Trip Reports

2021 Trips

Thursday, September 9, Wheaton Regional Park. Leader: Woody and Rae Dubois.  The Birdcast for the night before Sept. 9 was moderately good but the morning itself was heavily overcast after rain.  Ten of us gathered at Wheaton’s carousel parking lot, then began slowly walking the railroad tracks to Pine Lake.

There were Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on the jewelweed and one person saw a Least Flycatcher on the big willow tree by the spring.  Two Baltimore Orioles and, as usual, many American Robins were in the heavy vines draping the trees by the tracks.  Wheaton always provides plenty of wild grapes, porcelain berries, Virginia creeper berries and other food for thrushes, orioles and tanagers in the fall.  There were no Scarlet Tanagers today but Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers love the fruit as well and we saw several of them.   Though the lake itself was unoccupied except for our reliable Belted Kingfisher, we heard two Warbling Vireos singing nearby.   This area of Wheaton Park hosted a number of breeding Eastern Wood Pewees this summer but today we saw or heard only two rather than the usual six or seven.   In spite of the cloudy conditions we did eventually see four species of warbler: a Black-and-White, a Common Yellowthroat, two American Redstarts and a Magnolia.

The highlight was an American Goldfinch nest that one sharp-eyed participant saw at the end of a pine branch near the gate to Brookside Gardens.  It was occupied and visited while we watched by a second goldfinch.

Our final count was 34 species, which was a little disappointing but was probably reasonable for such a cloudy day.  A couple of people were new to Wheaton so it was nice to be able to introduce them to the park.

eBird list:  https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S94410372

Saturday, June 12, Patuxent River at Brown’s Bridge. Leader: Cheryl Hogue. After rain the day before, the morning of June 12 greeted birders with a dreary gray sky at Brown’s Bridge along Montgomery’s border with Howard County. This was the club’s first field trip in some years to this site along the Patuxent River. The 10 participants, including one of the four on the trip’s waiting list, had great views of the target bird for this trip – Cliff Swallows. Binoculars and camera shutters were busy as we watched them forage along the river entering and exiting their jug-shaped mud nests. We also saw Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, and, under the bridge, a fluffy fledgling Eastern Wood-Pewee and a nearby adult.

Next, we ambled into the woods of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (the water utility serving much of Montgomery County) northwest of the bridge. The Brood X cicadas were fairly quiet and so were the birds! We did clearly hear the quick song of Acadian Flycatchers and the teacher-TEACHER-TEACHER of Ovenbirds. The trail took us to a secluded part of the river upstream of the bridge where we enjoyed views of an Eastern Kingbird and a singing Baltimore Oriole. The last bird of the morning was a delight: a Yellow-throated Vireo, heard and seen in glimpses at the parking lot. Club member Diane Durham captured an image of the bird as seen on this eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S90043077. We also had a short checklist viewed from the Howard County side of the bridge: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S90057555.

Thanks to club member Paul Orsinger for tallying our 30 species and for taking up the rear of the group.

Thursday, May 13, Blue Mash and Oaks Landfill. Leader: Mark England. Participants: 11. Weather: Exceptionally nice, with clear sunny skies, 48-65 degrees. Species: 59. We took our time going around Blue Mash, as we were enjoying good looks at many types of birds. We saw a White-eyed Vireo over the gravel road early on, and then had good looks at Common Yellowthroats, a male American Redstart, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, and Black-and-White Warblers on the way to the landfill pond fence line. Here we saw a Yellow Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, singing 1st-year Orchard Oriole, a “brownie” Purple Finch, and a Northern Waterthrush, which Donna Sturm had immediately identified by its song. We saw some shorebirds at the Zion Road pond, including Least, Spotted, and Solitary Sandpipers. We heard at least two Yellow-breasted Chats and Prairie Warblers, but could not find one in view, though we did have brief looks at a Western Palm Warbler and a Magnolia Warbler in the same area. In the wooded far corner of Blue Mash, we had a good look at a perched Ovenbird and heard only a fairly close Veery and Black-throated Blue Warbler. At the landfill, we had good looks at Savannah Sparrows, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed (RTHA) Hawks, and at the end, finally had a great look at a nicely-perched male Blue Grosbeak, to everyone’s satisfaction. Incidentally, on my Saturday atlassing at the landfill two days later, I saw a female Northern Harrier (NOHA) come up out of the grass around ten in the morning. It was starting to soar when an adult RTHA attacked it in the air, before locking talons as both birds spiralled to the ground out of sight. This may have been the same female NOHA that I had seen the previous week, and I had been considering the possibility that it might be attempting to nest at the landfill, which would have been a first in my experience there. The eBird checklist for the trip can be found: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S88015771

