Each of our wonderful seasons can bring a variety of birding and avian photography opportunities, but the shorter days with the slightest hint of a chill in the air, will signal the return south for many species and the chance to observe and photograph not only our local resident feathered friends, but the many others that only pass through our area on their journey from their summer breeding grounds to their wintering habitats. This has to be my favorite time of year to get out and explore a few of my favorite nearby birding locations on almost a daily basis to see who might be passing through and/or taking a rest during their arduous trip south.
I concentrate my efforts with dedication and zeal during my exploration of my local haunts; spending hours looking and listening for the slightest movement or sound from the woodlands and grasslands near my home. The following will be a small sampling of my photographic efforts during the past fall seasons.
You never really know what species of passerine (perching birds) you might find during the fall migration and this period is truly “a time for discovery” or a renewal of your discoveries with avian species you may have seen passing through during the spring months. Searching for individual species during the spring and summer months is usually more specific to their habitat and breeding locations, whereas the sightings in the fall are normally less habitat restrictive and more based on their chosen route of travel.
Above is a migrant Blackpoll warbler I found resting in my local watershed. He was quite the beauty!
Weather can play an important role during both the fall and spring migration as we look for a phenomenon called “fallout.” Inclement weather, usually including strong winds and rain, slows the migrating birds down causing them to rapidly use up their stored energy reserves. Thousands of extremely tired migrants are forced to seek shelter, food and a period of rest thus presenting an ideal time for observation and photography by “considerate” birding enthusiasts and avian photographers.
I cannot stress enough the importance of “consideration” to the welfare of these species that should be given by the birding community and avian photographers; and the public in general!! Harassing these birds by any means during a“fallout” is just as detrimental to the bird as the same bad behavior as trying to get a “closer look” or a better picture by invading their space or using any sounds, vocal or recorded, while they are establishing their territories, nesting and raising their young. There are plenty of times when these practices can be safe as long as they are kept to a minimum.
Patience is a “virtue”, and a careful dedicated study of a chosen area can pay off in royal dividends when it comes to getting that close look or excellent photograph of a bird.
A very common fall visitor to my watershed and other favorite nearby locations; and normally in abundant numbers, is the Magnolia Warbler. (pictured above)
I am more into quality than quantity when it comes to my bird observations and photography! I’ve never been one to go out and see just how many species I can add to a list in a single outing, but I admire those who do and their efforts are helpful to all of us in the birding and avian photography community.
I guess my “list” would consist of my photographs for the day. I do keep notes on occasion, and submit “special” findings to e-bird and sometimes the local birding list-serves.. I by far more enjoy quietly observing and photographically documenting the behavior of a given species for an extended period of time.
My method of “discovery”, and hopefully successful observation and photography of a species will include finding a “birdy” location along my way and quietly sitting and watching the landscape for activity; and I may sit for hours at a single location “waiting and watching” while taking advantage of any photographic opportunities that present themselves. I might be using my vehicle as a “hide” on a seldom traveled or an “off the beaten path” roadway or hiking through the woodlands, grasslands or coastal marshes.
I have always been somewhat a loner and rarely participate as a member of large birding or photography groups. I prefer to observe and photograph nature in quiet solitude with a minimum of distractions. I work better that way and I have more time to devote to an individual member of a species and capture its behavior and every day activities.
I do have a very special birding friend, and that is my Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Tucker who enjoys our outings as much as his dad! He likes to sit in the rear seat of my vehicle and watch the birds as I photograph them from my window. I do have a few human friends who accompany me on occasion.
An uncommon visitor to my watershed, this Blue-winged warbler (pictured above) was a very surprising find and nestled in a lovely setting for a photograph. However, I have seen a breeding pair not far away in another favorite area along the Kowomu Trail in northern Carroll County Maryland. I have noticed them at that location for several years now. I also had one singing along a gravel road on the border of the Codorus State Park in York County Pennsylvania during the spring.
As I mentioned above, I have “select” areas where I heavily concentrate my attention and effort during the fall migration. Most are very close to my home while several others are located in neighboring states. The “hot-spots” near my home are located within both the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland and I luckily reside less than one-half mile just above the noted Mason-Dixon Line separating the two.
