Sunday Eagle Bike Safari

It feels like February again but that didn’t stop me from a meander on my Cross Check. I rode into Old Town along the Mount Vernon Trail craning my neck at the bald eagle nests and trying not to ride off the trail into the river or into a tree. I managed to survive. None of the nests had any eagles visible nearby. When I turned south, I rode past Fort Hunt Park and I got lucky.

For those who know the trail, there are three nests between the stone bridge at Alexandria Avenue – where you cross over the GW Parkway and Old Town. Nest #1 is the Belle Haven nest. It is about 200 yards south of the Porto Vecchio condo building on the opposite side of the parkway from the trail and the river. It is the easiest nest to spot. It is also not occupied. Eagles frequently hang out in the tree. This happens most often at sunrise.

Nest #2 is the Tulane Nest. This one is located about 1/2 mile south of the Dyke Marsh boardwalk/bridge. It is after you pass the Tulane Drive exit. This nest is on the left after you cross two short bridges in quick succession. You’ll see a dirt patch on the ride side of the trail. Pull off and start looking into the trees on the river side of the trail. It’s massive.

Nest #3 is the Fishing Hole Nest. Heading south from the Tulane nest, the trail goes through a series of slight curves. At one point there are park benches along the river. This is what I call the fishing hole because I often see people fishing here. There are a couple of small islands a stone’s throw from the riverbank. You’ll see a nest in one of them. I think this is an osprey nest.

Nest #4 is the Morningside Nest. This one is located near the Morningside Lane exit of the parkway. As you head south from the fishing hole, you cross two bridges then start a slow climb. At the top of the climb and before the nest wooden bridge you will see a dirt patch off the right side of the trail. Pull off and look into the trees between the trail and the river. This nest is bigger that the fishing hole nest but smaller than the Tulane nest.

Nest #5 is the Fort Hunt Nest. This one is another massive one. Ride about 2 miles south of the Morningside Nest. The trail crosses the parkway at the stone bridge and cuts back under the parkway at Fort Hunt. You’ll climb a small hill and then cross a wooden bridge. Look in the trees above the trail. Twice I’ve seen bald eagles hanging out here. Today I saw this one.

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Another hundred yards south of the bridge you will notice that the right hand side of the trial becomes steep. Stop and look into the trees across the parkway. If you are lucky you’ll see a massive nest. That’s probably the home of our little friend.

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You can cheat and spot the nests and birds the way I do: look for the people with the gigantic lenses on their cameras. That’s how I found today’s eagle and nearly every nest.

Bonus nest: If you feel like getting way from the trail, ride Collingwood Road west for 1 1/2 miles. Collingwood turns hard to the right and becomes Parkers Lane. Continue about 1/4 mile down Parkers until you see the softball fields at the middle school. One of the light stanchions has a massive osprey nest in it. Also, you will have just ridden by a horse farm where an injured bald eagle was captured for rehabilitation last week.

If you wait a few months the trees will have leaves and the nests will be much harder to find. So get riding. If you are really lucky, you might even spot the elusive Rootchopper known to fly ever so slowly with his rubber side down.

A Walk to the Morningside Nest

Bike riding is excellent exercise. It has one shortcoming; it is not weight bearing. After 150 miles of bike commuting, I could use a little change of pace. Today, I decided to go for a long walk.

The Morningside bald eagle nest on the Mount Vernon Trail is about 2 1/2 or 3 miles from my house. Off I went with my hiking boots on. Even with the brisk pace I set, things move by so slowly compared to cycling. For that matter, things more slowly compared to distance running. I arrived at the nest eventually. I call it the Morningside nest because it is situated on the Mount Vernon Trail across from the Morningside Drive exit from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Morningside Nest

This time of year, when the trees have no leaves, the nest is relatively easy to spot. In a couple of months it will be almost completely obscured by green. The nest is in a tree that is about 30 yards from the trail. I brought my Canon EOS Rebel camera with a decent zoom lens. I was hoping to see an eagle at the nest but that didn’t happen so I took a picture or two of the nest and walked on. Not 100 feet later I spotted an eagle about 100 yards away, perched in a tree beyond the nest tree at the waterline of the river. (You can’t call it a riverbank here because the Potomac is tidal here; the river’s edge varies quite a lot.)

Thanks to the zoom lens on the camera I actually was able to get a semi-decent picture of the eagle. As soon as I snapped the pic, the eagle launched and headed downriver.
I kept walking and spotted a big woodpecker, maybe 12 inches in length, working on a distressed tree. I tried to get a picture but, not being at the top of the food chain, he flew off as soon as he spotted me.

Morningside Resident Bald Eagle

I continued walking to the Dyke Marsh bridge then reversed course. I took a few more pics of the nest. Now with a blue sky in the background I thought I could get a better picture.

Morningside Nest

I waited for the eagle to return but after 15 minutes I gave up and headed for home. Being used to covering my route home by bike the walk seemed interminable. It didn’t help much that my bum left knee was sending electric shocks into my leg every few minutes.

Despite the knee zaps, I made it home with the feeling that I had redeemed my weekend of couch surfing.  It will be interesting to see how my legs feel when I saddle up for the ride to work in the morning

The pix are here.