This park in north-central Howard County affords surprisingly good birding opportunities for its size.
GPS: N39 19 15.1 W76 54 47.9
Habitat: For a small park, Alpha Ridge has a fine diversity of habitats. The pond normally has a dense ring of cattails as well as brushy edges. There is a stream with mature deciduous floodplain trees, two areas of deciduous woods, two small groups of pines, and a wet meadow. (Trees have been planted in the wet meadow so that in a few years this currently attractive habitat may disappear.) The central part of the park offers a good view of the sky for flyovers.
Layout: Organized athletic activities bring most people to this park. Those facilities are located in the northwest section close to MD 99. The rest of the park is undeveloped and has no marked paths. The pond is south of the in-line hockey rink. A wet meadow (wetness varies with precipitation) lies south of the central activity area; beyond it is a stream which divides the park from the fenced landfill. Wooded areas lie east and west of the meadow. Mown strips provide a limited amount of access to areas of interest to birders.
Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall migration; weekdays; early morning on weekends. From spring into fall, planned athletic events keep the park busy on weekends and some evenings; however, these events do not interfere with birding. The biggest problem is probably parking, and noise may cause some birds to retreat or to remain quiet.
Birding: Because the paved paths are extremely limited and there are no marked trails, it is necessary to wear sturdy footgear or boots if one leaves the activity area. After walking in the meadow, check carefully for ticks.
The open areas around the athletic fields (1 on the map) afford an opportunity to scan the sky for resident and migrating raptors and other flyovers. Nest boxes located along the eastern portion of the athletic fields provide an opportunity for close observation of nesting Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.
The wet meadow (2) is an excellent area in which to find sparrows at all times of the year; Lincoln's are found annually in the fall. In addition, the wood edges bordering the north and south sides provide what may be the most accessible county birding location for nesting Warbling Vireos along with Baltimore and Orchard orioles. Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings may also be observed in this area during most summers.
The stormwater management pond (3) hosts nesting Red-winged Blackbirds in the spring and summer; migrating Lincoln's Sparrows are often detected there during migration. The edge cattails have also yielded an American Bittern and a Marsh Wren—pleasant surprises on fall mornings.
The woods along the southwestern border (4) are good for resident woodpeckers year-round. A Great Horned Owl is found roosting occasionally in the mature trees along the stream. The young woodlands in the eastern portion of the park provide good birding opportunities. An area of open second-growth with a brushy understory (5) is excellent for wintering sparrows; it is also a good location for migrating warblers spring and fall. The eastern woods have two small areas of pines (6A, 6B). These stands have provided an opportunity to observe a roosting Great Horned Owl and, on occasion, a Barred Owl.
The wooded stream valley (7) is another excellent area for warblers and other neotropical migrants in the spring and fall. Hermit Thrushes and Winter Wrens have been found occasionally along the stream during the winter. Wild Turkeys were observed twice during a recent spring; they have also been reported from the adjoining landfill.
If you do not wish to thrash into the meadow or have a limited amount of time, some of the expected birds can be seen and heard without moving far from the parking lots. Go to the end of the parking area south of the pavilions to look and listen. For other easy vantage points, return to the pavilions and walk west along the wood edge following the mown strip behind the tennis courts along the south side of the pond.
When Alpha Ridge Park opened, this site offered an opportunity to view gulls and other birds flying to and from the active landfill. The county began moving its refuse out-of-state in 2008 so that the landfill specialties no longer gather in the vicinity; fortunately, this park has demonstrated that it has birding value other than as an adjunct to the landfill.
Highlights: In addition to some fine bird species visiting its varied habitats, Alpha Ridge Park also attracts butterflies and dragonflies. More than once the pond has hosted a state-rare dragonfly during fall migration.
Handicapped Access: Limited. If one wishes to watch the sky, there is ample opportunity. It is also possible to see and hear birds from the end of the parking lot south of the pavilion.
Deer Hunts: Note that controlled deer hunts are held on a few days in fall and winter. Check specific dates elsewhere on this website.