The area I frequent the most is the Hanover Watershed CWMA and the Hanover Watershed (joined together) in Carroll County Maryland and York County Pennsylvania. It’s an easy 5 minute drive and allows me daily visits with more time to observe and photograph and less time to travel. “Its back-yard birding at it’s best!”
The Hanover Watershed CWMA has been full of surprises this past fall and the above Canada Warbler was a first for me at this location. I normally find this species deep within the rhododendrons and along the small clear streams of the Michaux State Forest, just west of Gettysburg Pennsylvania and another one of my favorite fall locations.
The Hanover Watershed CWMA (Maryland) and the Hanover Watershed (Pennsylvania)
Located in portions of Carroll County Maryland and York County Pennsylvania, the Hanover Watershed CWMA (Carroll County MD) and the Hanover Watershed (York County PA) provide a mixed forest rural oasis for bird life along the Mason Dixon Line!
Travel through the watershed is by less traveled gravel roads with plenty of room to pull of to the side and park to hike the roads themselves for birding and photography opportunities.
A “breeding” resident and a consistent songster with his “Teacher – Teacher – Teacher” tune, the Ovenbird is quite abundant within the Watershed and most of my local haunts!
The Hanover Watershed CWMA (Wildlife Management Area) on the Maryland side, is a “by permit only” hunting area which I believe tends to see very little pressure from sportsmen, at least far as long as I have been frequenting the area. I can’t recall ever hearing a shot fired. I would guess that the location is mostly bow hunting orientated!
The primary and most productive access to both the CWMA and Hanover Watershed proper is by Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road, which can be reached directly off of E. Deep Run Road, west of MD Route 30 or from MD Route 30 via Yingling Road just before the Pennsylvania state line.
A very exciting find for me during the fall migration of 2012, was this Nashville Warbler searching for food in a brushy area, just after crossing the Pennsylvania state line along Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road.
Ironically, I found this Mourning Warbler less than 10 feet from the same spot this year. (2013) Another exciting find that “made my day”! It’s amazing how closely these two species resemble each other except for the gray neck and throat of the Mourning..
Traveling from E. Deep Run Road along Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road you will pass through a small rural residential area and then down a hill through woodlands to the junction of Yingling Road!
Turning left and continuing on Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road, you will pass a willow grove on your left (private property) that is a birding “hot-spot” and very productive throughout the seasons.
I have photographed over 30+ species at this location. I made it a point to introduced myself to the landowners and over the past years have gained their trust. Birding and photography can be excellent from the road in front of their property.
The open areas are loaded with Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) and Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) during the mid to late summer months and can draw hummingbirds by the dozens.
Another exciting surprise during the fall migration of 2012 was this rather inquisitive Kentucky Warbler who paid me a visit along Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road. This was first for me as far as photographing this species, although I hear their songs on a regular basis during the spring.
From the “willow grove” and continuing north on Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road, your journey will take you through mixed forests as you follow the tiny headwaters of South Branch Conewago Creek and some of the best birding and photography opportunities within the CWMA.
You will pass the junction of Garrett road and continue across the Pennsylvania state line and enter the Hanover Watershed which is a joint venture with the borough of Hanover and the P.H. Gladtfelter Paper Company located in Spring Grove Pennsylvania.
During the fall migration of 2012, I found this Yellow-rumped Warbler sitting on a limb of a fallen tree just north of the Garrett Road intersection. He was more than willing to pose for a few pictures.
After crossing a small bridge over the South Branch Conewago Creek and continuing up the hill thorough the woodlands, Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road will come to an end at it’s junction with Bankard Road. Be sure to be very observant along Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road before crossing the creek for fall raptors, especially the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) and Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) whom are normally present!
There are several pairs, if not more of Red-shoulders and Red-tails who breed within and call the watershed home on a yearly basis. Both the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) and the Barred Owl (Strix varia) reside within the watersheds forests and the late fall is a great time to listen for their “hoots” of courtship. If you’re lucky, you might even get to observe and/or photograph one!
