Birding Howard County, Maryland

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  • After the birding excitement of April and May, June may be a letdown. During June and July, concentrate on observing courtship and nesting behavior of resident species in a variety of habitats. Birders who have participated in any breeding bird atlas field work are attuned to activities that signal courtship, establishment of territory, nest building, or the presence of young. Understanding that behavior adds an extra dimension to birding during the late spring and summer.
  • Many residents sing vigorously when establishing and maintaining territories. Use this period to learn new songs and calls. Few people have the ability to hear numerous bird songs and commit them to memory quickly. For most birders, it is a process that takes time and frequent repetition. Start with those species seen and heard frequently. Knowing the more common songs and variations will provide a solid base on which to build—and it will save many a frustrating search for a mystery songster. For the early riser, hearing the "dawn chorus" (a period of intense singing as birds awaken) can be an exciting experience. When trying to learn a new song, however, it may actually be more useful to go afield a little later in the morning so there are fewer competing sounds.
  • If bird feeders are filled during the summer, adults will bring their young. Watching juveniles acquire flying and feeding skills can be a source of enjoyment. Summer feeding is not necessary; moving or dripping water is another magnet for most birds.
  • Heron and egret dispersal from their breeding grounds rises this month and continues through the summer. Watch for these long-legged waders at lakes, reservoirs, and ponds.
  • Sometimes Ospreys may be seen all summer in the vicinity of lakes and reservoirs. There are a very few nesting records from Triadelphia Reservoir (Montgomery County side) dating from a time when WSSC had erected two platforms—which are long gone. No other Osprey nesting in this part of the Piedmont has been verified.
  • A decade or two ago any sighting of a Bald Eagle in the county was noteworthy. Fortunately, the situation has changed. A sighting can still be breathtaking, but the species' presence here is no longer highly unusual. These majestic birds are not just being reported from Triadelphia Reservoir where there has been an active nest for more than a decade, or from Duckett Reservoir, where there has also been an active nest for several years, but from many parts of Howard County. In 2006, a third active nest was verified on private property in the north-central part of the county. During the most recent breeding bird atlas field work, eagle breeding was confirmed just east of the Patapsco River which means birds also drift into the county from that direction. Observing a Bald Eagle almost anywhere in the county has now become a possibility. During the late fall, migrants join the residents; some stay the winter if the reservoirs do not freeze completely. Brighton Dam is the vantage point from which to scan for the Triadelphia birds. Centennial and the Columbia lakes have increasingly produced sightings
  • Rails are among the most elusive local species. Soras and Virginia Rails are regular migrants and rare breeders. Meadowbrook Park has extensive wetland habitat where rails and bitterns have been seen and heard in migration. The possibility for breeding at that location certainly exists. There are also a few breeding Virginia Rail records at the University of Maryland Central Farm (not open to the public).
  • Willow Flycatchers are still filtering through early this month.
  • Boxes for Eastern Bluebirds or other cavity nesters should be monitored weekly during the entire breeding season to prevent House Sparrows from nesting.
  • It is not always necessary to arise early to enjoy singing birds. Dusk brings a second period of increased song. In late May and throughout June, there is little to rival the melodies of the Wood Thrush and the Veery. Wood Thrushes utilize both moist floodplains and dry hillside shrub understories and can be heard in almost any deciduous forest in the county. They are tolerant of man's presence in suburban woodlands. Hearing a Veery's reedy, haunting song at twilight is a greater challenge. Their presence is limited because they require extensive tracts of moist forest with a dense shrub layer. Although some northern portions of Patapsco Valley State Park still have nesting birds, a consistent location is the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. Deer control, which is allowing some regrowth of the shrub layer, has probably saved them as a breeding species there.
  • Northern Mockingbirds continue singing at night. Note how many songs of local breeding birds are incorporated into the repertoire of the neighborhood mocker.
  • Occasionally, a warbler is still passing through during the first week of June. It is likely to be one of the late migrating species such as Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Mourning, or American Redstart.
  • June has produced few county rarities, but a late migrant or a wandering waterbird is always a possibility.

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