Sunday, May 9, Rickman/Woodstock Equestrian Park. Leader: Scott Young. A small group met at 6:30 a.m. to first explore the west side and then the east sides of the Equestrian Park. At a leisurely pace, we spotted 37 species on the west side and 29 on the east. Highlights on the west side were the four Eastern Kingbirds gathered together and the many Tree Swallows visiting their nest boxes. On the east side, we were treated to an Indigo Bunting, a Blue Grosbeak and a White-crowned Sparrow. All told, we encountered nine warbler species and a couple of Yellow-breasted Chats.The eBird checklists for the trip can be found at: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S87624533 and https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S87608668

Sunday, May 9, Rock Creek Park, DC. Ten people joined leader Gerry Hawkins on a field trip to the Rock Creek Park Nature Center area on May 9, 2021. Highlights during a circular route that included the Maintenance Yard and forest trails on this generally slow chilly, cloudy morning included nine warbler species, several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, an adult male Baltimore Oriole, an adult male Scarlet Tanager, a photogenic singing Yellow-throated Vireo, Wood Thrush, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush and a late Red-breasted Nuthatch. Noteworthy breeding activity included a Downy Woodpecker feeding a nestling in a tree cavity and recently fledged House Finches.

Saturday, May 8, Little Bennett Regional Park. Co-leaders: Woody and Rae Dubois. Starting shortly after 7:00 a.m., the group of ten began by following the Wilson Mill Trail to the Stoneybrook Trail, then onto the Western Piedmont Trail. Our most numerous single species on this leg of the trip was a flock of approximately fifteen Yellow-rumped Warblers, but by the end of the walk we also had a number of Black-throated Blue, plus Chestnut-sided and Yellow Warblers, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Prairie, Magnolia, and the Ovenbird. One person also saw a Nashville. The highlight on the Stoneybrook trail for some participants was not a warbler at all, but the Swainson’s Thrush, which was both heard and seen.

Steady rain and cold were factors through a good part of the morning, though luckily, by the time we circled back to Clarksburg Road the rain was tapering off a little. A few of the group left to go back to the parking lot at this point, understandably cold and wet and needing a hot drink. The remaining participants forged ahead to the Kingsley Trail where we heard Louisiana Waterthrush and saw a Northern Waterthrush picking up food in the water at the side of the road. We also saw a pair of copulating Scarlet Tanagers, coding them quickly for the Atlas! As we reconvened back at the parking lot at 11:00, our final bird was the Common Raven which soared overhead. Our final count was 43 species. We would like to say that the good humor that this group showed in the face of adverse conditions was amazing. The eBird checklist can be found at: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S87442246

Friday, May 7, Birding by Ear at Hughes Hollow. Leader: Paul Woodward. Participants: 10. As usual we walked around the impoundments. Weather was more like late winter than spring which probably reduced bird song. We had a composite list of about 50 species. Highlights were an Anhinga which had been here the past few days and 2 flyover Sandhill Cranes. Other birds of note were Blue-winged Teals, a Common Gallinule (they probably nest here every year), 3 Great Egrets flying over, and 5 Green Herons. We briefly heard a Barred Owl. The vocal highlight was a nesting female Hooded Merganser flying around calling. Most people haven’t heard this before or at least haven’t identified it. We spent time listening to Great Crested Flycatchers, Warbling Vireos, Orchard Orioles, Northern Waterthrushes, Prothonotary Warblers, and a Yellow Warbler. The eBird checklist can be found at: https://ebird.org/checklist/S87368496

Sunday, May 2, Izaak Walton League, B-CC Chapter, Conservation Farm. Leader: Jim Nelson. Participants: 10. Weather: Sunny, starting in the mid-40s and rising to upper 70s. Species: 56. Thanks to the IWL-BCC, our group once again enjoyed access to this prime private property near Poolesville with a great mix of habitats. IWL-BCC member Larry Anderson acted as our escort. Many of our birds were heard only, and not everyone got to see or hear each species. We had only 5 species of warblers – Black and White, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, and singing Prairie Warblers. Among the specialties at this site, we had at least 30 Purple Martins at the martin housing complex on site, and in the fields several singing Grasshopper Sparrows with two sitting up for relatively good views. We also were treated to three vocal Yellow-breasted Chats, one of which was singing from a very high perch in a tree giving all of us good views of this usually stealthy species, and three male Scarlet Tanagers in the woods all within a few feet of each other. Other good birds included Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue and Green Herons, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Wood Thrush, abundant Chipping and Field Sparrows, several stealthy Eastern Towhee singing, Orchard Oriole, and singing male Indigo Buntings. We also had Eastern Phoebe, Great-crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird. We tallied 30 Blue Jays and probably missed others as groups were moving through, probably migrants. Driving in along Izaak Walton Way just before the field trip started, the leader heard a singing Eastern Meadowlark in the large farm field to the south and saw a male Blue Grosbeak perched on a wire by the road. The two eBird checklists can be found at: https://ebird.org/checklist/S86940164 and https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S86927926

