty elusive, and without expensive camera equipment, we managed only to get a picture of the Mute Swan and a Mockingbird.

Can you see him?


The Destroyer: Although beautiful, the Mute Swan poses a threat to native wildlife because it competes for food, territory, and nesting areas.


The Mute Swan (Cygus olor) is a non-native species that is frowned upon by many local bird watchers.  This large aggressive bird has a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters, and has been successfully introduced in North America.    The problem is that they generally overgraze on aquatic vegetation and drive other similarly sized native birds (Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans) off of their nesting grounds.  Watch out!  They’ll even attack people who wander into their territory!



Here’s a list of the birds that we were able to spot today (Kurt saw many more!):

  • Mute Swan
  • Northern Mocking Bird
  • Northern Rough Winged Swallow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • European Starling
  • Killdeer (Will pretend to be wounded to lure predators away from its nest. Its call sounds like Kill-DEEE!)
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Great Egret
  • Mallard
  • Robin
  • Cardinal: male & female
  • Goldfinch
  • Catbird  (Makes a cat-like mewing sound)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Black-Capped Chickadee (Its call sounds like chick-a-dee-dee-dee.)
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Pheobe
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