With little chance for significant snow in the forecast across wide swaths of the United States, typical wintertime recreation is at somewhat of a standstill. Sledding, skiing and the neighborhood snowball fight are all on hold until Mother Nature gifts us with new year snow, making this a perfect time to dust off the old binoculars and head out for some birdwatching. This time of year is big in the birding community — the National Audubon Society just wrapped up its annual Christmas Bird Count, which typically brings thousands of birders and their families to local parks and open spaces to count and catalog the wide array of birds on display. At Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), Patuxent Park Naturalist Greg Kearns says winter is a wonderful time of year to see hundreds of different types of birds in varied habitats. “The big thing this time of year is waterfowl,” Kearns says. M-NCPPC boasts some six miles of continuous waterfront where visitors can catch glimpses of Canada geese, swans, ducks and raptors of several varieties, including the majestic bald eagle. Many songbirds can also be spotted — “ones that aren’t here in the summer,” Kearns adds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, juncos (like the cute little fella pictured here), American tree sparrows and red-winged blackbirds are just a sampling of the birds that can be found in and around M-NPPC’s properties. Kearns says most folks who join him on his regionally famous guided trips at Patuxent are fairly experienced at birdwatching, but, for novices, he recommends starting at the visitor’s center, where knowledgeable naturalists can provide a birding checklist — including more than 300 birds for which to look — and information on the best spots to meet a feathered friend. All you need is a set of binoculars — “that’s 100 percent essential,” Kearns says — a decent field guide and perhaps a camera, and you’re off! For those in the Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., or nearby environs, Kearns encourages a visit to the M-NCPPC website for detailed information on Patuxent Park programs, or call 301.627.6074 to be connected directly with staff at the park. But, no matter where you are, consider adding this quiet, contemplative and often exciting hobby to your roster of wintertime activities. It’s yet another way to appreciate the diverse habitats and natural spaces available at your local park.
Samantha Bartram,Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine