Woodpeckers and Waterfowl Abound This Time of Year, so Grab Your Binoculars and Hit the Trails

November can seem like a bleak month as temperatures drop, days shorten and the rich colors of autumn give way to bare branches and stark waterways. But there is an upside to nature’s annual denuding of the Maryland landscape.

“It’s much easier to see the birds,” says Peter Lev, president of the Baltimore Bird Club. “And this is the time when ducks and geese make their way south, so there’s a great variety of waterfowl to observe. What you see can change day by day.”

A retired Towson University professor who has been involved with the Baltimore Bird Club for more than 25 years, Peter sees birding as a great activity for the entire family—a way to unplug from electronics, get some exercise and help kids build their power of observation and a love for the outdoors.

“Certain children really take to birding. They learn an enormous amount very quickly,” he says.

Ready to hit the trails? If you and your family are complete novices, you might consider joining an organized walk; check BaltimoreBirdClub.org for a schedule of area walks this winter.

Peter advises buying a bird field guide (or using the online guide at AllAboutBirds.org, maintained by Cornell University) and investing in a pair of binoculars. In the early winter months, capitalize on migrating waterfowl by visiting area parks with bodies of water, such as Loch Raven Reservoir, Lake Roland or Quarry Lake.

“Plan to go in the morning, when birds are most hungry and active, and try to be as unobtrusive as possible; keep your voice down as you walk, and avoid wearing bright colors,” he says.

Chances are good that your November birding outing will yield sightings of Canada geese, ring-necked ducks, mallards, gadwalls and redheads (a medium-sized diving duck).

“At Loch Raven Reservoir, you may spot a bald eagle,” says Peter, who notes that woodpeckers are also in abundance this time of year.

With any luck, you might spot a downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker or a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

To keep a running list of the birds you’ve spotted, visit eBird.org, the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world.

“The No. 1 eBird lister in the world, Peter Kaestner, lives right here in Baltimore County!” he says.

Of course, you don’t have to venture far to see some beautiful species of birds. Many birding enthusiasts have great luck without ever leaving their backyard. Visit BaltimoreBirdClub.org/by/backyard.html for suet recipes, information on building birdhouses and advice for plants and shrubs you can plant to make your yard a haven for a wide variety of feathered friends.