This area is not someplace you would come across accidentally. On the other hand, it is not all that difficult to find either.
The most difficult thing for birders in the watershed, particularly those who keep county or state lists, is to remember whether you are in Maryland or Pennsylvania. This area straddles the Mason-Dixon Line. There is even one of the markers visible on Garrett Road.
Some of the best birding is along Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road. (The sign at the Pennsylvania end used to call this “Krider’s Schoolhouse Road”. Most of the species described here were seen along the stretch of that road between Harvey Yingling Road and Bankard Road. It is generally unpaved, but well-maintained.
To begin on the Maryland side, park alongside the road at the intersection with Harvey Yingling and walk in. To begin in Pennsylvania, park at the lot at the end of Sheppard Myers Reservoir, walk a short distance down Bankard Road and then turn left onto Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road. You can also drive along the road, however, there are not that many places to pull off.
The state line is well marked about halfway between the two parking spots. This is probably done for the benefit of hunters. Hunting is allowed in this area, although I have never felt unsafe walking along the road. The worst scare I had was when someone dressed like a tree emerged from the woods and started talking to me. He had been bowhunting. He had seen a lot of deer, but hadn’t shot anything. There are lots of deer in the woods, along with other mammals. (More on these later.)
I usually park in Pennsylvania and walk in from the north. Most of the time, a Belted Kingfisher can be heard rattling from the stream that feeds into the reservoir. The wooded area on the left side of the road tends to be rather wet. Once, in winter, I startled a flock of Wild Turkeys here. I had heard what I thought was some deer. Looking more closely through the tangles, I saw eight wild turkeys. They were slowly walking away from me. I should say that their legs were walking away. Their heads were aimed in my direction. I was pondering whether I might have time for a photo, when one of the birds broke through some surface ice. The sudden crack sent the whole flock off in a panic. I was surprised to see how red some of their tails were. That is something I never noticed in the field guides.
The woods on both sides of the road are good for a variety of species. Depending on the time of year, these may include (in no particular order) Blue Jay, Gray Catbird, Eastern Towhee, Veery, Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Carolina Wren, Winter Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Wood-Peewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Acadian Flycatcher, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Brown Creeper, and Swainson’s Thrush. Many of these birds may be encountered farther along the road as well.
One Spring, I heard or saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk in these woods. It was always there. I was certain that it must have been nesting in the area. I even brought a fellow birder up to see it. Of course, on that day, the bird was nowhere to be found.
In a short while, the road crosses a small stream and then ascends steeply. The stream is a good place to spot birds when they come down to drink. Eastern Phoebes must nest nearby, perhaps under the bridge.
At the top of a little hill, the vista opens up on the left. Here, the mature pines have been harvested and new ones planted. The low growth is particularly pleasing to Gray Catbirds. Sparrows also appreciate this habitat. Song, White-throated, and Field Sparrows poke about the underbrush looking for food. Indigo Buntings and Eastern Bluebirds may also be seen here. American Goldfinches seem to enjoy flying back and forth between this open spot and the tall trees on the other side of the road. I have also heard both Prairie and Pine Warblers here.
There are a couple of tall dead trees out in the middle of the cut over area. You may see anything sitting on these. Frequently, it is a woodpecker. It may be a Northern Flicker. Or, there may be a Bald Eagle or an Osprey sitting there. Remember, the reservoir is just a short distance away.
There are lots of food sources both in the open area and in the woods. Poke and Poison Ivy Berries are abundant. There is also a lot of Hercules Club growing about. Some birds prefer the berries of the Dogwood growing here and there. Tent caterpillars provide a tasty treat for Cuckoos.
One year, in September, I photographed a Black-billed Cuckoo sitting in a tree where one of the caterpillar tents was located. About a month later, I returned and there was a Cuckoo sitting in the same tree, in the same spot eating a caterpillar. For a while, I wondered if it was the same bird. Examining it a little closer, I realized that it wasn’t a Black-billed Cuckoo after all. It was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo!
Many of the pine and spruce trees planted about have cones which attract certain species. White-breasted Nuthatches are always about and Red-breasted Nuthatches are pretty reliable as well. Once, while birding there with Mary, we looked up into the top of some trees and there were twenty White-winged Crossbills. These trees were located where the large open area on the left ends and Maryland begins. A fire road and a sign mark the boundary.
In this same area, I can almost always count on hearing a White-eyed Vireo in the Spring. A short distance farther along the road, there is a swampy area on the right. Birding here can be all or nothing. Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, Swamp Sparrow, Great-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird â€“ anything is possible. On a Fall Count, in five minutes, Mary and I recorded American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. I have also heard a Barred Owl calling here on a number of occasions.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are attracted to the Jewelweed that grows in the swampy area. There is also Skunk Cabbage in profusion and probably a lot of other rare plants just waiting to be located and identified.
Farther along the road, again on the right, there is an open area with dead trees all about. It looks like the perfect spot for woodpeckers, however, I have never seen many birds here at all. What can be a fast-moving stream flows through the area. Watercress grows here, although I have never harvested any of it to make sandwiches.
Not too far from here, Mary and I once found a bee tree. There was a hole that had probably been excavated by a woodpecker. Around the edge appeared to be a sticky residue (honey?) Hundreds of bees were busily going in and out of the hole. We have returned to check on it year after year although I’m not exactly sure how I would tell someone else how to find it.
Garrett Road comes in from the left. This is another dirt road. It ascends through a forest of tall trees. I’m sure the birding is good here, although I haven’t spent much time at it. The top of the hill makes an excellent hawk watch. At the right time of year, Broad-winged, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Red-shouldered hawks might pass overhead, along with American Kestrel and both species of Vulture. Common Ravens are also pretty common here too. Usually, individuals are accompanied by a chorus of complaining crows.
Back down the hill, Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road continues to where it meets up with Harvey Yingling Road. From there, it goes right until it ends at Deep Run Road. Before reaching Harvey Yingling, there is a farm on the right side. This can be good for a variety of species. I have also seen Cardinal Flower growing here in wet fields.
From Bankard Road to Harvey Yingling Road makes a nice walk. In addition to the many birds, the dirt pavement is attractive to butterflies when temperatures are warm enough. My list includes Cabbage White, Silver-spotted Skipper, Eastern Comma, Orange Sulfur, Hackberry Emperor, Common Buckeye, Monarch, Viceroy, Red-spotted Purple, Mourning Cloak, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Pipestem Swallowtail, Great Spangled Fritillary, and Eastern Tailed Blue. There are probably more that I have forgotten.
As mentioned earlier, I usually walk this road. However, there have been a couple of times when I drove. Once, as I was walking up Bankard Road in the direction of Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road, I saw another bird coming in my direction. At first, I thought it might have been another swallow, however, when I focused the binoculars on it, I found out that it was a rather large bat. The thing flew by not too far from my head. I wasn’t particularly concerned until it turned about and came back for another pass. That was more than I could deal with. Generally, when you see a bat during the daylight hours around here, it is not a good thing. I decided to get back in the truck and drive the rest of the way.
One August 2nd, I planned on parking the car in the lot at the end of Sheppard-Meyers Reservoir and then walking up Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road, however, there was a lot of heavy equipment already sitting there. I imagine that this was leftover from the recent tree-cutting at various spots around the reservoir. I sat there for a while in the truck and watched some Purple Martins on the antenna of the only house in the area. Then, I decided to drive down Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road and see what I could see or hear.
Birds did not seem plentiful. I wondered if things would have been better on foot. My list only included Carolina Wren, American Robin, Mourning Dove, and Gray Catbird. Not very impressive. As I approached Garrett Road, I spotted something small, reddish, and furry hiding behind a tuft of grass. It turned out to be a baby red fox. It seemed a bit out of it and did not take off, even as I approached it in the truck. I snapped a couple photos, then turned around and headed back again.
Where the many dead trees stand on the one side of the road, I looked for woodpeckers. One Northern Flicker put in an appearance. I also spotted a flycatcher sitting high up on one of the snags. I thought it might have been an Eastern Wood-peewee. By the time I got my scope on it, the bird had flown, but it was soon replaced by another flycatcher. This one was easier to identify, but much less likely to be there in the first place. It turned out to be an Olive-sided Flycatcher. At that time of year, if most flycatcher species do not call, they are all but impossible to identify. The Olive-sided Flycatcher is an exception to that rule. I got good photos of its markings before moving on.
At home, I downloaded the photos of the Olive-sided Flycatcher and sent them to Bob Ringler. He confirmed my identification and told me that his earliest date for seeing this species in the fall was August 3, 1996 on Hart-Miller Island. (Of course, that may have changed since then.)
On the day after Christmas in 2008, my friend Bob Hurley was visiting. We decided to go birding along Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road. We were standing in front of the swampy area on the right side of the road just in Maryland when the siren at the local volunteer fire department went off. I commented that someone must have had a chimney fire. As the siren continued, however, we heard an eerie sound coming from the woods nearby. We weren’t sure what it was. We knew we had not heard it before though. I suppose
I would describe it as synchronized howling, although it didn’t really sound like dogs. It was almost other-worldly.
Suddenly the siren stopped and so did the howling. We shook our heads and continued on our way. Not long after this, a truck drove by The driver pulled over and asked us what we were looking at. “Birds” we told him. “Oh” he said. Actually, that is what most people say when we tell them that we are birding. Some then proceed to tell us about their latest avian encounters. This fellow, however, described having seen a coyote down the road a bit. Bob and I looked at each other. The strange sounds now made sense. Neither of us had ever heard a coyote before.
I wondered how many there were?
When we got back to the car, I suggested that we drive down Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road again to look for the coyotes. The dirt road had thawed a bit and was now somewhat slippery. I parked in the pull off on the left, just north of the Maryland line. We sat there a couple minutes when up ahead, a coyote crossed the road. It did not appear to be in any hurry, but looked in our direction just in case. Then it disappeared onto the woods again. We couldn’t believe our good luck. I was surprised at how ragged the animal’s coat was. It was only after it had disappeared that I remembered that I had my camera with me.
Regardless of the time of year you plan to visit or the way in which you decide to travel it, Kridler’s Schoolhouse Road is definitely one of Carroll County’s Birding Hot Spots and well worth a visit.