If most of your time is spent commuting and listening to traffic noise and construction that never seems to end, you may be surprised to learn that the NoVA area is teeming with bird life.
Each spring and fall, migratory birds pass through the Commonwealth along the Atlantic Flyway, where birders can spot all manner of avian life as they stop to rest and refuel. And with 400 species of resident or visiting birds that span tundra swans and bald eagles to woodcocks and wood warblers, there is always a new touch of color, striking patterns, and birdsong to enrich our lives.
Getting into birding requires just a handful of bare essential items. To start, grab a guidebook and binoculars — guides can be found at local libraries, bookstores, or through online apps — and a notebook to jot down sightings. A hat, environmentally friendly insect repellent, and comfortable walking shoes are also helpful.
Once you’re geared up, visit the Virginia Bird & Wildlife Trail to find a birding location near you. Next, look at the checklist of Virginia birds to determine what you’ve seen and heard. For best results, time your visits for early morning or late afternoon — when birds are most active. Bring a friend or join a local club to enhance the experience.
To make your birding hobby take off, try these locations.
The 89-acre plot nestled on the Potomac River, run by the National Park Service, can only be accessed from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Get to the island by a footbridge accessed from the small parking lot. (The bridge is wheelchair-accessible, but the trails are not.) As many as 205 species have been documented here. Arlington
The park features more than 200 identified species across its 1,500 acres, including the Acadian flycatcher, eastern wood pewee, and yellow-billed cuckoo. Stop by the nature center and enjoy accessible trails, boardwalks, and viewing platforms. 3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria
The 2,276-acre refuge was created to protect essential bald eagle nesting, feeding, and roosting habitats. The area is also highlighted by a rookery of more than 1,200 great blue heron nests. Lorton
The 485-acre freshwater tidal wetland at Belle Haven has a flat, paved .75-mile path of pea gravel and boardwalk, where 250-plus species have been spotted. Alexandria
If visiting the region’s most hallowed grounds, you may notice any of the 115 species that have been spotted there, including a peregrine falcon, cedar waxwing, great blue heron, and red-winged blackbird. Arlington
Another double-duty outing is Gravelly Point Park, where those not watching planes fly overhead will have the opportunity to spot 156 species, including the Canada goose, European starling, dark-eyed junco, and hooded merganser. Arlington
Although it’s been undergoing restoration since last December, the pond remains a popular site for 73 species, including black vulture, bald eagle, barn swallow, and northern mockingbird. Arlington
The longstanding Union Civil War fort in Alexandria has had 90 species observed, including the tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, Lincoln’s sparrow, eastern towhee, and yellow-rumped warbler. 4301 W. Braddock Rd., Alexandria
Northern Shenandoah Valley
For those times you want to travel a little farther, head toward Winchester. There, bald eagles can be spotted throughout. A pair is presently nesting in the gardens at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.