Fauquier’s Top Birding Spot in 2016: C.M. Crockett Park

 

Have you birded C.M. Crockett Park? It definitely is a birding hot spot. Records in the eBird database show that 168 species have been found at this park.

It is worth the effort to travel to this park as it has a number of bird habitats within its boundaries.There is a large man-made lake in the center, Germantown Lake (named for the town that was submerged when the lake was created). Great Blue Herons can be found at the edge of the lake often. On occasion, Ospreys and Bald Eagles can be spotted fishing the lake or perched in the trees. Rare visitors, include seagulls, grebes, and terns. Of course, you will likely see some Canada Geese on the lake.

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There is a large grassland area at the top of the parking area. At the edge of the grassland, there is a small woodlands section. The grassland is busy during breeding season. There are numerous Indigo Buntings, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, swallows and more. The woodlands section hosts Carolina Wrens and Chickadees year around. During breeding season, Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be spotted in the woods although often they are only heard calling.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoos have also been spotted in the parking area. The trees that are in the parking lot are surprisingly productive for birding at times. Neotropical migrants can be found in these trees. During breeding season the Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds, are often in the trees in this area. This past spring, a Prothonotary Warbler turned up in the parking lot…a rare visitor to this area.

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At the bottom of the parking lot is the entrance to a circular trail around a field with picnic areas. There are trees in the picnic areas and on the perimeter. Finally, there is a large woodland area on the far end of park behind the outdoor amphitheater. When there are few people, this area makes for productive birding.

Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Nuthatches and Brown Creepers have been observed in the trees in the picnic area. Most of the woodland species can be spotted occasionally in the picnic area. If you venture into the woods, there is a greater chance to see neotropical migrants during spring and fall migration. Also, this is where you will find the Wood Thrushes, Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees during breeding season.

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eBird Stats for C.M. Crockett Park

2016 – 143 species seen between January 2016 and August 3, 2016
During the last 10 years, eBird shows 168 species have been observed

Personal Observations for Period of July 2015 to August 2016

Mysterious Disappearance of Song Sparrows

Song Sparrows used to be common. I would see them during most visits. For reasons unknown they have almost disappeared. The last Song Sparrow reported to eBird for the park was seen on June 9 by another birder. I have not seen Song Sparrows since March when I spotted one in the parking lot.

Where did the Gray Catbirds Go?

Gray Catbirds showed up in April, however, the last time anyone reported seeing one was my sighting on May 31. No breeding was seen. The previous year they were seen throughout the summer. Their absence was noticeably and I wonder what caused it. Predation? Did they move on to another area?

Most Successful Breeding Birds

Chipping Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds, and Northern Cardinals. Each species was observed with fledglings throughout the breeding season. Some probably had more than one brood.

Examples of Some Rare Birds Seen Observed Spring 2016

  • Black Tern
  • Palm Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Common Loon

Breeding Failures

  • A group of Purple Martins arrived early in the breeding season, however, the traditional Purple Martin houses (there are two on the farm property at the entrance to the park) were being visited by European Starlings and House Sparrows. The Purple Martins seemed to settle in and did build nests, however, they abandoned these nests with no fledglings seen. The European Starlings and House Sparrows moved right in.
  • A pair of Tree Swallows had an active nest with eggs in an old nest box that was missing its top. There were significant rain storms during this nesting period. This nest failed. Reason unknown. Suspect the major downpours into the nesting box and/or predation with the box being easily accessible from the top.
  • A pair of Northern Cardinals had a nest with young tucked in a tree in the parking lot in a bad spot. This nest failed for unknown reasons but it also was active during the heavy rainstorms. Nest predation could have also left the nest empty

A Domestic Mallard Abandoned in the Park

After Easter, someone apparently dropped off an unwanted juvenile Mallard. Luckily, the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center was able to take it in as it would not have survived on its own. Read the story: Duckling Rescue, Enabling a New Beginning at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

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Bald Eagle Attack on a Great Blue Heron

I did not see how this confrontation began. What I saw was a Great Blue Heron in the lake moving around erratically. At first, I was confused as to what bird I was observing. Then I realized it was a Great Blue Heron. Then suddenly a Bald Eagle swopped down at the heron attacking it. The heron struggled to defend itself with is massive beak. The eagle swopped down a few more times and then appeared to be discouraged by the heron fighting back. However, the eagle landed in a tree and intently watched the heron. The heron swam back to the shore and struggled on to land. It was unable to stand at first and was very wobbly. The eagle started to launch an aerial assault on the heron and eventually landed right next to it on the bank of the lake. They began fighting with their beaks until the eagle again flew up to the tree.

I contacted a conservation officer to see if help could be sent to rescue the injured heron. There was no one able to respond. I also spoke to the staff at the lake who also were not able to respond. I returned the next morning to see if I could find the heron or the eagle. Neither were present. I am guessing that the eagle eventually ate the heron.
Threats to Wildlife at the Park

C.M. Crockett Park is very popular with fishermen. There is a boat launch and you can rent boats seasonally. Fishermen also fish from the banks. Unfortunately, many of these people leave their trash included fishing tackle on the ground here. I am constantly picking up monofilament fishing line.

Other Creatures Found in the Park

The most common animal in the park is the Gray Squirrel. White-tailed deer are rare. I have only seen them inside the park once. Chipmunks are extremely rare. Eastern box turtles can be found occasionally. There are snakes. In 2016, I spotted an adult garter snake and a juvenile copperhead snake. Sometimes, skinks may be seen.

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Garter snake

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Five-lined Skink (juvenile)

Visiting the Park

The best time to visit C.M. Crockett Park is early mornings, especially on weekdays. Also, during winter there are few people. During nice days, you will find the place is often very packed with people having picnics and fishing. It is best to avoid the park at these times as the birds go into hiding and it is often very noisy.

The park is free during off season. Seasonally, there is a charge for non-Fauquier county residents. (On weekdays, during high season, they often do not have anyone collecting fees.)

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