Sunday, April 25, Occoquan Bay NWR. Leaders: Gerry Hawkins and Mike Bowen. Participants: 11 plus leaders. Weather: Cloudy with a few bright periods, blustery, with a wind that occasionally felt cold, 50’s. Species count: 62. Highlights: A brilliantly bright, calling male Baltimore Oriole (first of the season for most of us), a raft of 17 Red-breasted Mergansers that, when seen well, turned out to be composed entirely of females – presumably on mid-migration to breeding grounds well to our North – and splendid views of Prothonotary, Yellow, Yellow-throated and Prairie Warblers and Northern Parulas, many of them singing lustily. We enjoyed watching lots of Bald Eagles and Ospreys on and around their nests and had a fleeting look at a flying King Rail, while others called “kek-kek-kek” from not far off. Out in the bay we had 4 species of gulls and terns. There were surprisingly few swallows – just a few Tree and Barn – and very few sparrows in this usually sparrow-filled refuge, although we did get great views of Swamp Sparrow. The timing of our MBC trip this year was once again a little too early for Yellow-breasted Chats, which breed at the refuge but which had not yet returned from the south. The eBird checklist for the trip can be found at: https://ebird.org/checklist/S86353062

Saturday, April 24, Croydon Creek Nature Center. Co-leaders: Emily Huang & Anne Mytych. The weather was cool in the upper 40s to low 50s with sunshine and light wind. We had 17 birders including the co-leaders, and we split into two groups after first visiting the feeders, where we saw 4 Purple Finches, as well as the usual suspects. Emily took her group on the Heritage Trail and saw 36 species, including a Louisiana Waterthrush and a Wood Thrush. Anne took her group along the Woodland Trail and saw 33 species, including Brown Thrashers and an Ovenbird. The two eBird checklists can be found at: https://ebird.org/checklist/S86258399 and https://ebird.org/checklist/S86244181

Sunday, April 11, Hughes Hollow. Co-leaders: Jim Nelson and Clive Harris. Participants: 21, including leaders. Weather: Overcast, then gradually clearing, temps started at 60 rising to about 70 by the end. This trip was very popular, and we were able to accommodate an extra 9 people when Clive Harris volunteered to co-lead. We birded in two separate groups going different routes to keep contact limited. Overnight rain stopped just in time for this walk. We had a nice variety of bird species, and the total of 51 between the two groups was just one less than the last trip in 2019. The highlight of the trip was a Glossy Ibis which had been present for several days. Other birds of note included an Osprey hunting over the large impoundment, three Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, a calling Barred Owl, two singing White-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers galore, a Hermit Thrush, two Brown Thrashers, Chipping and Swamp Sparrows (including a young bird singing a strange, House or Winter Wren-like song), a female Eastern Towhee, a Pine Warbler, and two singing Common Yellowthroats with one male sitting in plain view providing great views. Waterfowl included Blue-winged Teal, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, Wilson’s Snipe, and calling Pied-bill Grebes. The two eBird checklists for the trip can be found at:  https://ebird.org/checklist/S85329928 and https://ebird.org/checklist/S85323645

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, Pennyfield Lock

Leader: Dave Powell. Six people joined me on a walk on the C&O Canal at Pennyfield Lock. A total of 37 species were seen. The woods along the entry roads were full of White-throated Sparrows, which was our most common bird of the walk. Flocks were encountered all along the canal along with flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Highlight of the walk was a Purple Finch (Brownie), which unfortunately did not stay long enough to be seen by everybody. Other highlights were a singing Eastern Towhee, pairs of Wood Ducks, and Common Mergansers. Best bird of the walk was a roosting Barred Owl! The owl allowed great looks and was seen by all. Nice morning for a walk.

Saturday, March 27, 2021, Cabin John Regional Park

Leader: Max Wilson. Participants: 6. Species: 40. We had a marvelous morning for our walk of the powerline cut bisecting Cabin John Regional Park. Sparrows, woodpeckers, and a pair of American Kestrels are the highlight here, and both performed. Even before leaving the parking lot, we had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Once we were under the powerlines, we almost immediately had a group of sparrows, including half a dozen Field Sparrows that sat up well for the group. We hit the jackpot later in the walk when we found two red Fox Sparrows. Not everyone was able to get their bins on them, but one eventually sang several times for the group. On the return trip, we came across a female American Kestrel on the high-tension tower holding a snake. That bird eventually dropped the remainder of its meal and flew off. We later found a second female Kestrel enjoying another snake meal. At that point, about half the group carpooled to Locust Grove Nature Center, which had been hosting an adult Red-headed Woodpecker since mid-February. The bird was on its favorite limb when we arrived and was eventually spooked into a cavity by a Cooper’s Hawk.

