Birding Howard County, Maryland

Wincopin Trail Detailed Information

Miles of wooded trails adjacent to two rivers combine natural history and county history in a scenic setting.

GPS: N39 08 59.7 W76 50 05.1

Habitat: Most of the area is wooded and overlooks Fall Line sections of the Little Patuxent River (LPR) and the Middle Patuxent River (MPR). Although there are still some remnant mature scrub pines, they are rapidly giving way to deciduous forest. Soil here is thin over a rocky base so trees are frequently uprooted in high winds. Trails cover both uplands and floodplain along the rivers. There are remnants of bridge abutments and buildings associated with quarrying and the Savage Mill.

Layout: The four color-coded trails are connected so that one can obtain plenty of exercise within a few hours. Square wooden posts with arrows are positioned at trail intersections, and area maps are posted on trees in a few key locations. The Red Trail (1.1 miles) serves as the main stem of the trail system and includes a loop called the Horseshoe along the MPR. The initial section of this trail passes posts marking trailheads for the Green and Blue trails. Beyond this point, the Red Trail remains on upland and eventually allows views of the MPR. After some distance, the trail drops down to sandy floodplain adjacent to the rocky river. The Green Trail (1.63 miles) is the longest of the four and covers uplands as well as sections of the floodplains of both rivers. The information board in the parking lot provides detailed historical information about items to be found along this trail. The junction of the two rivers is at about the halfway point along this trail. In early spring, the south-facing slope of the MPR contains early blooming wildflowers. A small pond favored by amphibians exists at the foot of this slope. The much cooler north-facing slope of the LPR extends the blooming season of some of the same spring ephemerals. It also contains historical ruins. The Blue Trail (0.77 mile) stays on high ground and serves as a shortcut to reach the junction of the two rivers. The Yellow Trail (0.14 mile) is a short loop off the Red Trail on the west side of the Horseshoe. This trail drops to the floodplain along a less rocky section of the MPR than that found on the east side of the Horseshoe.

Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall are of most interest to birders; however, hikers can enjoy the area during any season when the ground is free of ice and snow. Spring brings out favorite early wildflowers, while summer is best for dragonflies over or near the rivers. Depending on rainfall, a variety of fungi can appear during warm weather.

Birding: Birding is best in spring during passerine migration. The short paved section of the Red Trail contains extensive understory which is often good for sparrows and towhees. Just beyond the asphalt the trail continues past red mulberry and grapevine-draped trees. This location is best from midsummer into the fall. Louisiana Waterthrushes regularly nest along the rivers, with Ovenbirds and Wood Thrushes on the hillsides. A few Pine Warblers are still present during the breeding season (fewer each year as the pines die). Red-breasted Nuthatches can sometimes be heard in remnant pine patches during the winter. A Great Horned Owl nested in a large beech along the Red Trail some years ago; an occasional Barred Owl is heard at dawn or dusk.

Highlights:The confluence of the Little Patuxent and Middle Patuxent rivers, remnant quarries, ruins associated with Savage Mill, and varied natural history combine to make this an attractive area during much of the year.

Handicapped Access: The rocky nature of many of the trails along with steep slopes make this site challenging for those who lack mobility. To sample the site, take the main trail from the parking lot. This section is paved for a short distance; it then becomes a wide beaten path with a gentle grade. For perhaps a quarter-mile it passes through a sampling of the upland habitats found along the other trails.

© 2009