Baltimore County Now
Winny Tan, Oregon Ridge Nature Center Director
I’m never short of visitors in my backyard. Winter, spring, summer and fall, I’ve got lots of colorful characters dropping by.
Once you put out a feeder, it doesn’t take long for the birds to zoom in. Feeding birds is not a recent phenomenon; it’s been an American tradition since the times of Emily Dickinson and Henry Thoreau. People do it mostly for the enjoyment of observing different birds and their behaviors, without going too far outside their homes. Birds, too, benefit from this arrangement. A birdfeeder filled in the midst of spring and fall migration, and during harsh winters, will help these avian critters through tough times.
To ensure birds’ health and safety, feeding stations should be maintained properly to prevent disease organisms from taking hold. Wet and moldy seeds should be discarded immediately. Feeders should be washed thoroughly with warm, soapy water every two weeks and occasionally disinfected with a light bleach solution. The ground should be cleaned of hull build-up and uneaten seeds that can get spoiled and moldy. Feeders should be repaired or discarded if sharp edges occur to prevent injuries. Ideally, place it near bushes and trees to allow for easy resting spots between feeds and an easy refuge to escape a predator, like the hawk.
While we like to view birds up close and sometimes from the comforts of home, millions of birds are killed by window collisions. Place your feeders somewhere in the yard away from glass, or less than 3 feet away. When placed 6 feet or more from a window, the bird can take off and fly at optimum speed, which can cause more injuries or death if it hits the window.
Picking the type of birdfeeder and the food is a simpler task, and there are websites and stores that can advise a beginner. Pick the right food, since inappropriate food can be unhealthy and possibly lethal to wild birds. I put out only black-oil sunflower seeds and see cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and titmice year-round. My winter regulars, the northern juncos, join them each year. Occasionally, a bluebird will sit on the shepherd’s hook that holds the feeder, a great lookout point for juicy bugs in the grass. Woodpeckers, like the Red-bellied and Hairy, often drop in from the woodlands. One fall the birdfeeder enticed migrating rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Mom and I watched them until they moved on a few days later. Things can get exciting at times. One morning a Cooper’s hawk, going for a titmouse dining at the feeder, crashed landed into our deck. Unfortunately, instead of feasting, the titmouse was feasted upon by this avivorous (bird-eating) hawk.
One caution —your birdfeeder is subsidizing food to exotic, invasive birds such as the English Sparrows and European Starlings that can wreak havoc on native bird population. If you see more of these exotic or opportunistic birds, take down your feeder for a short period and then put it up again, hopefully discouraging these visitors from staying.
Birdfeeders not only bring enjoyment, but also help science. Project FeederWatch, set up by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, collects data across the United States with the help of kids, families, nature centers, and schools, who record the birds visiting their feeders from November to early April. Scientists can then track broad-scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. For more information, check out www.feederwatch.org. or start helping by signing up for one of Oregon Ridge’s FeederWatch programs, which can be found on www.oregonridgenaturecenter.org.
Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks
Surely you know that Baltimore County parks are among the coolest places in the county…But did you know that in the winter, these cold and often snow-covered havens of nature-at-its-best are even “cooler”?
If you are thinking parks are closed in the winter, oh boy, do we have some great news for you…We’re open for business with lots to keep you exercising your body and mind, and having lots of fun!
Over at Robert E. Lee Park, in addition to some spectacular sightings of beaver, otter, bald eagles and migrating waterfowl, the park has some exceptional programming: School’s Out Days, Parents’ Night Out, Friday Strolls, Cherry Pie Hikes and the Bird Extravaganza. For more information on these programs you can call 410-887-4156. www.roberteleepark.org
This winter, just how bold (and immune to cold!) are you? Marshy Point Nature Center is sponsoring the 8th Annual Popsicle Plunge. On Saturday, March 1st, it is your chance to get cold and wet for a great cause as you jump into the water off Rocky Point Park’s beach. All funds raised will go to the Marshy Point Nature Center’s many activities and programs; including winter-time programs like our Speaker Series (“Save the Bees” on February 18th); Maple Sugar Time (February 15 and 16); and “Fly Tying” workshop on February 22 and 23. For information on the Popsicle Plunge and all the winter-time programs, call 410-887-2817. http://www.marshypoint.org
Cromwell Valley Park has programs for all this winter - inside and outside, families and individuals, and for kids of all ages. A sweet favorite is “Maple Sugaring” where you can learn to tap a tree and make maple syrup. “Project Feeder Watch” is a project that will offer important scientific information – and it needs your help! And, how’s this for an intriguing Adult evening out, “Night Out With Nature: Iceman’s Last Hours”. So much to do, so little space to share it all. For information on these and many more Cromwell Valley Park programs, call 410-887-2503. www.cromwellvalleypark.org
Oregon Ridge Nature Center is offering some hot times this winter including their delicious (and for a great cause) hot cake breakfast. This is just a part of the ORNC winter offerings, there’s also: Maple Sugaring, Habitats, Reptiles and Amphibians, and Arthropods on this winter’s schedule. We’re loving this one: “Sugar and Your Sweetheart Night Hike” on Valentine’s Day – let your imagination flow! And for the adult nature lover: “Trail Guide Training” will be taking place in early February to give those special folks with an inclination towards the out-of-doors the chance to learn and lead. This is all great stuff! To learn more, you can call 410-887-1815. www.oregonridgenaturecenter.org.
They do winter a bit differently at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum and here “different” means, pretty cool stuff! Set your sights on some great historical workshops like “Honoring African American Firsts in Baltimore County” and “Meet Molly: Ben’s Amazing Grandmother” and “Ben’s Nature Journal”. Of course, what’s a park without great outdoor/nature themes and workshops – moss, turtles, raptors, frogs - just so much going on at Banneker, you’ve got to get in touch with them to see their incredible winter line-up. 410-887-1081. www.BenjaminBanneker.wordpress.com.
Did you know that Nature Quest, the trek through the trails of Benjamin Banneker, Cromwell Valley, Marshy Point, Oregon Ridge and Robert E. Lee Parks continues year ‘round? It is a great chance to see some beautiful trails, find trail markers and earn prizes –spring, summer, fall AND winter. You can ask a ranger for a Nature Quest Booklet. If you complete at least five trails, you will have earned admission to Nature Quest Fest! For more information, call 410-887-4156; or the Therapeutic Office at 410-887-5370. NatureQuest
So, what are you waiting for? Come on out to our parks this winter - it is still lots of fun, interesting and yes, really cool!