Friday, March 12, 2021, Wheaton Regional Park for Beginners

Leaders: Evelyn Ralston and Susan Hunt. As predicted, Friday marked a change in weather from sunny and warm to gray and moderate. But no rain! Besides the co-leaders, there were 7 participants including grandparents with their 5-year-old grandson, who was the reason for their presence. At first it appeared eerily quiet along the mini-train tracks, but things picked up. Sparrows and ducks were down from previous days (gone was a Fox Sparrow, and only one Ring-necked Duck remained instead of 8 the day before), but Eastern Towhees were not only heard but also repeatedly seen, and two Ruby-crowned Kinglets surprised us. Pretty much all the common species were seen, with a total of 31 bird species, not bad for this between-seasons moment. The best was at the very end: as we were back at the parking lot, the young boy lifted his head and asked “What is this bird?” Indeed there was a large dark bird … a juvenile Bald Eagle! This little boy shows promise!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021, Gunners Lake

Leader: Mike Bowen. Participants: 6. Weather: Sunny and delightful, temps. in the 50s and 60s. Species: 32. This trip had been postponed for a month because of frozen and potentially dangerously icy conditions on the original February date. Fortunately for everyone, the lake was not only ice-free but offered a number of waterfowl that—typical for this small body of water—gave everyone really great views. For the first time that the leader can remember, Redhead was the most abundant diving duck here, with more than 20 easily seen and photographed at close range. Other diving ducks on the lake were Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, and Hooded Merganser. Two American Wigeons and 6 Gadwalls accompanied the usual numerous Mallards in the “dabbling duck” category, together with a drake Wood Duck in gorgeous plumage. Three Pied-billed Grebes were spotted just as we were finishing up. Bird(s) of the day were a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that copulated in full view of the group, albeit briefly. The moment was captured photographically by our unofficial photographer and can be seen on eBird at https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S83128814. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021, Lois Green Conservation Park, Gaithersburg

Leader: Mark England. Participants: 7 including leader. Weather: Sunny but cold, 28-36 degrees. Species: 23. We did the full circuit of the park on this bright but cold morning, but birds were pretty scarce, as perhaps they were waiting for it to warm up. We had excellent looks at some waterfowl including 7 Green-winged Teal, 3 Canvasbacks, and good numbers of American Black Ducks and Ring-necked Ducks, among others. We had several good looks at Eastern Bluebirds in great light and glimpses of a few sparrows, including Field. Red-shouldered Hawks were the only raptors seen, but we saw both adults and juveniles. A Barred Owl flushed out of some white pines, and we saw it flying further into some woods. Surprisingly, we did not see a single woodpecker species but only heard a Red-bellied or two. Despite the relative absence of birds, the group enjoyed the introduction to the park, as none of them had been there before.

Saturday, March 6, 2021, North Branch and Kengla Trails

Leaders: Josephine Cox and Anne Mytych. Participants: 14 including leaders. Species: 35 for Jo’s group and 27 for Anne’s group. Weather: upper 20s to low 30s and sunny. We split into two groups; Jo’s group opted for the circular route along Rock Creek’s upper stream valley. They started off along the open area heading east toward the stream valley, which has a mix of small marshes, open fields, and wood edges. They heard the first of many Red-winged Blackbirds setting up their territories. They spotted an American Kestrel perched on a fairly distant tree, which then flew down closer to them for a better look. Once they entered the stream valley, they heard and saw the usual winter resident woodpeckers and other woodland species. They had good looks at 2 Red-shouldered and 2 Red-tailed Hawks before the end of the trip. There is a well-marked path that meanders back and forth near the creek, but at one point they followed a path right next to the creek with a grove of large sycamore trees where they had a flurry of activity including several Eastern Bluebirds, 2 Brown Creepers, an Eastern Phoebe, and an Eastern Towhee. As they headed out of the stream valley, a Wild Turkey ran across the path not far from them. They could also see several other turkeys scuttling along the brushy edge. Their luck continued near the end of the trip along the open marshy field area where they had a really nice photo op of a male kestrel, a Common Raven flew overhead, and they had close-ups of Black and Turkey Vultures sunning themselves. Just over 4.5 miles of walking and a respectable 35 species. Anne’s group did the shorter route focusing on the meadow areas. They saw several Red-Winged Blackbirds, as well as Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and a nice surprise of an American Tree Sparrow, who very cooperatively posed for photos. They also got a nice look at an American Kestrel and the two hawks seen by Jo’s group before finishing. Jo’s full list can be seen here (https://ebird.org/checklist/S82861510), and Anne’s full list can be seen here (https://ebird.org/checklist/S82859359).

