Birding Howard County, Maryland

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December Right arrow

  • By late November or early December, large flocks of Canada Geese gather daily at Centennial Park. If ice forms, the geese keep a sizeable hole open on the lake. Many birders tend to ignore the geese attempting to pick out ducks or grebes among the larger bodies, but taking the time to check the geese carefully can be productive. Scan feeding and resting birds for a Snow Goose of either color phase; a White-fronted Goose would be an extreme rarity. The smaller, grayer-backed Cackling Goose with a small triangular bill, short neck, and blocky head is also worth the search. Do not base identification solely on size for diminutive Canadas frequent this lake.
  • Tundra Swan migration (day or night) builds from early in the month to a peak in mid to late November. Occasionally, a flock rests on Triadelphia Reservoir, less frequently on Centennial Lake.
  • A constantly changing variety of waterfowl should be looked for at lakes and reservoirs. Some will remain for weeks, others may stay only a few hours. Each cold front brings the potential for unusual birds. Heavy winds and rain may drop any of the scoter species, a Red-necked Grebe, or a Long-tailed Duck onto reservoirs; less often they may be found on lakes. Strong winds and rough water can make viewing difficult, but it is often a necessary trade-off. By the time winds have dropped, any exciting strays have probably departed.
  • Ospreys are still occasional this month.
  • Hawk migration continues although the largest number of migrants has passed. Red-tailed Hawks continue to move well into December. For the patient or lucky observer, late autumn can produce such specialties as Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, and Rough-legged Hawk.
  • An occasional shorebird may linger. Both yellowlegs, Spotted, Semipalmated, Least, and Pectoral sandpipers, Dunlin, Wilson's Snipe, and American Woodcock have all been recorded in November.
  • Late Bonaparte's Gulls may still be seen throughout this month, even well into December.
  • Check gull flocks carefully for the infrequent Lesser Black-backed Gull.
  • Although most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have left the area, any hummingbird appearing at feeders this month or next could be a vagrant from the West. Many cannot be identified by sight (or even from a photograph). Contact this website so species verification may be attempted by a licensed bird bander.
  • Eastern Bluebirds winter in flocks and do not defend territory in the winter so they are unlikely to be present near nest boxes. Search for them not far from water in protected areas containing a good supply of fruiting plants such as sumac, pokeweed, and dogwood. County bluebird trails have been so successful that it is possible to see and hear this lovely bird in most of our parks during much of the year.
  • Scan plowed fields, corn stubble, and mudflats for cryptically-colored American Pipits. Their two-note call is sometimes detected overhead as they move in small groups or large flocks.
  • Most warblers will have departed by late October. Orange-crowned Warblers are late migrants with both October and November records. There is always a chance of finding a lingering Nashville, Pine, or Palm warbler, Common Yellowthroat, or Yellow-breasted Chat; less frequently, a species such as a Wilson's Warbler is seen (there are even a few winter records). Of course, Yellow-rumped Warblers winter in small numbers.
  • American Tree Sparrows can be located from mid-November until early April. Most years a few winter at Centennial Park; Schooley Mill Park and Western Regional Park are also possibilities.
  • Although the first Fox Sparrows usually appear in October, they start showing up in numbers underneath feeders or in brushy areas the first ten days of November.
  • Snow Buntings are observed occasionally along gravelly shorelines at Triadelphia Reservoir when the water level is low. Late November to early December is a good time to check for them. This has also been one of the special species found at the Alpha Ridge Landfill so watch for field trips to that non-public location.
  • Watch feeders for northern irruptives. The movement of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and ever-more-elusive Evening Grosbeaks is related to food abundance on their breeding grounds. Even when there is ample natural food north of us, a few individuals of some of these species may wander into central Maryland. Evening Grosbeaks have become a rare winter visitor, even during winters when other northern species may be seen in abundance.
  • Scan the tops of tulip trees for finches feeding on the seeds.
  • White-winged and Red crossbills are rarely-seen irruptives that may stay through April during those years when they invade. Look for them on cones near the tops of conifers. Either species is an exciting find for the county. Please report any you see. The conifers at the south entrance of Centennial Park (MD 108) were the location for White-winged Crossbill flocks during the early months of 2009.

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