by Henry Leskinen
Pine Valley Park is Manchester’s hidden jewel. The park is located on the northeast side of town and encompasses approximately 60 acres. Included with the park is Charlotte’s Quest Nature Center. The Nature Center is run by the Manchester Parks Foundation and provides a variety of programs for children. The park area was originally set aside to provide protection to surface water springs which are part of Manchester’s water supply. Through the efforts of local citizens and Town staff, the park has become a multi-use area providing almost 4.5 miles of hiking trails, a fishing pond, and an outdoor pavilion for picnicking.
Pine Valley Park is a wonderful place for birdwatching throughout the year, providing a mix of xeric oak forest, mixed oak/poplar forest, a spruce/pine plantation, managed meadow/old field, and young successional forest.
Two access points are provided to the park. The more commonly used access is via Wilhelm Lane, which is located on the north side of York Street across from the Manchester Fireman’s Activity Building and Carnival Grounds. This access takes you to a parking lot by the Nature Center. The second access, which is my preferred access, is via Walnut Street, which is located on the east side of MD Route 30 approximately 0.25 miles north of the MD Route 30-MD Route 27 intersection (the Sheetz Store), just prior to Bill Rohrbaugh’s bus yard. Follow Walnut Street down to the park pavilion near one of the town’s water treatment plants. Park along the fence just before the pump station. Behind you is the Walnut Street pond.
I typically start my birdwatching by looking at the feeder adjacent to the large house to the left of the pond (the house and associated barn are not part of the park so observe from the pond area). The feeder is generally busy with Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, House Finches, Downy Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. During the Summer, Chipping Sparrows are also present. Eastern Bluebirds are common in the trees around the feeder and on the adjacent electric lines. The forsythia hedge between the house and barn always seems to be full of House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, and Northern Mockingbirds. During the Spring and Summer, Gray Catbirds are present. In the Winter, White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are abundant.
The small pond provides nesting habitat for Red-winged Blackbirds. Song Sparrows and occasionally a Green Heron are also present. Barn Swallows nest in the barn between May and July and can be closely observed feeding over the pond and adjacent fields. Eastern Phoebes also frequent the barn during the Summer.
Once I have finished my walk around the pond, I proceed to the woodland trail immediately north of the pond. Oak/poplar forest will be to your left along a stream while a more xeric oak forest will be to your right on the adjoining hillslopes. This forest, though not very large, hosts a wide array of bird species. In addition to the usual Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Red-bellied Woodpecker, you will often find Pileated Woodpeckers and Great-crested Flycatchers in this stretch.
During Spring and Fall migration, these woods are fairly reliable for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-eyed Vireos, and a number of warbler species, including Ovenbird, American Redstart and Black-and-white Warbler. I often find Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and Eastern Wood-pewees here in late Spring and early Summer, with the pewees lingering into September.
After a short walk through the forest you will see a fork in the trail with an open field to your right. Take the right fork which follows along the edge of the field and then take the next immediately right back into the woods. However, before you re-enter the woods on your late Spring and Summer walks, listen for singing Field Sparrows and Indigo Buntings in the far hedgerow adjoining this field.
You will walk uphill through the woods and come to an another opening by a gravel road. Turn left at the opening and follow the trail along the interface of an oak forest and overgrown old field. The overgrown old field used to provide habitat for Prairie Warblers and Field Sparrows but the Prairie Warblers disappeared as the field matured and woody vegetation grew beyond scrub stage. This overgrown field now provides habitat for Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, Northern Cardinals, House Wrens, Carolina Wrens and, during the Winter, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. I have also observed various warblers in this area during migration.
This trail makes a full loop around the overgrown field and takes you back to the gravel road leading to the water treatment station. Follow the road downslope until you reach the grassland/meadow on your left. A walk through the grassland/meadow is pretty at any time of the year but is particularly beautiful in late August-early September, when the joe-pye weeds, New York ironweed, and various asters and goldenrods are in flower. Birding is also good in this field, with Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Chipping sparrows, and yellowthroats usually present, depending on the time of year. Tree Swallows are feeding in this field in late Spring-early Summer and often nest in one of the bluebird boxes present on the property. The thick overgrown brushy slope to the left (north) of the field is full of old field and edge resident species and, during the Spring and early Summer, is a good spot to find Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Bluebirds, and Cedar Waxwings. Warblers like this area during migration; I have observed American Redstarts, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Magnolia Warblers here.
After you finish your walk through the field, you will enter a spruce/pine plantation. These woods are most productive during Spring and Fall migration, when numerous warbler species are present. I have observed Ovenbirds, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, American Redstarts, Cape May Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers here. Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Hermit Thrush, and Red-breasted Nuthatch have all been observed here and strangely I often find a Red-headed Woodpecker in this area. Great Horned Owls roost in these spruce trees and it is not uncommon to see one perched in plain view during daylight hours. You will also see a Cooper’s Hawk from time to time. This trail will loop and bring you to the Nature Center. Check the area around the Nature Center for House Wrens, Carolina Wrens, American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, and, during the Summer, Eastern Kingbirds.
You will finish your walk by following the trail north of the Nature Center which will bring you down to a narrow riparian habitat adjacent to a stream. Follow this riparian corridor back to your car but stay alert because this narrow band of trees sometimes contains a large number of birds. Kinglets are common here during the Winter. During late Winter and early Spring I have occasionally flushed Woodcocks from this area and every so often a Least Flycatcher turns up here during Spring migration.
Pine Valley Park provides excellent year-round birding within the Town limits of Manchester. The park’s trails are not heavily utilized and most times I bird in total solitude. The diverse array of habitats make it possible to see a large number of species in a relatively small area.
Hiking Trails of Charlotte’s Quest Nature Center Pine Valley Park