This 300–year old farm is the headquarters of the Howard County Conservancy. For birders, it is one of the county's premier destinations for field and edge species, especially during migration. An excellent view of the sky is an added bonus.
GPS: N39 18 56.2 W76 52 31.3 Mt Pleasant Ho Co Conservancy
Habitat: A 232–acre farm containing fields, hedgerows, small woodlands, streams, two small natural wetlands and one small artificial wetland. The yard around the historic farmhouse contains a variety of mature trees.
Layout: Buildings, parking, and planned activities are grouped near the end of the entrance drive. Four miles of mown trails extend east and west from this cluster over rolling hills, through a few woodlands, and along field edges. There are some bridged stream crossings. Land on the western edge from Davis Branch to Woodstock Road is owned by Howard County; some Patapsco Valley State Park land abuts the east boundary—both are managed by the Conservancy.
Best Time to Visit: Spring, fall, winter. Trails are open dawn to dusk seven days a week. The nature center in the Gudelsky Environmental Education Center is open Wednesday–Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., closed Saturdays in winter.
Birding: Be sure to check the wires along the driveway for Eastern Bluebirds, and the occasional Eastern Meadowlark. After parking, you can go in any direction.
Wander as the birds and your inclinations dictate. Mt. Pleasant has much good habitat, and many species can occur anywhere on the property. Watch the sky for flyovers. The yard and orchard around the historic farmhouse are attractive to woodpeckers and sapsuckers. The community gardens may hold sparrows, buntings, and some migrants in the fall.
To maximize your chances of finding some of the more interesting species, however, it is suggested that you start at the Montjoy Barn (1 on the trail map). Scan the fields to the south for Eastern Meadowlark, then go north through a hedgerow (there is a fenced garden on the right). Here, at the top of the hill, stop and scan the fields and sky. The lone tree downhill in the field on the right is a favorite perch for American Kestrels, Northern Harriers, and smaller birds. At the nearby signpost, turn west (left) on the Stone Wall Trail and continue downhill along the tree line. Often there are pockets of activity as birds move between the trees and adjacent fields.
At the bottom of the hill, a bridge crosses Davis Branch (2). If you cross, you will enter a fairly extensive grassland area, which may or may not have mown trails. In the colder months, Savannah Sparrows can often be flushed; occasionally a Vesper Sparrow is present in mid-fall; and one of the county's few Clay-Colored Sparrows was recorded here on a mid-October day. The north side of this tract contains a small area of cattails (3). Fall through spring, check it for Swamp Sparrows. If you cross this wet area, you will find yourself among long grass and saplings with mature trees on higher ground. Birds find this locale attractive. Pine Siskins were noted here in a recent winter.
From the bridge, you may also consider walking south to Old Frederick Road (MD 99) and crossing the road carefully to inspect the large pond east of the post office (5). This often hosts Canada Geese, occasionally other waterfowl, and sometimes shorebirds including a Black-bellied Plover one May day.
After re-crossing the bridge (2), look to the right for a trail crossing the stone wall. After crossing, turn right toward the stream and check the nearby vegetation which can be productive. In the spring, continue south with the stream on your right to reach the artificial wetland (5). This shallow seasonal wetland can hold Wilson's Snipe and a shorebird or two in migration depending on the water level. The area dries quickly except in extended wet periods. There is no overlook or trail so bushwhacking through tall grass may be necessary, but, like any wetland, it may hold surprises for those willing to make the search. After checking the wet area, retrace your steps to the stone wall.
If, after crossing the bridge (2), you do not choose to visit the wetland, turn left (north) and follow the mown trail along the stream. The scrubby streamside vegetation is often good for migrants as well as residents. Palm Warblers are frequent here. Follow the trail along the stream, into the woods, and up the hill. Be alert for woodland species. At the top of the hill, look for the signpost for a trail leading down hill (6) in a switch-back pattern. At its base, there is a stream crossing consisting of a log with a hand rope. This area can be quite productive.
After crossing the East Branch (7), turn right on the path. This section of mature trees, saplings, and dense streamside vegetation can produce all sorts of goodies. In migration, a variety of warblers, vireos, and sparrows are usually present. Marsh Wren, Mourning Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler are among the special birds that have been recorded before reaching the next bridge (8). At that point you will be below the Gudelsky building and parking lot, and will have completed about a one-mile loop. Spend some time on both sides of the foot bridge and a short distance in both directions on the west side of the bridge as this is frequently one of the most productive spots on the property. In fall, grasses and plantings in the Honors Garden and on the slope below it hold numerous sparrows, while spring and fall the streamside vegetation south to the treeline usually attracts migrants. On your way uphill, check the feeders behind the Center. Pine Siskins were visiting them during a recent winter.
For a longer hike, continue past the Center to the Butterfly Garden (partly funded by the Howard County Bird Club) (9). Check the dead tree beyond the stream crossing which attracts a variety of vultures, hawks, and smaller birds. At this point, you can go straight across the stream, or turn right, and set forth on yet more trails through fields and woods. If you turn right, you will eventually encounter HodgePodge Lodge, the set of a nature-oriented MPT series which ended in the 1970's. The small wetland (10) and nearby trees and fields can be active. Look for Eastern Bluebirds among the red cedars.
Highlights: A large piece of property with varied habitats (especially meadows), historic buildings, gardens, and a nature center with programs for all ages.
Handicapped Access: There is some access to much of the central cluster consisting of the Gudelsky Environmental Education Center (watch feeders from inside), John L. Clark Arboretum and Honors Garden (contains moving water), farm yard, community gardens, and picnic area. Although there are no paved trails, many birds can be seen in the trees and shrubs within a short distance of the gravel parking lot. There is a good view of the sky.
Deer Hunts: Note that controlled deer hunts are held on a few days in fall and winter. Check specific dates with the Howard County Conservancy office (410) 465-8877.