Note: May honors Mental Health Month. This article is being published to share outdoor activities that promote mental health and wellness in Frederick. 

 

Being in nature is good for you, but you know what’s even better? Bird watching. 

Researchers have found that birdsong has a more powerful effect on your mental health and wellbeing than simply being exposed to nature. In fact, seeing or hearing birds has the capacity to improve your wellbeing for up to eight hours. Imagine what that could do for your Monday mood! 

I found joy in the soothing sounds of birdsong when I first moved to Maryland a few years ago from Florida. Trading beaches for mountains, palm trees for sycamores, and parakeets for robins made for a striking change of scenery! 

But my first winter was incredibly tough. I was navigating a new city in the midst of COVID and the shortened winter days started to take a toll on my mental health. Huddled up in my bedroom I watched the snow fall on a red maple tree outside my window, when a northern cardinal appeared.

 

 

Cardinal
Male northern cardinal posing on an icy branch in the winter (Steve Droter, Chesapeake Bay program)

 

Many cultures view cardinals as a symbol of positivity amidst the troubles we experience. An easily identifiable bird, the cardinal served as my gateway to birding and better mental health. 

One fine spring morning I woke up to the cardinals singing along Rock Creek– the stream flowing beside my tiny apartment in Frederick’s Golden Mile neighborhood. Simply listening to the birds brought me inner peace and helped me through tough times. 

Years have passed and I continue to find tranquility in birding, particularly during seasonal changes. As a novice birder, I’ve learned that these changes bring so many new avian visitors to Frederick too!

Luckily, Frederick has no shortage of sites for birdwatching. 


 

Frederick’s Best Birdwatching Sites for Beginners

 

With birds gearing up for migration each spring, Waterford Park is an excellent place to visit. The iconic Baltimore oriole and several warbler species have been spotted here as they return from their journeys south for the winter. 

Birding is an accessible activity, both physically and financially. Frederick County is also home to two Audubon Sanctuaries: the Fred J. Archibald Sanctuary and the Audrey Carroll Sanctuary. You can visit both, free of charge and get your fill of birding in for eight hours of lasting mental goodness. 

If you have access to a kayak, canoe, or river tube the Monocacy River is birding central! Simply drift down the river to discover a whole other world. Great blue herons, hooded mergansers, and the occasional bald eagle are among the birds you will find.

 

Canoe Group

A group paddles down the Monocacy River in Frederick County, Md. (Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program)


 

Cultivating Mindfulness Through Birding

 

Birding encourages mindfulness through focused observation and presence in the moment. 

Nowadays life is so fast-paced that it’s easy to lose focus on the world around us. Driving along Frederick County’s scenic roads is a great way to take some time to slow down and enjoy our region’s blissful countryside and farmland.  

I drove along Pleasant Walk Road in northern Frederick County– and it sure did live up to its name. Winding carefully along these country roads filled my heart with gratitude for the flora and fauna surrounding me. 

Taking note of your surroundings is a conscious decision that you have the power to make. A pileated woodpecker soared alongside my car as I crept over a hill. How exhilarating to spot the grand Woody Woodpecker in real life! 

 

Pileated Woodpecker

 A pileated woodpecker chips away the bark on a fallen tree before probing for insects with its long tongue (Photo by Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program)

 

A flock of red-winged black birds fluttered over me on its way to a nearby pond too. By simply slowing down, I was able to observe so much more and deepen my connection with nature. 

This spring I challenge you to slow down, take a bird walk, and identify one bird that makes you smile! 

 

Black-crowned night heron hanging out at Culler Lake (Jeffrey Socha Photography)
 

You don’t need anything fancy, just a good set of eyes or ears and the free Merlin ID app. It can be as easy as strolling down Baker Park just before dusk. With some luck you might spot the black-crowned night heron, a popular contender in Frederick’s recent community poll to select Frederick’s Official Bird! 

Or perhaps you’ll come across the Bobolink - a migrating songbird that travels thousands of miles across continents on its way back to Frederick County each spring. Hopefully, you won’t need to travel as far to visit Frederick and all of the feathery friends that live here!

Happy birding!