One of my favorites, and most contrasting in colors, is the Black-throated Blue Warbler (pictured above) which I also normally find among the Laurel thickets within the mountainous terrain of the Michaux State Forest west of Gettysburg. Historically, this was a “first ever” find for me in the Hanover Watershed CWMA and took place this past fall (2013).
And then to put the “icing on the cake”, I was able to, on the same day, add the Black-throated Blue Mrs. (female) too!!!!!!!! (pictured above)
Not directly related to the fall migration, but taking a left onto Bankard Road from Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road, and proceeding up the hill, will take you to a lovely cut area, (to your right) loaded with new pine growth and is one of the best locations in the Hanover Watershed for finding breeding Prairie Warblers and Indigo Buntings.
I also found a “wayward” Golden-winged Warbler at this location several years back! The fall and winter months bring sparrows such as the White-throated, Field and Song. Eastern Blue birds make an appearance on occasion as well as patrolling raptors!
The fall months also bring the wintering birds to the watershed and one of my favorites is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This is just one of about twenty that was occupying this tree and he went “vogue” for a few photographs..
Although the most popular with me, Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road is not the only productive pathway for birding and avian photography in the Hanover Watershed Pennsylvania sections. Another is Deer Road which can be accessed off of PA 94 (Baltimore Pike) or Impounding Dam Road. (traveling south-east from Old Westminster Road) Deer Road is a narrow gravel affair and hardly traveled by motor vehicles except perhaps for the two residences just west of the Baltimore Pike.
I can sit for hours and never see another vehicle west of the two houses. The road is heavily forested except for a logged section to the north and beyond an area of thick tall pines which is the primary tree of this forested area. There is however dense vegetation along the forest floor and very popular with the always vocal Ovenbird who seems to be forever present during the breeding season.
We all are overwhelmed by, and adore the brilliant cool “reds” of the Scarlet Tanager, but hardly pay homage to the female of the species. I found this young lady perched on a low bush below the pine canopy along Deer Road. She was quite the camera ham and seemed to enjoy my company, even with the flash firing away. For a good exposure and color depth, a flash is a necessity along Deer Road!!
For those birding with a good spotting scope or photographing with a long telephoto lens, a few of the standing dead trees in the logged section provide homes for the resident Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Other Woodpecker species within the watershed include the Hairy, Downy and the Pileated.
The rest of the roads that provide access to and travel through the Watershed are productive as well but care must be exercised in pulling off to the side and parking as most are heavily traveled. Also a suitable road shoulder to support a motor vehicle is at a minimum!
One of, if not the most exciting find of the 2013 fall migration, was the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (pictured above); and only just a few minutes from home at that! I have been searching for this species for the past five years and wanted so badly to be able to includes its portrait to my past blog article, “The Flycatchers” which documented this interesting family of birds. “Wow” was this bird a surprise! The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher breeds much farther north of this area and migrating birds present the only opportunities for one’s observation and photography within my region of the United States.
Codorus State Park, Morningstar Road (Pennsylvania)
Departing the Hanover Watershed and traveling about ten minutes east in southern York County Pennsylvania, Codorus State Park affords numerous opportunities for some excellent birding and photography throughout the seasons. I like to use my vehicle as a “hide” and there is a small gravel road that traces the northern border of the park and provides me with wonderful chances to get that “great photo” of numerous species.
“Now you see me and now you don’t!” This Cerulean Warbler (pictured above) was an inspiring find along Morningstar Road this fall, however he only gave me a short opportunity for a single image! I took the picture and then checked the histogram on the camera LCD for exposure and looked back up and he was gone! So what you see is what you get!!! I heard their familiar song during the spring but hadn’t laid eyes on the bird. Perhaps he is breeding at this location.
Traveling south from the Hanover borough, and east along PA Route 216, Morningstar Road will be your third left after crossing the third bridge over the arms of Lake Marburg. This little road travels east for about a mile or so and ends at its junction with Skyview Drive. It follows a tiny stream on your left with a mixture of dense vegetation and hardwood forest on both sides for about three-quarters of its length before opening up into pastures and farm land.
