When I first started bird watching in 1996, I read numerous accounts of the rarity of Mourning and Connecticut Warblers. After finding a hotspot for these species in 1998, I realized that they aren’t really that rare. Since these skulking species can be hard to locate and see, however, I still enjoy the challenge of looking for them.

I have seen approximately 30 Mourning Warblers and 25 Connecticut Warblers at Wakefield Park, which is located in Northern Virginia. I have seen both species on the same day. I saw 3 Connecticut Warblers, 2 Philadelphia Vireos, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a Wilson’s Warbler on one memorable fall morning there in 1999. A Mourning Warbler spent at least 50 days there during the spring and summer of 2004. It was first seen on May 9. It spent the next several weeks defending a territory along the edge of the powerline cut, singing throughout the day well into June. The amount of singing began to decline by the middle of June. After the solstice, it was very difficult to locate the bird, which sang just a little at dawn. It was last seen on June 27. Four Mourning Warblers were seen at Wakefield during the spring of 2005, when a late Winter Wren was observed singing between May 8 and June 1.

This photo shows the trail along the powerline cut in October 1999. In 1998 and 1999, this area was good for warblers when the early morning sun lit up the edge from the left. The habitat was more favorable in 1998 since the trees to the left of the trail were smaller (allowing more light on the edge) and the trail itself was more overgrown and weedy along the edge. Here is a summary of some of the sightings at Wakefield in 1998:

Mourning Warbler: May 23, 24(2), 25, 26; Sept. 6, 12, 13, 26(2)
Connecticut Warbler: Sept. 2, 8, 10, 12(2), 13(2), 26, 27; Oct. 3, 12

The numbers were similar in 1999. Due to disturbances in the powerline cut, the habitat degraded for a few years, rebounded slightly in 2004 (when Yellow-breated Chats returned), but has gone steadily downhill since then. By October 2007, what was once a hot-spot similar to the trails at Cape May (both in terms of appearance and productivity for Connecticut and Mourning Warblers) was reduced to this. For the past several years, the powerline company has been managing the powerline cut by planting grass and using herbicides to kill saplings, which has turned what used to be a meadow rich with many species of plants and birds into a wasteland. Many of the Connecticut Warbler sightings were in this area, which was loaded with ragweed and pokeweed in 1998 but is now covered with grass. Despite the degeneration of the habitat in the powerling cut, there remains good habitat along the creek.

To get to Wakefield Park, take Braddock Road west about 1/4 mile from the Capital Beltway and turn right into the park. Take the access road to the last parking lot and park near the tennis courts. The trails along the west side of the powerline cut are good for Connecticut Warblers in the fall. The trails that run along Accotink Creek (in the woods to the west of the powerlines) are also good for Connecticut and Mourning warblers. This park is also good for Gray-cheeked Thrush and other thrushes. Relative to other locations in the region, it has unusually large numbers of Nashville, Canada, and Wilson’s Warblers as well as Philadelphia Vireos. Rubber boots are recommended, especially if there has been recent rain.