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.
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.
By one of the piers, an osprey nest is a perennial favorite.
The view is not forcefully idyllic. Browns predominate, and constant human activity is evident across the river.
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.
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.
In late spring, ducks are my favorites to watch.
I love Dyke Marsh. Do come and visit it, gently.
- Old Town Alexandria: Walking the “Old & Historic District”
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon: An American Celebration
- Apron Envy: George Washington’s Masonic National Memorial
- Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum: Dragon’s Blood with your Mercury?
Nature escapes in the DC area: