Birding Howard County, Maryland

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  • Don't confine your birding to "October's bright blue weather." Storms and heavy rains may force down unusual species or create concentrations of more common migrants.
  • Although a few migrant Canada Goose flocks arrive in late September, the most dramatic influx comes in early to mid-October. There is often a day (and night) when hundreds or thousands of birds in dozens of flocks may be seen and heard overhead. Unlike the numerous resident geese, most of the migrants will be flying at a great height in purposeful flight and many flocks will track along a similar path.
  • Waterfowl arrive in good numbers, especially the latter half of the month—often in bad weather. Numbers and species may change daily. Remember that many fall mornings combine cool air and warm water temperatures which are ideal conditions for fog. It is most often a problem on the reservoirs, producing frustrating viewing conditions until later in the day.
  • From late October through early December, Long-tailed Ducks are possible. Although they have been most consistent on Triadelphia Reservoir, a few birds have been seen on local ponds and lakes, particularly Centennial Lake.
  • Most Green Herons disappear after early October; occasionally, a few linger longer. A handful of late records span November.
  • Hawk migration continues with accipiters and falcons predominating, although one of our most common buteos, the Red-tailed Hawk, reaches peak numbers during the last half of October. A few Merlins may be seen from September into November. Peregrine Falcons migrate mostly in October. They have been observed most frequently over extensive fields or reservoirs.
  • Soras have been seen as late as October 23rd.
  • American Coots begin to arrive and can usually be seen on one or more of the larger lakes.
  • Although shorebird numbers drop this month, don't ignore mudflats. Black-bellied Plovers, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Semipalmated, Least, White-rumped, and Pectoral sandpipers, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitchers have all been observed at least once during this month. There are seldom more than a few of any of these species. Pigtail and Browns Bridge are prime shorebird locations. Big Branch is also worth checking. The attractiveness of these sites depends on the water level in the reservoirs. The other possibility for late shorebirds is the entrance pond at Western Regional Park, but much depends on the amount of edge exposed and whether the mud is damp.
  • Two of the three Red Phalarope records are from October—one from Centennial Park and one from Lake Kittamaqundi.
  • Watch for a late Forster's Tern over the reservoirs and larger lakes. The county's latest record is at the end of the month, but there is a possibility they could still be wandering through into early November.
  • The first major wave of Northern Saw-whet Owls should be arriving and/or moving through the last week of October and the first week of November.
  • The majority of Chimney Swifts disappear just after the middle of the month; an occasional bird may be spotted until late October.
  • Keep hummingbird feeders filled! The vast majority of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have departed by early October. Any hummingbird seen late this month or in succeeding months is more likely to be a stray from the West rather than the expected Ruby-throated. Most are immature birds. Identification may be difficult or impossible unless they are captured and banded. Howard County is fortunate to have a registered hummingbird bander who can band the bird and release it. Banding these late migrants can provide useful information about out-of-range species, not to mention positive identification. Please contact this website immediately if you have a late hummingbird coming to a feeder that is not identifiable as a Ruby-throated.
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, both kinglets, and Winter Wrens show up in numbers.
  • Outside the breeding season, American and Fish crows travel many miles to roost with other crows. Depending on day length and distance from a roost, crows may be seen flying in one direction (or staging at intermediate stops) as early as 3:00 p.m.
  • The fruit of the black (sour) gum is attractive to a wide variety of bird species. The foliage usually turns red early so the tree is easy to spot. Half a dozen species may feed in a single tree.
  • The last few days of September through the third week of October is the prime time for Marsh Wrens to be moving through the county.
  • During mid to late October when Ruby-crowned Kinglets arrive in large numbers, they sometimes can be found at close range and near eye level in dry patches of goldenrod, giant ragweed, and other densely vegetated open locations.
  • Passerines are still going through. Warbler numbers (except for Yellow-rumps) drop dramatically by the last half of the month. Falling yellow, brown, and mottled green leaves can make it difficult to spot drab, mostly silent, warblers.
  • By late October, Yellow-rumped Warblers are gobbling poison ivy fruit. By winter, there may be little remaining.
  • October is sparrow month. Rarities are always a possibility, especially if one seeks the specialized habitats of the more unusual species. The University of Maryland Farm (non-public) and Mt. Pleasant both have excellent sparrow habitat. There is always the possibility of spotting a species that has never been documented in the county or one that has not been seen for many years.
  • Look for Rusty Blackbirds in wet, floodplain woods. Patuxent River State Park is a good area to search during fall and winter.
  • If this is an invasion year, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins may begin appearing at feeders late this month or early next. Numbers of all feeder birds begin increasing this month.

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