Winter Waterfowl Survey
The ASNV Winter Waterfowl Count is conducted in February. Volunteer teams survey the Potomac River from Algonkian Regional Park in Loudoun County south to Quantico Marine Base in Prince William County. Several important inland ponds, lakes, and marshes are also surveyed.
Tolerable weather conditions greeted those volunteers who participated in the annual Audubon Society of Northern Virginia Winter Waterfowl Count conducted on Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5. Weather reports predicting snow or a wintry mix on Sunday failed to materialize to the delight of survey teams headed out to count waterfowl that day.
A major highlight was the number of Northern Pintails tallied during the count weekend. The birds were concentrated at Ft. Belvoir and Quantico Creek as in some previous years, but in numbers well above those since the survey began in 2008. The best count the survey has produced has been over 300 birds. The 2017 survey documented over 900 Northern Pintails with the distribution evenly divided between Pohick Bay at Ft. Belvoir and Quantico Creek.
Belmont Bay hosted many waterfowl during the count, to include over 5,000 Lesser Scaup, 700 Gadwall, smaller, but still impressive contingents of American Wigeons, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and representatives of all three merganser species. It was quite a spectacle for those present except when eyes began to water and glaze over from viewing so many birds. Observers found Ring-necked Ducks in good numbers at Riverbend and Great Falls, a traditionally excellent location for viewing this species, and also in the Meadowood area at Mason Neck. Common Goldeneyes are not easy to find, but it seems that a few of them are present between Turkey Run and the American Legion Bridge nearly every winter.
Tundra Swans were spread out between the Great Marsh and Quantico during the count this year. I now believe that the birds change locations with the tides and move around to feed and rest. The birds always seem to be at a reduced presence at the Great Marsh during low tide. Double-crested Cormorants, not by definition waterfowl species, but certainly a “water bird,” seem to be increasing in northern Virginia waterways during the winter according to both Christmas Bird Count and Winter Waterfowl Count data. As for other water birds, both Pied-billed Grebes and Horned Grebes were reported in decent numbers in 2017, with the latter species seemingly holding a convention of nearly a dozen birds in Occoquan Bay during the count weekend.
There were no big surprises during this year’s count, except for the perplexingly low numbers of Green-winged Teal that our observers continue to report. However, there were notable rarities documented during the count, consisting of a Greater White-fronted Goose and a Cackling Goose at Lake Fairfax near Reston and a second Cackling Goose at Burke Lake.
During the 2017 count, a volunteer collected data from western Prince William County, providing coverage for a new area in northern Virginia. That information is listed under column 20. I also included data that Fred Atwood provided for a survey he did in King George County for the second consecutive year. That data is listed under column 31. To compare data from 2016 and 2017 with totals from previous years for northern Virginia only, just deduct that column from the chart.
Larry Cartwright, Compiler
An article about Winter waterfowl mating can be found here.