Birding Howard County, Maryland

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  • Continue to watch lakes and reservoirs, especially during the passage of storm systems with south or southeast winds. Under those conditions, unusual waterfowl, gulls, and terns may appear briefly.
  • To best appreciate spring migration, plan to spend at least one long day in the field during the first half of the month. The hours from dawn until mid-morning will produce dozens of species. For the experienced birder, this period is one of the high points of the birding year; for the beginning birder, it can be an exciting introduction to a lifelong addiction.
  • Listen for the scarce Northern Bobwhite to begin calling after the first week of May. There are few remaining in the county, but occasional reports are received.
  • Watch for loon flights during the first half of May, especially the first three hours after sunrise.
  • Some shorebirds may linger in dwindling numbers to the end of the month; snipe most often leave by mid-month.
  • Most Bonaparte's Gulls will be gone after the first week.
  • May is the prime month to watch for migrating Black Terns over local lakes and reservoirs. They rarely stay for more than a few hours. Local birders have become accustomed to watching them make a single pass the length of a lake or reservoir and disappear out of sight.
  • Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos come through in small numbers throughout May; they may still be migrating the first 10 days of June.
  • Six of the seven county Chuck-will's-widow records have been in May (the seventh was June 17). The most recent was May 11, 1991. All records have been in the southern or southeastern parts of the county.
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers may stay until early May.
  • The last half of May is the time to spot an Olive-sided Flycatcher in the top of a dead tree.
  • Eastern Wood-Pewees are seen and heard in small numbers until the middle of the month when most arrive.
  • Alder Flycatchers are elusive migrants in this county. The overwhelming majority of records have been between May 14 and June 7.
  • Willow Flycatchers migrate primarily mid to late May, even into early June. This species is doing well in the county in the wet, open, shrubby habitat it favors. Meadowbrook Park, the islands at the west end of Centennial Park, and the area east of Lake Elkhorn beneath the transmission lines are reliable spots to find them nesting.
  • A few Least Flycatchers move through during this month. Listen for their sharp, repeated two-note call at wood edges or in open woods.
  • For almost 50 years Common Ravens were an extreme rarity in the county with just one accepted record in December 1978. That changed dramatically in 2006. With at least two nestings or attempted nestings in counties north and northwest of Howard County, ravens began to appear south of the Patapsco River in May and continued through the rest of the year. The initial sightings were either along or north of I-70. By fall, single birds were detected twice in the Columbia area. All sightings in 2006 were in the Piedmont, but one in East Columbia was not far from the Coastal Plain. The influx has continued since, with sightings as far south as Brighton Dam. The majority of sightings during 2009 were in April and May. It is certainly worth taking a second look at any large black bird. Interestingly, a number of the sightings have involved one or more crows mobbing a raven.
  • During the first week of May there is usually at least one day when all of the swallow species can be seen hawking insects at Centennial or over one of the Columbia lakes.
  • Brown Creepers, Winter Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Hermit Thrushes are seldom seen after the first third of the month.
  • Heaviest Swainson's Thrush migration normally runs from the middle to around the 20th of the month, while the Gray-cheeked Thrush movement peaks a few days later. Thrush migrants sometimes continue to be detected until the last week of the month. Listen at first light or dusk for a brief period of song. Drizzly, overcast weather may be the best in which to locate them.
  • American Pipits are usually gone before the middle of the month; most left in April.
  • Cedar Waxwings are late migrants and late nesters. This month they may still be wandering in flocks. At one time, they were a relatively unusual county nester; the last few decades have seen a decided increase in local breeding.
  • May 1st to 15th is usually the period of heaviest warbler migration, but some years the third week is best. Keep an eye out through the end of the month. Although numbers drop quickly, there will be lingerers of the early moving species and others like Mourning Warblers—which are late migrants—will be arriving. Their numbers peak at the end of the third week or beginning of the fourth week of May. The wispy song of the Blackpoll may often be heard until the last day of the month or even into June. Early in the morning, when temperatures may still be low, it pays to seek out areas where sunshine warms the trees and insects to find maximum bird activity. On windy days, search for sheltered spots. Do not confine warbler watching to sunny days. Mornings with showers or overcast skies after a rainy night may prove highly productive. An unusually long period of wet weather may cause a fallout of species in astonishing concentrations. Extended periods of chilly nights with northerly winds may cause birds to linger for several days.
  • By mid-May scrubby fields at Centennial Park, Schooley Mill Park, and Rockburn Branch Park should be resounding with the strange combination of sounds produced by male Yellow-breasted Chats. It is highly entertaining to watch this species as it establishes its breeding territory.
  • Although most of the spring Summer Tanager records are from the last few days of April or the first week of May, they have been seen throughout this month.
  • Beginning in early May (occasionally late April), check brushy edges and areas near water for Lincoln's Sparrows. The largest numbers normally occur mid-month. Mt. Pleasant is a prime location.
  • White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Pine Siskins may linger in dwindling numbers until the middle of the month. An occasional bird may stay later. Wintering White-crowned and Swamp sparrows are joined by additional migrants in late April and early May, but their stay is brief with few seen after mid-May.
  • Watch for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings at feeders. Not all members of these species have learned to take advantage of feeder offerings, but there are a handful of reports each spring.
  • Bobolink flocks usually appear the last few days of April or the first week of May; they leave by late May. Look for them in extensive fields of mustard or alfalfa, or in large areas of long grass with a few shrubs.
  • Rusty Blackbirds are usually gone from the county after the first week of May.

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