The most abundant warbler this past fall (2013) throughout my local haunts was the Black-throated Green (pictured above) and these little rascals where everywhere. I must have photographed over 40 individual members of this species during a six-week period. I can’t recall ever encountering so many of these little guys! The Magnolia usually takes the prize in the “abundance” category…
Navigating Morningstar Road to the east, the best birding and photography opportunities will be to your left along the stream. There is a single residence about an eighth-mile on your right that sits back in the woods followed by a farm also to your right near the end of the road.
Most of the right side of the road consists of a steep dirt bank, whereas the left side with the stream provides more open views and better light. During the late spring and summer, the heavily wooded canopy can hamper much of the existing natural light and shooting with a flash is almost mandatory!
The above Great Crested Flycatcher is one of several I observed and photographed this fall! I found these to be a common species for this location over the past few years along with the Least Flycatcher and the Eastern Phoebe. I’m still hoping for that long sought after Olive-sided Flycatcher which has eluded me to this day!
Morningstar Road is a very special favorite of mine during the early spring for wildflowers. The Bloodroot (Sanguinaria) can be found in abundance along the steep dirt bank on the right side of the road. Bloodroot is one of my favorite early blooms along with the Snow Trillium. See “Bloodroot” War Paint and the Medicine Man, an earlier exploration of this lovely wild bloom…
For those exploring the area, and who enjoy narrow and less traveled gravel roads through woodlands, returning to PA 216 and turning right (south) will take you a short distance to the intersection of Allison Mills Road. Turn right on Allison Mills Road and follow it southeast to the junction of Blue Hill Road.
Proceed across Blue Hill Road at a very slight angle to the right and onto Lilly Springs Road, a narrow gravel affair traveling though a densely forested area filled with lovely sights and sounds of avian life.. Allison Mills Road, on its own merit, can be highly productive for a variety of species and follows a small stream.
The Kowomu Trail
Like the Hanover Watershed CWMA, Carroll County Maryland hosts two more of my favorite local birding and avian photography hangouts. Just 5.2 miles or so below the Mason Dixon Line; or 8 miles north of the junction of MD 140 in Westminster MD and 14.5 miles south of US Route 15 in Gettysburg PA. PA/MD 97 (Baltimore/Littlestown Pike) provides access to another narrow gravel road through the rural Maryland countryside and some wonderful birdy habitat.
A juvenile Northern Parula warbler perches on a low limb next to the bridge over Big Pipe Creek.
At the junction with MD 97, Saw Mill Road W will travel for a short distance as a paved road down a hill, to a sharp left turn, and across a single-lane deck bridge across Big Pipe Creek and continue as a gravel lane called the Kowomu Trail….
I discovered the Kowomu Trail about 7 years back while looking for owls in my area and have been a regular visitor since! The section just after crossing the bridge contains woodlands and a brushy stream-side meadow with plenty of cover and food sources for our avian friends. The habitat along the Kowomu Trail can be quite diverse from the previously mentioned to hardwood forests, farmland and a scattering of rural residences with a variety of cultivated flora.
Late summer and early fall brings many species to the Kowomu Trail in not only the migrating warblers but many of the species who actually breed in the area to light.
A Chipping Sparrow “strikes a pose” near the equestrian trail entrance near the eastern end of the area.
The Sparrows begin to make a showing and are easier to find along the trail with the Chipping, Field and Song being the most common. Also in the area are the White-throated, White-crowned and an occasional Fox Sparrow.
I really need to spend more time on the sparrow species and a Face Book friend from Maryland; Bonnie Coats Ott has given me that inspiration over the past year. She goes by the nickname “Sparrow Bon” and has quite a collection of photographs and sightings.
Just one of many lovely Field Sparrows makes an appearance allowing an excellent photographic opportunity.
One of my favorite breeding species that seems to be abundant along the trail is the Veery. With its haunting song and calls one can spend evenings enjoying the symphony of conversation between the different birds present in the area. They tend to be quite shy and finding them for photographs is not an easy chore. But once in a “Blue Moon” and with a little luck, you can find one in the open and get that special shot.
As one of my favorites of the Thrush family, I found this Veery perched in the open near the center parking area along the trail. It didn’t seem to mind my intrusion at all and allowed me numerous photographs and time to observe its beauty.