Sunday, February 21, 2021, Hughes Hollow

Leaders: Nathan and Stella Tea. Species: 30. After the delay caused by the snow/ice storm, six brave participants joined us on a slippery, makeup walk at Hughes Hollow. Forecast predicted the temperature to be sunny in the mid-30s with little to no wind, and that is exactly what we experienced. The little wind and clear skies allowed us incredible views of some of the birds at this time of the year. The once full impoundments were mostly covered in a layer of ice, but a handful of ducks were present in a solitary pool of open water. In the flock were the continuing Redheads (a lower number than before but still pleasant to see), a couple of female Canvasbacks, a single Ring-necked Duck, and some Hooded Mergansers. We birded along the icy dike as many of the participants eagerly looked for good opportunities for photographs. Along the dike, we picked up an overwintering Eastern Phoebe, great looks at foraging Swamp Sparrows, a Winter Wren, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. We continued to walk carefully down the dike toward the sunflower fields and eventually came upon a flock of fast-moving sparrows. Among them, a very cooperative Brown Thrasher and a Fox Sparrow offered excellent views and opportunities for photographs as they foraged near our group. Nearby we picked up some more foraging birds including a Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and many other sparrows. Then, out of nowhere, one participant spotted a white, flat flying object swooping down right in front of our group and into a little crevice in a tree. It turned out to be a flying squirrel! We have not seen flying squirrels out in the wild, away from feeders, and during the day! Everyone got excellent views as it came in and out of the crevice. After a few minutes, it glided away into the forest. As we walked closer to another open field, we stumbled upon the same flock of sparrows and attempted to make our way through the snow-covered ground for a closer look at the Fox Sparrow only to be met by sharp burrs and a flyover Sharp-shinned Hawk. With exhilaration, we gingerly made our way back to the parking lot where we were delighted by another Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Brown Creeper, and a Hermit Thrush actively bathing and foraging.

February 2021, Oaks Landfill: Highlights of five trips 

Leader: Mark England. Because of a lengthy waitlist held over from January and the six-person limit on current trips, there were five late-afternoon MBC trips into the closed Oaks Landfill in February, primarily intended to see raptors and sparrows, which this site is best known for. The first trip on Thursday, February 4, was exceptional for raptors, with eight species seen, most notably a probable first-year Rough-legged Hawk (RLHA), which I had seen while scouting before the trip. We went directly to the top of the landfill and saw the RLHA very well, though it never perched very close. We also had four Northern Harriers, Cooper’s, Red-shouldered (RSHA) and Red-tailed (RTHA) Hawks, a Bald Eagle, a Merlin, and the male Short-eared Owl (SEOW) that had been present since January. The next trip, on February 6, had to be entered through the Blue Mash side of the landfill, as there had been a shooting on Rt. 108 in the morning and the road was closed for the police investigation. I saw the RLHA during scouting about 3:15 p.m., but it proved very elusive during the trip, flying away from us at one point over the big pond to Blue Mash and never allowing the group a good look. We did see 4 Northern Harriers, the continuing SEOW, an Eastern Phoebe, 4 Savannah Sparrows, and 7 Eastern Meadowlarks. On a heavily overcast February 9th trip, we saw the Rough-legged Hawk quite well, and some got good pictures, including one by Scott Young of a harrier buzzing the hawk as it perched in a pine tree. There were also RSHAs and RTHAs and good views of the hunting SEOW. A week later, on February 16, the Rough-legged Hawk was gone, possibly reappearing in some fields east of Clarksburg for two days, where it was flagged on eBird and seen by a number of birders. It seemed similarly marked to the one we saw at the landfill. On the windy 2/16 trip, we had great looks at White-crowned Sparrows and, later, American Tree Sparrows, spotted by Clive Harris. The harrier show before sundown was excellent as usual, and there were now Gadwall and Green-winged Teal in the mostly thawed pond, among other ducks. On February 27, we finally got in a trip that had twice been rescheduled due to snow and ice. The trip was for beginners and those who had never been to the landfill. With clear weather near 50 degrees, the large pond was finally ice-free, and a nice variety of waterfowl was viewed in great light, including two Northern Shovelers (rare at this location), 3 male Canvasbacks, 2 Wood Ducks, 2 Gadwall, 3 American Wigeon, 4 Green-winged Teal, a Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, and assorted Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, and a lone American Black Duck. Raptors included 3 RSHA, 2 RTHA, 1 Cooper’s Hawk glimpse only, and at least 3 harriers. We saw 2 juvenile White-crowned Sparrows and an Eastern Phoebe and were then treated to exceptional looks at 3 hunting Short-eared Owls well before sundown. As I was locking up the gate to leave, I heard at least two displaying American Woodcock adjacent to the landfill entry road, giving us 35 species for the trip, a particularly good number for this site in winter.

