Before they fly south for the winter, go birding at KAG in the fall

By: Kari Cohen

The majority of visitors to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens probably stop by to admire the lotus and lily flowers or use the park as a community amenity for exercise and quiet enjoyment. A growing community of D.C. birders, however, prize Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens for being one of the best birding spots in the city, especially when combined with the neighboring Kenilworth Park. 

 I first discovered the park in the early 2000s when I was a graduate student living in College Park, MD. As a new birder, more experienced birders pointed me to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens as a nearby hotspot. 

Rivaled only by East Potomac Park (Hains Point) for the largest number of species seen in DC, at least 250 bird species have been spotted in the one-two punch of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and Kenilworth Park, which are home to the vast majority of the District’s wetland and grassland habitat, respectively.

A Great Blue Heron at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in the fall. Photo by M. Marquez

Birding visitors to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens swell during spring and fall migration when scores of birds pass through DC en route to either their breeding or wintering grounds. However, wintering sparrows and other songbirds (e.g., orange-crowned warblers often are seen at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in the cold months) and plentiful breeding birds in summer make Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens a top birding spot year-round.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is also an excellent location for spotting rare birds. The DC birding community flocked to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in force this past summer when D.C.’s first Roseate spoonbill, an audacious-looking wading bird more at home in the mangrove swamps of Florida, was spotted from the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens boardwalk. The bird stayed for more than a day before moving on. D.C. birders moved on, as well, sure to return to this unique and valuable site for urban birding.

Roseate Spoonbill: This Roseate spoonbill, D.C.’s likely first on record, spent the day of August 1, 2021 at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Photo Credit to David Amini.

Prior to the onset of the COVID pandemic, the DC Audubon Society frequently led bird walks at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. One of the last pre-pandemic DC Audubon bird walks was at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in late February 2020 when nearly 100 people turned out. It was such a large turnout we had to split up into three groups—one walked the adjacent Anacostia River Trail, one headed for the boardwalk and one birded around the ponds. Getting good looks at Fox and Swamp sparrows, Orange-crowned Warbler and Rusty blackbird were highlights of the day. 

I am grateful for the work that Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Garden does to help ensure a healthy habitat for our birds, and look forward to working together to encourage birding for everyone from the novice and to the expert. 

Hope to see you – and more birds – at the Gardens!

Kari Cohen is a long-time visitor to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, an avid birder and a new donor to the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens! He serves on the board of the DC Audubon Society.

An Orange-crowned Warbler by David Menke

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