Both of our eastern species of the Oriole family can be found along the trail throughout their breeding and migration seasons, but it seems the Orchard is the most common. I have heard the Baltimore on numerous occasions but have yet to actually see the bird, more-less photograph it. But I will continue listening and trying.
A lovely male Orchard Oriole makes an appearance in the same tree along the creek near the bridge as I was photographing the juvenile Northern Parula Warbler. His chest is washed in the vivid copper color of the spring breeding season.
I cannot mention the Kowomu Trail without the recognition of my all time favorite discovery there; the Yellow-breasted Chat. This species had been a nemesis for years and while photographing a White-eyed Vireo in a brushy area he made his initial appearance.
If you have never experienced their call or song, it seems to be a tune from the “wilds” of Africa or New Guinea. It is truly interesting with a series of notes and whistles; sort of like that of the Brown Thrasher, less the whistle and far more intuitive and fun. Classified as a warbler, the Chat is much larger. I had read somewhere that this classification may change in the future if not already. I have photographed this fella below over the past three years.
A stunning male Yellow-breasted Chat shares his curiosity and beauty with his photographer friend along the Kowomu Trail in Carroll County, Maryland.
The Union Mills Wetland
My final local haunt to share is a mixture of a forest, brush and wetland habitat known as the Union Mills Wetland. It is a very short distance north of the Kowomu Trail (Sawmill Road) and after passing through the small town of Union Mills. It’s located off a gravel affair called Brown Road, to your left off MD Route 97 from Westminster.
The wetland is well-known to many locals in the birding community and holds a diverse amount of species although they are not always easy to observe. I haven’t spent nearly as much time there as I would have liked to, but plan more visits this year and in the future.
A “Surprise” immature Blackburnian Warbler makes an appearance in some shrubbery along the road through the Union Mills Wetland. The Blackburnian in it’s breeding plumage remains a nemesis to me this day as hard as I have tried to find and photograph one in the open.
The area is a favorite of the local hunters who have permission to enter so plan your visits wisely. Waterfowl can be prevalent, but the hunting is for the deer in the area. I do not believe that waterfowl hunting is allowed; at least I have not witnessed any in the past which I am happy to report.
Visiting this area in the early spring can be an experience of “sight and sound” especially with the chorus of Spring peepers and Wood Frogs with the occasional Bull Frog singing bass. Then you add in the tune of the Least Bittern who might make a visit along with other birds and you have a symphony of nature that will impress the most skeptical of listeners.
Another “Surprise” visitor to the wetlands during the last fall migration was this female Blue Grosbeak. I have never observed either the male or female at this location, but then perhaps again, I need to spend more time there.
The wetland is also a great place for sparrows during the fall, winter and spring and I will highlight three species I didn’t image for the Kowomu Trail. The king of the wetlands is the Swamp Sparrow (pictured below) and one of my all time favorites. The grassy areas will hold the Savannah and the woodlands the White-throated Sparrow. I am sure there are more that I didn’t see or hear at the time.
“What a Pose” this beautiful species offered his photographer. I must have photographed his frolic for 20 minutes before he finally disappeared into the reeds.
This lovely Savannah Sparrow made a brief appearance allowing me one image before darting off into the unknown. I had been “graced” with its brief visit.
“Standing Proud” can be well referenced to this handsome White-throated Sparrow. Common Yes; but always a pleasure to observe and photograph. His Majesty had blessed me with his presence this fine day!
So I conclude sharing some of my “secret haunts” with my birding, photographic and good friends. I will perhaps be pistol-whipped by some of my peers for doing so, but sharing has always been my nature and I really didn’t give away the exact locations where I know the birds will be time day after day and I will leave those for you to discover on your own with the dedication I had put into these areas.
I only ask that you keep any disturbance to a “bare minimum” and respect the posted areas of the watershed and other locations. Wetlands are sensitive areas so leave no footprints. Birding and photography needs to be kept to the roadways. Large birding social gatherings within intimate surroundings are a “peeve” of mine and I find them as detrimental to the species as the abusive use of playback or recorded bird songs during the breeding season so I also ask you keep your visits to the small gatherings of a few friends.
I hope you enjoyed my efforts……..Jim Flowers