Sunday, January 17, 2021, Black Hill Regional Park and Gunners Lake

Leader: Gerry Hawkins. Nine persons joined the leader in a search for waterfowl at Black Hill Regional Park and nearby Gunners Lake on a mild, overcast morning. Notwithstanding unseasonably warm weather this winter, we saw 13 waterfowl species and other waterbirds at four stops. At the Black Hill RP Visitors Center, we observed Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, and distant Canada Geese, as well as Pied-billed Grebes and Great Blue Herons. Here we also enjoyed various songbirds at the well-stocked feeders, including a couple of beautiful Eastern Bluebirds. A short drive to the boat ramp area at Black Hill produced several Mallards, American Black Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and a continuing female Greater Scaup, all at close range. A stop at the Route 121 bridge over Little Seneca Lake produced more Common Mergansers and Pied-billed Grebes and a distant adult Bald Eagle perched on a cell tower. A 10-minute drive brought us to Gunners Lake, a 20-acre, man-made lake in a sea of development in Germantown that is known for its winter waterfowl, and it did not disappoint. Here we walked part of the 1.25-mile paved trail around the lake to see a small number of Canvasbacks and Redheads, including males and females of both species, over 20 Hooded Mergansers, several male Ring-necked Ducks, several Ruddy Ducks, a pair of Gadwall, a solitary male American Wigeon, and a solitary Wood Duck standing on a log next to the trail, as well as Mallards, of course. Thanks to all participants for coming on this fun field trip during these difficult times.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Cambridge and Blackwater NWR

Leader: Mark England. Participants: 7 including leader. Weather: Mostly overcast, mid-40s, but stiff winds made it seem much colder. Species: 46 that I can remember. As on the December trip exactly a month earlier, we started on the bitter-cold bank of the Choptank River in Cambridge and made our usual several stops along the waterfront. Wind-driven swells and spotting scope instability made it difficult to scan the river, but we had the expected Surf Scoters for sure, Bufflehead, and Double-crested Cormorants. At the marina, we again found very close Long-tailed Ducks, both male and female. Unlike in December, there were at least 200 ducks at the end of Oakley Street, mainly Canvasbacks and Lesser Scaup, with numbers of American Wigeon, Redheads, and Ruddy Ducks as well. There also appeared to be a few Greater Scaup, based on close observation of head shape and bill details. The slow trip down Egypt Road was more productive than in December, with a well-seen eastern Palm Warbler at our first stop, a distant flock of about 100 American Pipits, some Eastern Meadowlarks in flight, and, surprisingly, two Pine Warblers perched together on a telephone wire at the intersection of Egypt Road and Key Wallace Drive. The refuge Life of the Marsh Trail through the loblolly pines was very quiet till the end, where we took the alternate path back to the parking lot through more shrubby habitat. We found a close Brown Creeper and then several Brown-headed Nuthatches very low down on nearby tree trunks, certainly the best looks at them that any of us had ever seen. At the Observation Point marsh overlook platform, we were able to look down on a puffed-up American Bittern stalking through the shallow water to finally catch and swallow a small minnow, one of the high points of the trip. We had more expected waterfowl on the refuge including Northern Shovelers, flying Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, American Black Ducks, and hundreds of Tundra Swans. Rather amazingly, we saw no kestrels, bluebirds, or Red-tailed Hawks this time, and only one distant Northern Harrier. Three of us did see harriers at the Bestpitch Ferry bridge near sundown but no Short-eared Owls as we had hoped since three had been seen there on the previous visit in December.

2020 Trips

Sunday, December 6, 2020, Cambridge and Blackwater NWR

Leader: Mark England. Participants: 6 including leader. Weather: An excellent sunny day, though very windy and cold early on. Total species: 46. We started at 9 a.m. as usual at the Dorchester County (Sailwinds) Visitor Center on the Choptank River in Cambridge, where we fought bitter cold winds but saw expected Surf Scoters and Bufflehead. At the Cambridge Marina, we had the resident three gull species, a female White-winged Scoter, and superb close looks at Long-tailed Ducks swimming within the boat piers near the lighthouse. Oakley Street was lacking the usual assortment of ducks, but we saw several close species from the next street over, including American Wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead, and Lesser Scaup. We added Laughing Gull, Ruddy Duck, and domestic Muscovy Ducks farther down the waterfront, before heading out of Cambridge and stopping at the Goose Creek Store. From there we did the long, slow drive down Egypt Road, which was slower than usual, though we did see one meadowlark, one kestrel, and a well-seen buffy-colored juvenile Peregrine Falcon. While we were watching the Peregrine, a very dark and puzzling eagle soared into view. We debated its identity for some time before agreeing that it soared entirely on flat wings (no dihedral at all) and was likely a young Bald Eagle and not a Golden. At the Blackwater refuge, we stopped in the Visitor Center, ate a quick lunch in our cars while watching a harrier or two, and then did the Wildlife Drive. Dabbling ducks were MIA this day, and we saw only two N. Shovelers, two American Black Ducks, and a few Hooded Mergansers. We did find two high-up Brown-headed Nuthatches and too many Tundra Swans to count, though we did not see any of the usual shorebirds or Am. White Pelicans. After some folks headed back, the leader and two others drove over to Bestpitch Ferry Road and enjoyed mostly distant views of four N. Harriers and at least three Short-eared Owls. Thanks to Ed Vigezzi for tracking our sightings at the numerous stops during the day!

