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You are here: Home - Birding Sites - DC Sites - Waterfront Corridor


The Washington Waterfront Corridor

Birdwatching in Southwest Washington, D.C.


Tidal Basin/East Potomac Park/Hains Point

Where is it?

The Tidal Basin is that circular pond of water by the Jefferson and FDR Memorials in SW Washington, near the 14th Street Bridge. East Potomac Park is also in SW Washington and borders the Washington Channel on one end, the Potomac River on the other. There is a circular drive around the park, which has picnic areas and a golf course. At the far end is a Hains Point, where you will also find the famed statue Awakening.

When to go

Winter for gulls, loons, grebes, ducks, raptors; shorebirds in migration. However, conditions and the chance of finding gull rarities change dramatically with the weather. In winter, the area is best after about a week of sub-freezing temperatures when the Washington Channel and Potomac River are partially frozen. This may result in a fish kill which attracts large number of gulls.

A nature note: The best guarantor of a fish kill are the following combination of events: (1) late winter, when river herring and gizzard shad prepare for breeding, and (2) a lengthy period of warm temperatures, which gets the ecosystem metabolish going and finally (3) a severe cold snap that quickly freezes the open water. At this point, the fishes are all in a highly active frame of mind, and the the ice cuts off oxygen exchange. This is when we get massive fish kills. -- with thanks to Jim Felley!

After a longer freeze, the birds move down the Potomac, closer to open water. In migration, both spring (April to June) and fall (August to October), shorebirds will be attracted to the golf course after rains that result in water pools and muddy conditions.

Where to go

Check the water in the Tidal Basin, the trees and bushes in the area, nearby fields.

Watch the golf course, and trees along the channel and the greenery at Hains Point.

Search the Washington Channel and the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

What to see

Gulls are present all year round with nearly a thousand to see in daytime, more in the late afternoons when the gulls arrive to roost. The extra visitors are usually gone by dawn. Gulls congregate at the Tidal Basin, the Golf Course, and on the Potomac. Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls begin to arrive in August, with Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls checking in with the arrival of fall. Between January and March is the best time for rarities, with Iceland, Glaucous and Thayer's possible. Lesser Black-backed are frequently present from late September to early April. Visiting October to March gives you the best chance of finding one. Franklin's Gulls may be present summer and early fall, whereas Bonaparte's can be found during April migration. Look for Caspian and Forster's Terns during summer and fall migration.

In the Channel and on the water beyond look for Common Loon and Horned Grebe in March and November. Rarities to watch for include Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe, Brant, Oldsquaw, and all three scoters.

In the trees along the river and in the air in winter, search for accipiters, Bald Eagle, and Merlin.

On the golf course look for Black-bellied Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, peeps, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Common Snipe. American Golden- Plover, Upland Sandpiper, and Ruddy Turnstone have been seen, but are rarer. Cattle Egrets are regular in Spring; Glossy Ibis occasionally reported. Flocks of swallows may be present. During the winter months, the grassy areas have attracted Short-eared Owl, Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks and American Pipits, but these are rare or occasional visitors.

Pay careful attention to opposite shorelines. In 1997, a Snowy Owl was reported from the opposite shore on National Airport property.

1998-2000 Recent and Notable Sightings:

Tidal Basin -- Bald Eagle (3/7/98), Common Loon (3/25/98), Osprey (7/28/98, 4/6/99), Common Nighthawk (8/6/98), Cedar Waxwings (4/6/99), California Gull (1/16/99), Common Loon (3/25/98), Lesser Black-backed Gull (1/16/99, 12/18/99, 12/25/99), Horned Grebe (11/25/99), Caspian Tern (4/22/99), Pied-billed Grebe (12/8/99) Nesting Rough-winged Swallows (3/30/98, 4/23/98, 4/6/99, 5/12/99), Greater Yellowlegs (9/17/99), large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants (4/11/98, 12/99)

East Potomac Park/Washington Channel/Potomac River -- Black-headed Gull (12/21/98), Redhead 3/20/98), Dunlin (5/10/98), Pacific Loon (5/25/98), Franklin's Gull (5/23/99, 9/7/99), Merlin (12/18&28/98, 1/2/99, 1/23& 30/99, 11/12 & 18/99, 12/25 & 29/99, 1/2/00), Bufflehead (1/4/99, 4/12/99), Bald Eagle (12/28/98, 1/99, 11/12 & 18/99, 12/25/99), American Coot (4/13/99), Common and Red-breasted Mergansers (4/10/98), Bonaparte's Gull (4/10/98, 4/13/99), Horned Grebe (1/8/99, 11/99), Lesser Black-backed Gull (12/98, 12/99), Caspian tern (4/10/98, 5/23/99), Double-crested Cormorant (3/37/98, 4/13/99), Common Loon (4/13/99, 11/25/99), Palm Warbler, Peregrine Falcon, Blue-winged Teal, Barn and Rough-winged Swallows (all 4/10/98), Cooper's Hawk (11/8/99), Golden-crowned Kinglet (11/8/99), Osprey (4/13/99), Song Sparrow (4/13/99).

