- Begin the new year by becoming a weather watcher.
Track the movement of major fronts and weather systems;
check wind speed and direction, as well as precipitation
and temperature changes. Watching the weather beyond
Maryland's boundaries can be helpful in anticipating
unusual concentrations of birds, migration triggers, or
the potential for unusual species as the result of winds
or storm systems.
- During most winters, ponds freeze so that wintering
waterfowl will be concentrated in a few locations—usually
on the larger lakes and reservoirs. Open water may be
visible from Brighton Dam where large numbers of Common
Mergansers and a few Red-breasted Mergansers gather
annually. Centennial Park usually has a good-sized hole
in the ice kept open by hundreds of Canada Geese and
lesser numbers of other waterfowl. Snow Geese, especially
the white phase, will be easily spotted, but the blue
phase takes a more careful search (occasionally white
domesticated geese appear). One or more Cackling Geese
may also be present, but make that identification with
caution because small Canadas are resident. Other
expected waterfowl are American Wigeon, Canvasback,
Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Duck. The species
mix may vary considerably within a few days and may
include grebes and coots as well as ducks and geese. When
most open water in the county freezes, a few diving ducks
may remain on deep quarry ponds or in the few remaining
patches of ice-free water.
- Bald Eagles remain until freeze-up. Triadelphia
Reservoir usually has the highest concentration depending
on the amount of open water. Now that there are several
known active nests in the county (along with several
others in adjacent counties) an eagle sighting is a real
possibility at any time of the year.
- By the end of January, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed
hawks are engaged in courtship. Be on the lookout for
talon-grappling, closed-wing dives, and other aerial
displays over nesting territories.
- Watch for the very occasional Rough-legged Hawk which
hunts like a Northern Harrier by quartering low over
fields in open country. This species is not reported
- Resident raptors are augmented by wintering migrants.
A drive along US 29 and I-70 usually reveals perched
buteos. Although American Kestrel populations have
dropped dramatically during the last two decades, in
winter it is possible to spot a few perched on utility
lines or hovering over fields. Most Northern Harriers are
seen west of MD 32, although sometimes one winters in
farm fields along Folly Quarter Road. Accipiters are
widespread and can frequently be found in the vicinity of
feeders. Sharp-shinned Hawks were once the expected
winter accipiter; however, the sharp rise in the number
of nesting Cooper's Hawks in the last decade means that
sighting either species is equally possible.
- Lakes, reservoirs, and shopping center parking lots
attract gulls. Centennial Lake, Wilde Lake, Lake Elkhorn,
and Lake Kittamaqundi, as well as either reservoir, may
host a dozen to 50 or more Ring-billed Gulls with at
least a few Herring Gulls. An occasional Great
Black-backed Gull or, even more infrequently, one of the
white-winged gulls may make an appearance. For this
county, a Lesser Black-backed Gull is a special bird.
Since the demise of an active county landfill, the most
consistent location at which to spot unusual gulls is
Brighton Dam overlooking the southern end of Triadelphia
Reservoir. Early morning and mid to late afternoon are
the most productive times.
- Search for Long-eared and Northern Saw-whet owls in
pine stands of appropriate height, density, and location.
While looking for these infrequently found species, you
may locate other species of roosting owls.
- Most species of woodpeckers can be seen or heard in
floodplain and upland deciduous woods, although
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are few. Wintering Red-headed
Woodpeckers are rare.
- After a light snow (which makes the search easier),
look for Horned Larks and American Pipits on manured
fields, short-grass areas with poor turf, or any fields
with exposed ground. Scan flocks carefully for the much
more unusual Lapland Longspur or Snow Bunting.
- In the winter woods, look and listen for loosely
associated flocks of woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees,
Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Carolina
Wrens. Patience may produce a Brown Creeper, a
Golden-crowned Kinglet, or a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
- Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice are singing by
the middle of the month. During winter and early spring,
these species, as well as Downy Woodpeckers, may be found
occasionally in weed patches feeding on the contents of
- Check weedy edges and tangles for sparrows. A few Fox
Sparrows usually winter in thickets. White-crowned,
American Tree, and Savannah sparrows are among the less
common species that can be found in open situations.
White-crowned Sparrows are partial to patches of
multiflora rose in these open locations.
- Lapland Longspurs are frequently found in fields that
had been planted in corn. They prefer extensive open
fields without fences and hedgerows and are often found
in association with American Pipits and Horned Larks.
- In winter, Dickcissels frequently associate with
House Sparrows so check the abundant flocks at Lake
Elkhorn and Lake Kittamaqundi carefully. A Dickcissel was
seen from December 9, 1999 to January 19, 2000 at Lake
Elkhorn in a House Sparrow flock.
- Search flocks of blackbirds for the rarely seen
Yellow-headed Blackbird. Most sightings are of immature
- Keep feeders filled and watch carefully for irruptive
northern species that may wander through. Purple Finches
may come regularly for days or even weeks, or they may
appear briefly and never be seen for the rest of the
winter. Pine Siskins favor thistle (nyger) seed as do
Common Redpolls, although both species are seen much
more infrequently than Purple Finches. When Red-breasted
Nuthatches invade, they will sometimes visit feeders,
most consistently those with some nearby pines. Evening
Grosbeaks are now rare wanderers here. When they do
visit, it is almost always one or two birds instead of
the flocks that were reported 30 years ago.