I recently had the pleasure of spending time at Mason Neck State Park and was amazed by this slice of heaven minutes away from our Nation’s capitol. I took on a volunteer project that lasted a week allowing me the privilege of spending precious spare time in the depths of this urban forestland. With each opportunity to focus attention to the natural surroundings, I found myself in awe particularly as I gazed across the Potomac River to Woodbridge where house upon house rests and forest is few.
I wondered if those busy souls know about the relaxation that comes so naturally at Mason Neck. Do they take the time to step on a damp forest trail engulfed in birdsong or feel the shadow cast from above by the large broad wings of a Bald Eagle? Do they take the time to notice the sharp, short shrill whistles of the Osprey and recognize it as a harbinger of Spring? I wonder…
This pristine park boasts six “hot spots” on eBird.org, a data collection and information site sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I routinely record my bird sightings but at Mason Neck State Park I found myself nearly unable to count the onslaught of bird calls when I took my initial step outside. This spectacular birding destination rests on a peninsula formed by Pohick Bay on the north, Belmont Bay on the south and the Potomac River on the east. The park property consists of a little over 1,800 acres adjacent to a National Wildlife Refuge bearing the same name of more than 2,000 acres. A little quick math tells me that nearly 4,000 acres of wonderland is set aside for earth’s creatures and amazingly only a half-hour drive south from Washington, DC and less than 8 minutes off I-95.
Stopping off at the park’s picnic ground, I saw four Great Blue Heron silently gliding overhead. The peninsula is known as an active heron rookery along with hosting several nesting Bald Eagles. There are also numerous Bluebird boxes stretching across the open space. My species count for the week totaled 39 but I can’t help the urge to include the amphibious chorus of Spring Peppers rising from the lowlands. As the spring bird migrations approach this forestland of oak, holly and hickory along with several wetlands, it will surely attract a variety of warblers, thrushes, sparrows and variety of duck.
As a birder, it’s always a thrill when a “first” occurs. Mason Neck did not disappoint. My “first” however was not a species ID but a behavior ID. Never in my life have I seen duck in the tree tops but alas Mason Neck State Park is home to a pair of Wood Duck who enjoy perching in a hickory 30’ feet high. Thrice I was treated to this unbelievable observation. Speaking of unbelievable, did I mention the awesome park staff? Superb birding, superb trails and superb caretakers of Mason Neck definitely contribute to the fact Virginia State Parks is named best in the Nation. So get out there and enjoy 75 years of “Family. Friends. Fun.”