How to get there

By Car: From 15th Street, N.W. drive south. After Independence Avenue, S.W. 15th Street becomes Raoul Wallenberg Place. Continue past the Tidal Basin. Watch for the signs to Ohio Drive, S.W. and East Potomac Park. Turn left of Ohio Drive and proceed to a parking area.

By Metro: Begin from the Smithsonian Station on the Orange or Blue Lines and walk west on Independence Avenue to Raoul Wallenberg Place. Turn left, cross to the Tidal Basin. After you circle the Tidal Basin clockwise, you will cross a small bridge. Turn left at the East Potomac Park sign, walk under the overpass and on down to Hains Point.

Accessibility and Comfort

There is a boardwalk along parts of the park.

Keys

Jefferson Memorial, Smithsonian Institution, FDR Memorial.

 

The Washington Waterfront

Where is it?

The waterfront area is in SW and extends along Water Street, S.W., down past the various seafood restaurants and Potomac River cruise lines to the Harbor Patrol Police headquarters and a river walk beyond. These sites provide alternate views of the Washington Channel. Another area that provides a slightly different view, one of the Anacostia River area, is located at Buzzard Point.

When to go

The area is best in winter, especially after subfreezing weather has frozen over some of the waterways closer to the city center.

Where to go

Search the visible water from any of the accessible piers along Water Street, S.W. and then continue to the Harbor Police Patrol headquarters. From here you can walk through the parking lot to a river walk that continues further up the shore line until the boundary with Fort McNair. From the end of this walk you can scope just about up the entire seawall along Fort McNair. Then head back to Maine Avenue, S.W., which become M Street, S.W. at 6th Street, S.W., heading east until you turn right at 1st Street, S.W.. Continue to the end. This is Buzzard's Point. For a view into James Creek, head back north up 1st Street, S.W. and turn left on V Street, S.W. Make a left on 2nd Street and continue to the end.

What to see

The usual Washington Channel specialties: gulls and waterfowl.

1998-2000 Recent and Notable Sightings: Tufted Duck (2/00), Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull.

How to get there

By car: Take Independence Avenue east to 7th Street, S.W. and turn right. Follow 7th Street past Maine Avenue to Water Street. You can travel left or right from here to visit various points of access. There are pay parking lots and meter parking in the area. The meters must be fed Monday through Friday during working hours, but you can park for free over the weekend. There may be additional free parking on the side streets off and on 7th, 6th and 4th Streets, S.W. Note that Maine Avenue, S.W. becomes M Street, S.W. at 6th Street, S.W.

By Metro: The Waterfront Station on the Green Line is the closest to the area. Walk west along M Street S.W. and Maine Avenue S.W. until your reach 7th Street, S.W. and turn left. Proceed to Water Street, S.W. You can also take 4th Street, S.W. south and turn right down N Street, S.W. or O Street, S.W. for access to the lower Potomac River walk.

Accessibility and Comfort

Food is located along Water Street, S.W. and Maine Avenue/M Street, S.W. There are restrooms in the restaurants. Portions of the pier area and river walk are accessible.

Keys

National Mall Area, Fort McNair, Washington Navy Yard.

 

Fort McNair

Where is it?

This is another vantage point for viewing the Washington Channel from the shore opposite East Potomac Park. The Fort is located in SW Washington. The National Defense University and National War College are located here. You can ask the guard at the gate for permission to enter to bird the area, but be forewarned that you may be asked for military or federal identification to gain access. From Greenleaf Point you can see the area where the Channel and the two Rivers -- Potomac and Anacostia -- meet.

When to go

During winter for waterfowl and gull specialties.

Where to go

Once inside the gate drive straight down 3rd Avenue and turn right on B Street. Proceed to 1st Street, which runs along the Channel. Follow the loop that runs from 1st Street, to D Street Street to E Street and back up 4th Street or 5th Street to B Street and out from 3rd Avenue. Along 1st Street, at the end of 4th Street and and part of 5th Street, you will be very close to the water. Be sure to stay out of any restricted areas and park only where permitted.

What to see

During a recent winter trip the following were noted: Canvasback, Northern Pintail, Lesser Scaup, Canada Geese, Red-breasted Merganser, Tufted Duck. Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were also seen.

1998-2000 Recent and Notable Sightings: Tufted Duck (2/00).

How to get there

By car: From Independence Avenue travel east to 7th Avenue, S.W. and turn right. Continue to Maine Avenue, S.W. and turn left. Follow Maine Avenue until it becomes M Street, S.W. Take the first right at 4th Street and proceed to the T junction at P Street, S.W. and turn left. The next right takes you to the 3rd Avenue gate.

By Metro: Take the Green Line to the Waterfront Station. From M Street walk south down 4th Street, S.W. and follow the directions given above.

Accessibility and Comfort

You may be able to use restrooms in the golf course clubhouse that is also next to the tennis courts. The clubhouse also has a snackbar that was open Sunday midday. Otherwise, for food and restrooms return to the Washington Waterfront area or M Street, S.W. You can bird portions of the base from the road and the parking lots.

Keys

National Mall Area, The Washington Waterfront area, Washington Navy Yard.

 
 
[Anacostia Corridor] [Central Corridor] [Georgetown/American University Corridor]
[National Mall/Foggy Bottom Corridor] [Northeast Corridor]
[Potomac Viewing Corridor] [Washington Waterfront Corridor]