Sunday, November 29, 2020, Lilypons Water Gardens, Frederick County

Leaders: Clive Harris and Dave Powell. Participants: 12 including leaders. This is always a popular trip so we had 2 leaders leading two separate groups cover the property. Weather: An excellent morning, calm and dry. Total species between the two groups: 54. We had a good morning for sparrows, including good looks at multiple Fox and White-crowned Sparrows and an eventually cooperative American Tree Sparrow, which we found in a small dried-up pond near the main buildings and which everyone got on. A late, lingering Great Egret tripped the eBird rarity filter, and in the same area we had a good assortment of ducks including Gadwall, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser. We encountered the usual assortment of winter birds, although Rusty Blackbirds provided only poor views, and we had just one each of Pine Siskin and Purple Finch, good for most years but low for an irruption year. As well as the 3 sparrows mentioned above, we had many Song, Swamp, and White-throated Sparrows, and we had a chance to distinguish their call notes. Other highlights included flyover American Pipits and Eastern Meadowlark and 6 species of woodpeckers. Checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S76859480 and https://ebird.org/checklist/S76852956

Wednesday, November 11, 2020, RedGate Park: Basics of Sparrow ID

Eight participants and two leaders: Lydia Schindler and Linda Friedland. Overcast skies and unseasonably warm temperatures with the forecast of rain holding off until noon. We began our annual Veterans Day sparrow search at 7:30, heading down the path to the “sparrow pit,” a meadow that had recently provided birders with a trove of sparrows. But this morning the sparrows were keeping quiet and low. At the pit, a flurry of activity in the bushes and brambles quickly gave way to rain, a drizzle at first and then coming down in earnest that made ID-ing difficult. Even with fogged optics, one or another of our group managed to get glimpses of some 20 species of birds, including Fox, Song, White-throated, Swamp, and Chipping sparrows, plus juncos and towhees.

Saturday, October 24, 2020, MBC Presidents’ Walk at Blue Mash

Bird Club members enjoyed a great outing to Blue Mash Nature Trail on October 24 for the Annual Presidents’ Walk—a trip to see some good birds and honor past and current presidents of the Montgomery Bird Club. Current President Evelyn Ralston and 2 past presidents, Linda Friedland and Lydia Schindler, were in attendance along with 4 other members of the club. Weather was great, sunny with temperatures heading toward the low 60s. We netted 41 species for the day. Highlights included 4 Northern Pintails and 25 Green-winged Teals in the “big pond.” We checked a flock of shorebirds on the pond’s mudflats but could only come up with 40 or so Killdeers. A late Common Yellowthroat was nice plus 5 Palm Warblers and some great close-up looks at an Eastern Phoebe and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Sunday, October 04 2020, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens: Kenilworth Park, DC

Leaders: Mike Bowen and Gerry Hawkins; 10 other participants Weather: Fine, sunny, delightful, cool at first. Species count: 40. With the club mandating that no more than 6 participants should be allowed on a field trip conducted during pandemic times, on this trip we divided the 10 participants into two groups of 5, one going with Gerry and the other with Mike. The two groups traveled independently all morning. The 2 resulting checklists were slightly different, with Mike’s group recording 37 species and Gerry’s group 38. Highlights: Both groups noted large groups of American Robins, Blue Jays and (low-flying) Chimney Swifts at KAG, which also featured Wood Ducks overhead, a flushed Wilson’s Snipe and a late Brown Thrasher. One group had Savannah Sparrows in Kenilworth Park, while both groups saw an Eastern Meadowlark there, flushed up by Gerry’s group. Warblers were scarce, but we did manage Yellow-rumped (Myrtle), Palm, Black-throated Blue, and Common Yellowthroat. The morning ended in the park with an immature Bald Eagle cruising overhead. The two eBird checklists for the trip can be found at: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S74404724 and https://ebird.org/checklist/S74410893

Saturday, October 03 2020, Little Bennett Regional Park

Little Bennett Regional Park, Wilsons Mill, Mound Builder, Beaver Valley trails. Leader: Gemma Radko; Participants: 7; Weather: Chilly to start, but clear, turning into a beautiful fall day. Species: 40. This trip featured a big influx of winter residents, starting with Purple Finch. We observed at least eight birds, most brownies, but one adult male in all his purple glory. Also saw many Ruby-crowned Kinglets, plus heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker turned up at the end of the walk, just in time to make number 40. Other notables were Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrushes, plus a late Wood Thrush; at least three stunning Blue-headed Vireos; Pine, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and Yellow-rumped warblers; and large numbers of both Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings.

