Birding Howard County, Maryland

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  • Pay special attention to the sky from now until the middle of May. While waterbirds may be the most prominent flyovers this month, other migrants may be spotted at almost any time of the day. This is especially true later in the spring.
  • Tundra Swan flights tend to be concentrated, sometimes as early as late February or the first week of March, often the second or third week of this month. Day or night, they usually can be heard long before they are seen. It is a treat to see and hear a flock of these long-necked white birds against a blue sky, leading spring northward.
  • Weather changes in late winter and early spring are often dramatic. Check lakes and reservoirs within 24 hours of the passage of a front while waterbirds may still be present waiting out the severe weather and adverse winds. By the time temperatures moderate and winds die, migrants often have moved on. Occasionally, skies will be clear locally but there will be snow or sleet over the Great Lakes, causing waterfowl to drop onto local lakes waiting out unfavorable conditions before proceeding north. Weekdays (when there are few boats on the reservoirs and lakes) are usually the most rewarding. Although reservoirs should not be ignored, many migrant ducks (including divers) will be found on relatively small ponds or on the county's four large lakes. The majority of waterfowl pass through this month and into the next. Numbers drop after the first week of April; a very few birds may linger into May.
  • Check for scoters from late March through mid-April on reservoirs and large lakes. Most appear during heavy rainstorms, especially when the rain is accompanied by high winds. Most do not stay more than a single day.
  • Cock Ring-necked Pheasants are vocal this month early in the morning. Unfortunately, the county's pheasant population has dropped dramatically in the last few decades. The most recent breeding bird atlas did not confirm nesting for this species, although they were recorded in eleven blocks. Within the last few years, pheasants have been sighted at Schooley Mill Park and along roads in the vicinity of Warfields Pond Park and Western Regional Park. A few county individuals raise and release pheasants.
  • The last week of March and first week of April normally produce peak numbers of Horned Grebes. Although they may appear on any large body of water, they have been most consistent on Triadelphia Reservoir, Lake Elkhorn, and Centennial Lake.
  • The earliest Great Egrets begin to appear around the middle of March.
  • Cattle Egrets used to start showing up in April; the earliest record is mid-March. During the last decade they have become so scarce that they have not been reported each year; many years there is a single record only.
  • Black-crowned Night-Herons may begin appearing this month. Watch for them at any of the large county lakes or on the reservoirs in early morning and again at dusk. Wilde Lake and Lake Kittamaqundi are the two most consistent locations with Lake Elkhorn a good third option. During the middle of the day, a bird can sometimes be found roosting in trees (particularly willows) along shorelines.
  • Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks continue February's courtship and nesting activity. Migrants are also passing through.
  • Usually, American Coots can be found on local lakes from mid-March through most of April.
  • Wilson's Snipe numbers jump and sometimes peak near the end of the month.
  • American Woodcock courtship at dusk and dawn is most vigorous from now until late April in clearings or in fallow fields not far from a stream valley or a moist woodland thicket. Migrants have been present in recent years at Mount Pleasant, Warfields Pond Park, and Annapolis Rock. The Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, which once was a reliable site, has seen a drop in population as fallow farm fields have given way to more advanced stages of succession. The tract is being actively managed for woodcock to enhance both migrant and breeding populations. Perhaps, within a few years, the species will again be reliable there as more than an occasional migrant.
  • Ring-billed and Herring gulls are still in evidence, mostly near water, sometimes in fields or on parking lots.
  • Barred Owls start to call more frequently, especially just before dawn (5:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.) and from dusk to about 10:00 p.m.
  • Northern Flickers and other woodpeckers are noisily engaged in courtship. Prime drumming sites may be houses as well as dead trees. Woodpeckers are protected by state and federal law so any methods used to discourage them cannot endanger them. The majority of locally breeding woodpeckers are choosing nest sites and beginning to excavate.
  • A few Eastern Phoebes may winter, but migrants begin to appear during the first half of March; the peak is late this month and early next.
  • Both American and Fish crows are nest building. Watch for them carrying nesting material. Various species of pines are favorite nest sites. Both of these normally vocal species are quiet in the vicinity of their nests.
  • Horned Larks are paired, courting, and beginning to nest. School grounds with poor turf and farm fields with bare earth are good places to listen and look for them. Although this species has become increasingly difficult to find, Western Regional Park and its environs is a reliable site, especially the soccer fields in the park and the fields on the south side of Carrs Mill Road (opposite the park entrance). Underwood Road, near the junction of MD 99, has often produced this species along with pipits. They can be seen and heard from the road. This is private property so do not go into the fields!
  • The Purple Martin vanguard should arrive during the last half of the month; the first Tree, Rough-winged, and Barn swallows arrive in early to mid-March although the majority wait until late March or April.
  • Chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice begin to choose and excavate nest sites in late March. March and April are good times to observe the courtship and nest-building behavior of these cavity-nesting species.
  • Most American Robin flocks have broken up by late in the month; territorial song is increasing.
  • Brown Thrashers begin to arrive in late March and early April.
  • American Pipits are moving through this month and next. The major migration is from the middle of March to mid-April. Plowed or manured fields are prime localities. Scan fields carefully, they are hard to see. It may be easier to spot them in flight, uttering their two-note call. Horned Larks may be present in the same fields.
  • Flocks of Cedar Waxwings may descend on hawthorn, crabapple, or American holly trees and strip them of their remaining softened fruit. Some years this species will be scarce until late April or even May.
  • Listen for the lazy trill of the Pine Warbler in pine stands beginning the last half of the month. A few may arrive earlier, especially if the winter has been mild.
  • Eastern Towhees should return in numbers from mid to late March.
  • Migrating American Tree Sparrows may sometimes be seen about the first week of the month. Be especially careful about identifying any after the third week of March as few linger into April.
  • Look for the first Chipping Sparrows at feeders in late March; their long trill can be heard in most suburban locations.
  • Seek Savannah Sparrows from mid-March to early May in sparsely vegetated expanses with nearby weed patches or in weedy fields.
  • Fox Sparrows are found in greatest numbers from late February through mid-March. Almost all disappear by the end of the month.
  • Song Sparrow migration is usually heaviest the first half of the month. Swamp Sparrows move in large numbers from late March through much of April.
  • The bell-like trill of the Dark-eyed Junco is now heard, especially near feeders where they congregate.
  • Predicting the location of Rusty Blackbirds is difficult, especially with a dwindling population. Seek them during most of this month and next in swampy, floodplain woods with standing water and along muddy pond edges. Peak migration is usually from the last week of March through mid-April. Among the places where they have been consistently observed are Gwynn Acres Path, the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, Centennial Park, and Lake Elkhorn.
  • About the middle of the month, American Goldfinch plumage begins to change. People who feed thistle (nyger) are able to watch the gradual development of the male's bright colors.

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