Thursday, April 30, 2009

LOOK FOR: Baltimore Orioles

If you live in the DC area, you've seen a Baltimore Oriole. They're on all the sports paraphernalia. But have you ever actually seen one?

The Orioles logo is, surprisingly, a fairly good estimate of what you're looking for: a bright orange breast and shoulders, with black head, back, wings, and tail. The males are generally a brighter orange than the females.

Orioles migrate to Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America for the winter -- we saw one in Guatemala one February. They come back to this area to breed every spring. And right now, they're building their nests. And the nests are remarkable: rather than resting on top of a branch like most birds' nests, orioles' nests are a long sack that hangs down from the branch.

Orioles often hang out in treetops, which can make them hard to spot. This time of year, you might find them drinking nectar from a tuliptree, or nesting in a sycamore. Because they're so high up, though, the easiest way to spot them is to listen for their distinctive song, then try to find the singer with a pair of binoculars.

Try listening to this recording of the song several times before you head out this weekend, and see if it helps you find one. You may realize they've been in your neighborhood all along.

In your yard: Some people say leaving out fruit will attract orioles, but I've never gotten it to work -- the squirrels run off with it first. What did attract a pair of orioles right down to ground level in our yard several times this week was nesting materials: we left out a pile of old flower stalks broken into pieces, and various birds have been coming to the pile for weeks.

In the wild: Orioles like forest edges more than dense forest. We've seen them in sycamores along Rock Creek and along the Potomac. For a bird's eye view, try stopping for a look if you're crossing one of the high bridges (e.g. Calvert St.) across Rock Creek, or try the bluffs at Scott's Run.

More info:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Welcome to The Natural Capital!

The Natural Capital is a celebration of the wealth of nature right here under our noses in the Nation's Capital. We aim to open your eyes to the amazing plants, animals, and scenery in our region – much of it accessible by public transportation.

Natural Capital is also a concept in environmental economics: the concept that the ecosystem that sustains and surrounds us has inherent, but tragically overlooked, value. We need trees, for example, because they provide clean air and clean water. They are also beautiful, and the beauty of nature has value as well. Which brings us back to the purpose of this blog: getting outside to enjoy it all.

Here's our target schedule:

  • Mondays: a calendar of hiking and other naturalist activities in the coming week offered by organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Audubon Naturalist Society, and several others.

  • Tuesdays: a post highlighting a specific resource that might be helpful to you as you get outside in DC.

  • Thursdays: an item of the week to look for while you're out over the weekend…a flower that's blooming, a bird just back from migration, or other natural phenomena.

On no particular schedule, we will give you musings on miscellaneous outdoorsy topics, updates on local environmental issues, or other things that interest us.

Your authors:

Elizabeth Hargrave spends half her week working as a health policy researcher. That leaves the other half free for hiking, gardening, and boning up on natural history.

Matt Cohen is founder of the eco-landscaping business Matt's Habitats, and a naturalist who leads hikes for several organizations in the DC metro area. He also serves on the board of the Maryland Native Plant Society.

We've been exploring the outdoors together since 2000, and hope to bring you a glimpse of all the wonderful things we've found in the DC area.

Comments? Questions? Ideas for future posts? Contact us at