Saturday, September 26 2020, Croydon Creek Nature Center

Co-Leaders: Anne Mytych and Emily Huang. Participants: 7, including co-leaders. Weather: Overcast, light drizzle at times, 65 to 69 F. Total species: 33. This was the second MBC walk at Croydon Creek to help expose birders to a MC hidden gem. We met at the nature center parking lot at 7:30 am and ended around 10:30 am. We started at the feeders, which had some activity, but the lighting was very poor. We saw mostly the usual feeder birds as well as two Scarlet Tanagers and a Common Yellowthroat. We headed down the main road toward the meadow, and found a couple of Magnolia Warblers, a Black-and-white Warbler and another Scarlet Tanager. The meadow was quiet but we did see a Swainson’s Thrush and heard a couple of Catbirds and Cardinals. We went over the bridge on the trail and found another Swainson’s, as well as a Gray-Cheeked Thrush, which we noted had a plain gray face and no eye ring. We made a final stop back at the feeders and there were a lot of Chickadees, Titmice and House Finches fluttering around. Before we left, we had a quick visit from an Indigo Bunting and a Black-throated Green Warbler, who landed on the Sycamore behind the feeders. The complete checklist from the walk can be viewed in eBird at https://ebird.org/checklist/S74071867

Sunday, September 20 2020, Pennyfield to Violettes – Bird Stalk

Note: Due to the pandemic and concerns about maintaining safety and social distancing on a crowded towpath, the stalk was changed to Hughes Hollow in the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area. Leader: Jim Nelson. Participants: 7, including leader. Weather: Sunny, 44 to 61 F. Total species: 44. This walk is for folks who generally cannot get out as early. The total species count was more than last year’s walk on the towpath, not surprising given the broader array of habitat at Hughes Hollow and favorable weather. Neotropical migrants are always a delight in fall migration. We had 7 species of warbler, 2 of vireo, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but no tanagers, thrushes, or orioles. Highlights in the impoundments were Blue-winged Teal, Pectoral Sandpipers, an American Bittern surprisingly out in the middle of the water, Green Herons, and a Great Blue Heron. A high-flying Cooper’s Hawk was seen stooping on a soaring Common Raven. Three Brown Thrashers together in one small area were quite a surprise. There were lots of Eastern Wood-Pewees and a Least Flycatcher. The complete checklist from the walk can be viewed in eBird at https://ebird.org/checklist/S73837358

Sunday, September 13 2020, Rock Creek Park

The MBC beginners bird walk had 3 participants plus the leader Clive Harris. Being a migrant trap, some days are better than others at Rock Creek and this day was a relatively quiet one as it had been a few days since the last cold front. We had a total of 29 species for the morning, which included 5 species of warblers, of which Blue-winged was the best, but American Redstart and Common Yellowthroat were the most numerous. We had very nice views of Veery feeding on berries in the Maintenance Yard parking lot, and of Baltimore Oriole in the Yard itself, as well as a Scarlet Tanager. Red-eyed Vireo were the most common songbird, with a tally of 10 and we also enjoyed many House Wrens.

Thursday, September 03 2020, Wheaton Regional Park

The first bird walk of the 2020 fall season was held at Wheaton Regional Park on Thursday, Sept. 3 on a sunny morning. The six participants gathered with Rae in the parking lot, Woody being down at Pine Lake. He had gone early to see if the American Avocet seen on Sept. 2 was still there but he appeared shortly saying no luck. We started by scanning the trees around the parking area but continued fairly quickly to the train tracks, the orchard, wall of vines, Pine Lake, and the sunny corner. By the end of three hours we had seen or heard 37 species, three of which were warblers: Black-and-white, American Redstart, and Blue-winged. Three more warbler species stayed maddeningly just out of identification range. Other notable birds were a Common Nighthawk, a Warbling Vireo which was both heard and seen, two Baltimore Orioles, and two Veeries, one of which followed an apparent companion American Robin everywhere as though he were attached by a string! Red-eyed Vireos were in fairly good supply and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds buzzed over the jewelweed. Everyone seemed to have a good time and were very good-natured about mask wearing. Woody and Rae Dubois.