If hope is what you’re looking for (psst, it is the thing with feathers), then early spring in Anne Arundel County is the place to find it. Whether you need to fill in a few gaps on your Covid bingo card or are eager to dust off your treasured binoculars, opportunities abound for all levels of birders at these county parks, equally accessible, each with distinct birdwatching offerings.
A Bluebird bringing happiness on a late February morning in Quiet Waters Park. Photo courtesy of Hugh Vandervoort.
New to the hobby, I had the good fortune of getting a crash course from local expert—not to mention legend—Ranger Dave Burman, Senior Park Ranger for Anne Arundel County. Ranger Dave encourages all levels to get out birding this time of year to enjoy “a plethora of both residential birds and the migratory birds starting to work their way back.” Though Covid restrictions have temporarily suspended his hugely popular Birding 101 course and Owl Night Walks, hope still springs eternal they will open up soon; where there’s a whippoorwill (and a mask) there’s a way.
Quiet Waters Run Wild
Less than 5 minutes from Annapolis City Dock, Quiet Waters offers over 340 diverse acres, including waterfrontage, young forest, and meadow. Naturally, this translates to a great diversity of awesome avians (more than 187 have been observed), affording exciting discoveries for birders of all levels. Despite extensive shoreline, there are relatively few waterfowl, but plenty of osprey, heron, woodpeckers, songbirds, blue birds, Belted Kingfishers, screech and bard owls. There is a $6 daily entry fee (for people, that is), or $30 annual vehicle entry permit ($40 for non-AACo residents).
One of 2 mating pair of Wood Duck at Quiet Waters. Wood Duck boxes located throughout the park are one of the ways Park Rangers of Anne Arundel County are helping the species rebound. Photo courtesy of Hugh Vandervoort.
Mouth of the South
Jutting into the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the South River, Thomas Point’s rocky shoreline has Buffleheads by the masses, Loon and Scaups. All these diving ducks are eager to feast on the fish who are feasting on the algae which is growing on the rocks. (Somewhere my high school biology teacher is drinking vodka from a thermos, shouting food chain!)
Bufflehead bobbing off Thomas Point this past December. Photo courtesy of Hugh Vandervoort.
Ranger Dave particularly recommends early spring for this spot; by late spring/summer, the influx of fishermen keep many of the birds at bay, or at least at another rocky shoreline. Thomas Point is best for the intermediate to advanced bird watcher. Because the birds are often quite far away, identifying intricacies can be hard to see, making this a good place for intermediate to advanced bird watchers. Though, as Ranger Dave points out, a pair of powerful binoculars opens the game up to beginners. To get to the point, there is no entry fee.
What Great Numbers of Birds You Have, Grandma
A trio of Great Blue Heron in the waters off Jug Bay. Photo Courtesy of Hugh Vandervoort.
Quiet Waters’ may be younger and have more acreage, but the older forest and wetlands of Jug Bay endow it with plenty of osprey and a greater diversity of both song and migratory birds. Birdwatching runs the gamut at this peaceful park in Lothian. With plenty to offer beginners, it is an ideal place to hone sight and sound identification. All the better to see and hear. $6 per vehicle via cash or check..
Have a Ball Beyond the Fields
The sports fields with which Davidsonville Park is most often associated, give way to fields, parkland and Patuxent River frontage. To quote absolutely nobody, it’s an intermediate’s paradise. In the pine trees are a few nesting pair of Screech Owls. You will see and hear Piliated Woodpecker and almost certainly hear the alert call of the Carolina Wren.
There are 3 mating pair of Orioles at Davidsonville Park. Photo courtesy of Hugh Vandervoort.
No birdwatching book in these parts is complete without an Oriole sighting. The trick to seeing an Oriole, says Ranger Dave without a hint of irony, is to “be patient, be quiet, and be able to spend lots of time.” As both a lifelong O’s fan and burgeoning birdwatcher, that’s a note with which I can identify.