I first visited what is referred to as the Union Mills Wetlands in 2007. Bill Ellis and I were doing the mid-winter count together. He had been there on previous occasions and thought it worth a look. Turning off Route 97 onto Brown Road, we continued for a short distance and then parked the car on the grass. Brown Road was (and still is) a fairly narrow dirt road. There was no shoulder.
I quickly scanned the marsh and came up with some mallards and Canada geese, however, none of these were moving the way one would expect. It did not take me long to figure out that they were decoys. Later, we spotted the two hunters sitting out in their boat. They made constant duck and goose calls that got to be irritating after a while. Several flocks of real Canada geese flew over, but none came close. They probably did not want to have to put up with all that racket either.
Fortunately, the birding was so good that we soon forgot about the hunters. We chased a lot of sparrows around the upper (and drier) edge of the marsh. There were good numbers of song, field, and even American tree sparrows there. One bird eluded us for quite some time. It stayed close to the ground and seemed to run from hummock to hummock. I remembered LeContes sparrows behaving in a similar fashion. Our mousy little bird turned out to be a swamp sparrow.Walking along the road again, we added many dark eyed juncos to our list. I spotted a ruby-crowned kinglet and an eastern phoebe. Bill found another phoebe. I was hoping to find a brown creeper in the woods on the opposite side of the road, but never saw one. There were some woodpeckers though, including downy and red-bellied. A Carolina wren started calling. It sounded a bit off, as if it was too lazy to enunciate all the portions of its song. Bill suggested that it was a recent migrant from another area where the wren dialect was different. That sounded good to me.
We also saw two northern mockingbirds here that must have been a pair. They sat within a couple feet of one another on a branch and did not fight. Obviously something was going on between them. Another pair that put in an appearance as we walked back to the car were two red-tailed hawks. They had been sitting in a nearby tree and spotted us before we spotted them.
After that first visit, we included the Union Mills Wetlands in our count territory. Since we usually did all of the counts (May, Fall, and Mid-Winter) together, that meant we would make at least three trips there each year. At other times, I visited the area by myself or with other friend
The wetlands themselves are relatively small, extending from Brown Road back to Big Pipe Creek. The land is either owned or leased by a gentleman who lives in a house along the road. He is very friendly and will stop to talk if he sees you birding.
Depending on the time of year and the amount of rain, the list of birds you may see there will vary. In spring, based on my records, the possibilities include red-winged blackbird, white-eyed vireo, wood thrush, American robin, song sparrow, American crow, red-bellied woodpecker, wood duck, Canada goose, blue jay, great blue heron, mourning dove, Carolina wren, northern flicker, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, fish crow, American goldfinch, mallard, eastern towhee, sora, killdeer, Carolina chickadee, gray catbird, great egret, barred owl, common yellowthroat, northern cardinal, Virginia rail, downy woodpecker, brown-headed cowbird, swamp sparrow, yellow warbler, green heron, solitary sandpiper, barn swallow, Baltimore oriole, orchard oriole, field sparrow, indigo bunting, red-tailed hawk, eastern bluebird, common grackle, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, blue-gray gnatcatcher, yellow-rumped warbler, American coot, greater yellowlegs, least sandpiper, chimney swift, eastern phoebe, tree swallow, white-breasted nuthatch, willow flycatcher, house finch, cedar waxwing, red-headed woodpecker, warbling vireo, eastern wood-peewee, eastern kingbird, house wren, ruby-throated hummingbird, and blackpoll warbler.
I am certain that there are more warbler species to be seen here. It all depends on when they are migrating through and how successful you are at picking them out.
The red-headed woodpeckers can be variable as well. Look across the wetlands in the direction of the stream. There are some tall sycamores here. The woodpeckers can frequently be picked out as they fly from branch to branch.
A lot of the same birds that appear in the spring can also be seen here in the fall, except for those breeders that have already left the area on migration.
Winter is sometimes slow, but can be very good for sparrows and hawks. Field, song, swamp, white-throated, and American tree sparrows are all possibilities. I have seen white-crowned sparrows a little farther up Brown Road, but not in the wetlands themselves. Still, there is no reason why they couldn’t be seen there. A red-tailed hawk usually puts in an appearance sometime during most visits. Cooper’s, sharp-shinned, and red-shouldered could also be expected from time to time.
One winter day on Brown Road particularly stands out in my memory. It was during the Mid-winter Count of 2009. When Bill picked me up at my house, the digital thermometer read -2.4 degrees Fahrenheit. My home is not that far from Brown Road, so the temperature could not have been much better there. Walking along, I spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker on a telephone pole. I do believe that the bird was stuck there. It was waiting to warm up enough to start its day. I was able to get very close to it and snap a photo. Even as we walked by, it did not move. Shortly thereafter, we spotted a barred owl hopping from branch to branch in our direction. Rather than showing any signs of fear, the bird seemed curious to know what kind of fools would be out in weather like that. Birders, of course.
Birding at the Union Mills Wetlands is certainly not a foolish idea any time of the year. The location should definitely be put on the list of Carroll County Hot Spots you plan to visit. Parking is available along the road. Make sure not to block any trails. This is private property. Do your birding from the road. The owner and his friends also hunt here.