The Winter Waterfowl Count sponsored by the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia covers the Potomac River from Algonkian Regional Park in Loudoun County to Quantico Marine Base in Prince William County, as well as many inland bodies of water. The 2018 survey was conducted on Saturday, February 3 and Sunday, February 4.
After a decade of winter waterfowl surveys, a review of the data shows rather well-established patterns for waterfowl distribution in Northern Virginia. Ring-necked Ducks always are highly concentrated at Riverbend Park and Great Falls. During the 2018 count, 735 of the nearly 1,000 reported Ring Necks, or nearly 75 percent, were tallied at these two locations. The Potomac River near Turkey Run has become a reliable area for finding Common Goldeneyes, usually in small numbers. In 2018, volunteers reported 21 of the birds between Turkey Run and Little Falls Dam. Lesser Scaup form huge rafts around the Mason Neck peninsula, with smaller but often significant concentrations found around Fort Belvoir and Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge. The Great Marsh at Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge remains the best location to view Tundra Swans and American Black Ducks in winter, but each species has become more distributed between Fort Belvoir and Quantico.
Red-breasted Mergansers were present in extraordinarily high numbers during the 2018 count, with volunteers reporting 222 birds, a new count record. Red-breasted Mergansers are closely related to Common Mergansers but occur more frequently in saltwater and estuaries during winter, whereas Common Mergansers prefer freshwater. Perhaps Red-breasted Mergansers were beginning an earlier than normal spring migration in 2018 or relocating because of deteriorating weather conditions along the coast.
Green-winged Teal continue to be difficult to locate during this survey, although the species is reported to be doing well nationally. Ruddy Ducks were in lower numbers when compared to past years, with only 138 birds reported in 2018, concentrated mostly at Leesylvania State Park. The biggest highlight of the survey was not even a waterfowl, but a water bird that is not reported every year in our area and is so uncommon in northern Virginia that ebird requests written or pictorial documentation of the species. That is the Red-necked Grebe. Three were found this year: one at Algonkian Regional Park, one at Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge, and one at Quantico Marine Corps Base.
Larry Cartwright, Compiler
An article about Winter waterfowl mating can be found here.