- August can produce unusual sightings—or
days when almost nothing is seen (i.e., when one
shorebird or warbler wave has moved out and the
next has not arrived). The chance of seeing
something special is enough to keep some observers
checking reservoir levels, watching weather systems
(particularly cold fronts and hurricanes), and
visiting specialized habitats.
- The calendar says it is midsummer, but fall
migration is underway. This migration is more
extended than the one in spring when birds are
intent on reaching their breeding grounds. Although
the fall movement is most pronounced from the last
half of August through October, it continues until
lakes and reservoirs are frozen which can be well
into winter and, of course, varies from year to
- Scan the sky with binoculars at every
opportunity! This is a rewarding practice at any
time of the year, but especially so during fall
migration. Hawk watchers are acutely aware that
raptors are not the only birds engaged in long
distance movement. Waterfowl, cormorants, egrets,
herons, gulls, terns, swifts, swallows, and pipits
are just some of the possibilities. Besides birds,
monarchs and other butterflies, as well as half a
dozen species of dragonflies, may pass overhead.
Wind speed and direction, temperature, time of day,
cloud cover, and precipitation—not to mention
location, persistence, and luck—all influence
what might be seen. Sky-watching is exciting
because it is so unpredictable. Early morning and
evening tend to be the most productive periods, but
during the mid-September to late October period,
almost any time of the day is worthwhile.
- Teal are among the earliest waterfowl migrants.
The first birds usually arrive between mid-August
and early September.
- Continue to look for wandering egrets, herons,
cormorants, or even a very occasional White Ibis.
- Northern Harriers have been seen moving through
the county beginning in late August, primarily from
dawn to mid-morning.
- Soras may be present from mid-August into late
October, though they are seldom heard or seen. Scan
pond edges at Meadowbrook Park, especially in foggy
or drizzly weather. Join a field trip to the non-public
University of Maryland Central Farm where they are
usually recorded in the course of the season.
- Shorebirds are obvious this month on reservoir
mudflats and along shallow pond edges. Heavy rains
may make some fields and sod farms attractive. Heat
and increased water usage draw down the reservoirs
exposing mudflats at Pigtail and Big Branch that
attract a changing array of shorebirds. (The size
of exposed flats varies from year to year depending
on rainfall, heat, water demand, and dam
maintenance.) Most county sediment control ponds
are too steep-sided to be attractive, but the
shallow pond at the entrance to Western Regional
Park is an exception. Forebay Pond at the east end
of Lake Elkhorn can also be worth checking; Wilde
Lake's southern end usually has a sandbar as does
the northwest edge of Lake Kittamaqundi. Whenever
any of these lakes is dredged, excellent habitat is
created temporarily during the dredging. If the
drawdown coincides with a peak migratory period,
unusual shorebirds become a reality. Some birders
remember the spring a Piping Plover and a
Short-billed Dowitcher appeared during the 1994
dredging of Wilde Lake. No matter how attractive
local shorebird habitat may be, Howard birders are
forced to work hard for almost every species beyond
a basic handful.
- Killdeer numbers increase on both mudflats and
short-grass expanses at turf farms as well as at
Western Regional Park. The peak is mid to late
- At one time this was a month when Laughing
Gulls appeared in numbers. That has not been the
case since the county ceased to have an active
landfill. This month and the next are still among
the best possibilities for spotting a wanderer, but
it tends to be a matter of luck since sightings are
so few. Reports in 2009 spiked to the highest
number in a decade. Most were between late Augusta
- Be alert for the passage of Caspian Terns,
especially mid-August to early September. Rarely
are they seen for more than a short time, normally
in low numbers, on or over reservoirs and lakes.
Occasionally, they are reported resting on the
sandspit at the northwest end of Lake Kittamaqundi
or on a sandbar at Triadelphia Reservoir.
- Both Black Terns and Common Terns are unusual
county birds. They have been seen moving ahead of
fronts or storms but are unpredictable in frequency
of appearance or location although Triadelphia has
the most records. The few fall records are
scattered through August and September.
- The most consistent county location for
Forster's Tern is Triadelphia Reservoir. Some years
there will be a succession of days in mid to late
August when a few will be visible from Brighton
Dam, either resting on one of the buoy markers or
flying over the water.
- Dusk from mid-August through early September is
the prime time to spot migrating Common Nighthawks.
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds continue to visit
flowers and feeders. The two species of jewelweeds
(both found in damp habitats) are among their
favorite nectar sources.
- Look for Olive-sided Flycatchers perched at or
near the tops of dead or dying trees near water. A
favored perch or location may be used for hours;
occasional birds may stay in a neighborhood for
several days. The third week of August through the
second week of September is the peak period.
- Late August to mid-September is the best time
to search for Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.
- Swallows are ubiquitous over ponds and lakes.
Brighton Dam may be good for species besides the
nesting Cliff Swallows, especially during the first
half of the month.
- A flight of passerines may be triggered when
temperatures drop below 60°F or when there is a
drop of 10°F or more.
- American Robins begin to congregate at roost
sites in late afternoon. Trees with dense foliage
such as maples are a frequent choice. Suburban
gatherings are not always popular with homeowners
as the birds may number in the hundreds.
- Blue Grosbeaks are sometimes easier to find
this month than earlier in the summer. Check open
scrubby areas and brushy borders, often near small
streams or wetlands. Rockburn Branch Park and Alpha
Ridge Park are consistent locations.