How ‘Bout Them O’s?

     Cromwell Valley Park has seen many changes these past two and a half months. While visiting the park, I’m sure you have noticed that benches and tables have been restricted, gathering in large groups is prohibited, and organized activities have been cancelled, just as examples. Everywhere you look, a great many things have been put on hold. Thankfully birding is not one of them.

There has never been a better time to join the binocular-wearing, camera-slinging, field guide-toting, staring-off-into-the-distant-tree-top tribe known as Cromwell Valley Park birders. These passionate folks have come out in droves this month, keeping a healthy 6ft distance from one another of course, to witness the natural spectacle which is spring migration. If you have ever felt the itch to join them, well here is some good news – it is not too late to witness the wonder and awe that our feathered friends provide this season.

People flock from all over to see these birds who journey north from their warm winter homes near the equator. Some species will fly through our state and continue onwards to a higher latitude. But some will stay in Maryland, find a mate, build a nest, and raise their young. Of these neotropical migrants, there is a particular species of blackbird who loves to call Cromwell Valley home.

Male Baltimore Oriole, photo by Mia Walsh

They made their appearance a little earlier than usual this year, arriving in the last week of April, when I’m used to see them in the beginning of May. The routine is always the same – a glimpse is had, a photograph is uploaded, and then word spreads at lightning speed. There is no easier way to get hooked on bird watching than catching your very first sight of this fireball bird, Maryland’s state bird, the Baltimore Oriole.

How lucky are we? Not only do we have the coolest state flag, but we also get to claim one of the most gorgeous birds as our own. A bird who actually received its “Baltimore” name because its brilliant colors reminded residents of the bold yellow, red, and black of the Calvert family crest which is represented on our flag. Calvert family members who founded Maryland held the title of Lord Baltimore. (And fun fact – these colors also play a role in the designation of our state insect, state flower, and state cat.)

So perhaps now, if you’ve never been a-birding and the idea of seeing an Oriole outside of Camden Yards is enticing you, you may be thinking, “Well, Ranger B, how do I go about it?” I’m so glad you asked! In the beginning, when just a fledgling, you don’t need fancy equipment. You don’t need the latest cameras with the best scopes. You don’t need a pile of field guides. Though you may choose to invest in “birding gear” as your interest takes flight, all you really need to get started is to come to Cromwell Valley Park dressed for the weather with basic information on a Baltimore Oriole’s behavior and habitat.

Baby Baltimore Oriole in nest

As birding becomes more and more popular around the country, it has never been easier to learn about birds. One could look up Baltimore Orioles on the internet before visiting the park. Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology Bird Guide is a popular and user-friendly place with great information. Here you would learn that male and female Orioles look different – the male being blaze orange and the female is brownish gold. Using long fibers from grasses, bark, horse hair, and even artificial findings such as netting and cellophane, the female weaves a nest into a unique bag shape, which tends to be located way out on the ends of branches.One would note that, since these birds prefer the upper reaches of tree canopies, they are more often heard before they are seen, so be sure to listen to Cornell’s recordings of an Oriole’s whistling calls before heading out. If you are like me though, and prefer to have all that information handy on your smartphone, there are many apps for bird ID and song ID nowadays which can prove quite useful.

Okay, good. You have the interest, you have the motivation, you can get to the park, and you’ve done some light research on Orioles – excellent! At this point, with enough determination, you should be able to accomplish the goal of seeing a Baltimore Oriole. While on your quest, keep an eye out for the friendly community of birders who trek the park’s trails. Cromwell Valley is a birding hot spot which draws experts from all around, many of whom are eager to trade tips, information, photographs, and identification advice when you find yourself stumped. When I’ve been looking for Orioles myself, I’ve sought out tips from our very own council president, Mia Walsh.

Seek out this large Sycamore at CVP to find an Oriole

She has shared locations of specific trees along Minebank Run, where the birds work on their nests over the water. Also, out in the middle of the Sycamore Path, at the tree which gives the trail its name, she’s pointed out multiple Orioles to me, singing their confused sounding call in its high branches.

With these tips, you can’t go wrong. I hope you are able to join us here at the park in the following weeks and get a glimpse for yourself as the Baltimore Orioles finish up their nests and begin to raise the next generation. One of the best ways to get the most out of birding is by sharing your adventures and discoveries along the way. Until organized activities resume in the future, this can be done through online communities and citizen science projects, such as Cromwell Valley’s Facebook page, MD Birding Facebook page, adding to the extremely popular eBird lists, submitting pictures and info to the Maryland BioDiversity Project, or by using the iNaturalist app. I can’t wait to see what you find!

– Ranger B

Additional Resources:

Birding for Beginners and Further Learning

National Park Service – Birding

Cornell’s Online Bird Academy

Other Great Places to Go Birding

MD Dept. of Natural Resources List

Maryland Ornithology Society Guide

Birding Throughout the Year in Maryland

Maryland Tourism – Birding Experiences

In-Person Activities/Classes/Groups When They Resume

Cromwell Valley Park – Saturday Morning Walks (on hold at the moment)

Maryland Ornithology Society Calendar

Audubon Naturalist Society

Baltimore Bird Club

Bring The Kids Birding!! Tips and Games

Audubon – Ways to Get Kids Birding

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Learning Games

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Feathers

Learning Activities for Teens and Adults

Bird ID videos on Youtube, made by MD Master Naturalist, Marty Brazeau

New birding board game which has been extremely well reviewed – Wingspan

 

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In case of inclement weather, the Nature Center and activities follow the Baltimore County Schools. Check at Public Schools for latest info on closing. If closing early, all evening activities at the Park are cancelled.