Winter Birding in Urbana: Town & Country

Photo | Orietta C. Estrada You can find Hooded Mergansers at Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown.

Photo | Orietta C. Estrada
You can find Hooded Mergansers at Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown.

Two of my favorite winter birding spots are Urbana District Park and Lilypons Water Gardens. Urbana District Park isn’t just for ball games or the playground, it’s home to overwintering sparrows, waterfowl on the move, and the usual, beautiful suspects. And even though the ponds at Lilypons Water Gardens aren’t filled with flowers right now, beauty abounds.

Urbana District Park

Park in the lower lot, past the main playground, and start your walk on the lower trail. The trail ends at Lew Wallace Street,
which is just over half a mile away. If you’re pressed for time, or simply want to get your blood pumping, you can complete the trail, round-trip and at a brisk pace, in about 20 minutes. If a leisurely walk is more your style, be prepared to stop along the way. At any rate you choose you’ll be amazed by the wild bird diversity this park has to offer.

Focus your attention to the natural area on the left. Hidden within these tangles are sparrows, cardinals and woodpeckers. Keep an eye out for Song Sparrows, Whitecrowned Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows. Sparrows, in general, are mostly
brown and white, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “little brown jobs,” or LBJs. Song Sparrows can be seen all year and can be recognized by their long tail that flaps as they dart from shrub to shrub. Whitecrowned Sparrows, an overwintering species, are Rubenesque in appearance and sport white feathers on their crown flanked by contrasting stripes of black. Immature White-crowned Sparrows don a beige crown and brown stripes. White-throated Sparrows have an unmistakable white throat and two patches of yellow feathers on either side of their beak.

Canada Geese are common year-round at the retention pond, but other waterfowl such as Ring-necked Ducks and Snow
Geese are possibilities. There are plenty of birds that will wow you along this path. Just think, if it’s this good during the winter, what will it be like in the spring? Details on that later.

Urbana District Park is located at 3805 Urbana Pike and is open from 8 a.m. until sunset daily

Lilypons Water Gardens

Don’t rush to the parking lot because the experience begins at the entrance. An American Kestrel perched on a telephone
wire is a common sight. A kestrel is a falcon about the size of a Mourning Dove and, at a distance, it’s easy to confuse the two. Just remember, a kestrel when perched is robust and sickle-shaped, while a Mourning Dove’s body resembles a large pear and its head, a grape!

The grassy fields on either side of the driveway are good places to look for grassland birds such as the very yellow, yet cryptic, Eastern Meadowlark. Yellow-shafted Flickers, or Northern Flickers, can be seen there too. These woodpeckers hop around as they poke at the ground for food, so they’re easy to spot. Note the heart-shaped patch of crimson feathers on the back of a flicker’s head, it will help you identify it when the yellow shafts aren’t visible.

Approach the first ponds slowly. Several species of LBJs will be skulking around the dense brush to the right. Watch for lustrous Swamp Sparrows. You can tell them apart from other LBJs because their copper cap is usually erect.

Once you’ve arrived at the parking lot, it’s time to pick a path. I prefer to start with the trail behind the pink house and work my
way to the front. Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks can be seen on this route. Male Hooded Mergansers, or “Hoodies” as I like to call them, have bronze body feathers, a black head, a white chest and a white crest.

What makes Hoodies so unique is the size of their white crest—it’s enormous! The complex pattern of a male Wood Duck’s
plumage is a sight to behold. An iridescent pompadour, a bronze breast, contrasted by thick, contouring streaks of white, and
cherry-red eyes, make the male Wood Duck the most handsome duck in Maryland.

Viewing these birds is quite the reward for a slow, quiet walk at Lilypons Water Gardens—even in winter!

Lilypons Water Gardens is located at 6800 Lily Pons Road and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

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