Text and photos by David Jonathan Cohen
Two parks – one compact and the other sprawling – offer havens to wildlife in Forest Hills.
Astonishing diversity is dense in Linnean Park. Pieces of four streets mark its perimeter: Broad Branch Terrace, 33rd Street, Linnean Avenue, and Fessenden Street. The park owes its resurgence to daylighting its water, a project that the District of Columbia completed in 2014. It offers a tribute to thoughtful urban ecology, and the vision of neighbor activists who included Forest Hills Connection founder Marlene Berlin.
The three-way intersection of 32nd Street, Fessenden Street, and Broad Branch Terrace adjoins one entrance to Linnean Park. Harrison Street and Linnean Avenue provides the other. Between the two are two trails, one on each side of the pools that become a creek in downpours.
On the pools, mallards paddle and dabble. A brilliant yellow prothonotary warbler, also known as a “swamp canary,” stops over in a muddy puddle or American holly. It’s one of many migrants that pass through. A pileated woodpecker works at rotting trunks. A red-shouldered hawk nests high in a birch.
One day I posted a photo I took of the prothonotary warbler on the Facebook page of the American Birding Association. The next day, I returned to Linnean Park with my camera. Soon a bearded man about 30 I’d never seen approached me. Around his neck were telltale binoculars and a camera. He asked, “Are you the man who photographed the prothonotary warbler?”
He wanted to know where to find it. He made his first trip to Linnean Park to look for it. He recognized me from my Facebook photo. I’m guessing my camera, long lens, and monopod made it easier for him to identify me.
The sprawling and enthralling alternative to the compact Linnean Park is the storied and historic Rock Creek Park. Its trails invite miles of walking. They open the way to rare sightings like a blue-headed vireo. A wood duck pair moves from the woods to the creek and back. A red-bellied woodpecker pair holes up near the top of a dead trunk. A blue jay eyes you. A northern cardinal strikes a pose in the wind. Or an exhausted single mother, a barred owl, watches its nest and three owlets from a nearby tree, monitored daily by another wildlife photographer who told me their story.
On one walk, I watch an eastern chipmunk scurry across the forest floor into a hollow tree. Moments later, it pops out of a portal about four feet from the ground. Each time I approach, it disappears. Twice it reappears. Which of us is more curious about the other?
Park your worries for a bit. Nature awaits, ready to play hide-and-seek.