Family Matters at Dyke Marsh

Now that spring has finally sprung, I look forward to our walks at my favorite local place to watch the seasons turn: the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. Just south of Old Town Alexandria along the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, Dyke Marsh does have its scrappy patches, the old wounds still visible and, in places, growing. Still, there is something about that place. For one, this remnant of freshwater wetlands is a birdwatcher’s dream–in spring, especially, when fuzzy ducklings brave the Potomac, and baby ospreys hatch.

Duckling in Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Ready for the plunge

When George Washington surveyed this area in 1749, he deemed this a “fine improvable marsh,” and, in the course of two centuries since, the marsh was almost “improved” to death, with dikes (“dykes” in Colonial times), croplands, and dredging for gravel. An Act of Congress finally designated Dyke Marsh a wildlife preserve, “so that fish and wildlife development and their preservation as wetland wildlife habitat shall be paramount.” Over the past 50 years, the marsh and the swamp forest that lines it have been healing, slowly, an uphill battle.

The preserve can be enjoyed on foot, bike, canoe, or kayak. We usually walk, parking by the Belle Haven Marina and then strolling along the Haul Road trail.

Dyke Marsh trailThe trail leads you to the river and the marsh. Piers jot out occasionally, serene views intact.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge view from Dyke Marsh, Alexandria, VA

By one of the piers, an osprey nest is a perennial favorite.

Osprey building a nest, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Home improvement

Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, osprey

Coming home

Osprey out for food, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Out for food

Osprey perched, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Perched and ruffled

Osprey, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve


The view is not forcefully idyllic. Browns predominate, and constant human activity is evident across the river.

At Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

But just look closer: Dyke Marsh is a crucial foothold for over 300 species of plants and scores of amphibians, reptiles, mammals–and, of course, birds.

Dyke Marsh cattails

Abandoned shell, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

An abandoned shell

Friends of Dyke Marsh, a volunteer organization that helps the National Parks Service ensure the well-being of this place, leads free birdwatching walks every Sunday at 8 am. Here are some cursory bird sightings to whet your appetite.

Red-winged blackbird, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Red-winged blackbird, posing

Silhuette of an eastern kingbird, Dyke Marsh

Silhouette of an eastern kingbird

Great Blue Heron, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

A heron, wading

Heron flying, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

A heron flying in the morning mist

Double Crested Cormorant, Dyke Marsh

A double crested cormorant [as an old man]

Tree swallow, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

A tree swallow, at a momentary rest

Swallow attacking crow, Dyke Marsh

Crow vs. swallow

Grackle attacking a turkey vulture, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

A feisty grackle attacking a much larger turkey vulture

In late spring, ducks are my favorites to watch.

Duck in a tree, Dyke Marsh

The tree duck

Duck nest under a pier, Dyke Marsh

A spartan duck nest

Duck family, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

The grand outing

Ducklings, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Soft balls of sunshine

Ducklings, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

The three musketeers

Duckling swimming, Dyke Marsh

“Just keep swimming”

I love Dyke Marsh. Do come and visit it, gently.

Bird at Dyke Marsh Wildlife PreserveNearby in Old Town Alexandria:

Nature escapes in the DC area:

21 thoughts on “Family Matters at Dyke Marsh

    • It really is a lot of fun. They are so fuzzy and awkward, and the parents are so overbearing, watchful, and anxious. I try not to think of the inevitable losses. But, on a sunny day like that, that is easy to do.

  1. Great shot of the heron. You must have a good telephoto. I am forever trying to get a good heron shot, and they spook so easily. I think that birds were put on earth to vex rookie photographers like me. ~James

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