I usually bird alone or with one or two companions. Last Sunday, however, we joined our local county Bird Club and had a memorable morning birding a venerable estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We knew this was to be a great day as we initially approached the large property via a long winding service entrance, traversing an old growth forest along the headwaters of the tidal creek, until we were stymied by a downed tree straddling the drive. The alternative main entrance was a more formal straight road, lined by stately loblollies, leading to a brick mansion of pleasing symmetry. We were greeted by several loud, bold Peacocks strutting across their front yard.
With twenty some sets of eyes and ears it’s a rare bird that escaped the group’s detection. This included the bird-of-the-day, a Ruddy Turnstone seen alone on a distant sandy spit by particularly sharp eyes. It’s not a rare bird, but uncommonly seen this far inland, away from the open beaches of the bay or ocean.
The dynamic of a birding group is interesting. There are the regular members who rarely miss an outing, as well as newcomers, warmly welcomed. There are birders of all levels of experience, with lots of questions, teaching, and sharing going on. Just keep listening to the banter and you’ll learn.
There are experts who impress with their knowledge of birdsong; we heard the call of the Baltimore Oriole high in the canopy long before we got a fleeting view of him flying away. I learned the subtle differences between the trills of the Chipping Sparrow and Pine Warbler. And there were other birds that were heard but never seen.
Also remarkable is the experts’ knowledge of the local timing of the spring migration–when particular species are expected and when their appearance seems early or late compared to prior seasons. Migrating Eastern Kingbirds were common on Sunday. We also saw newly arrived Blue Grosbeaks, Common Yellowthroats, and “Crusty”, aka a Great-crested Flycatcher. Birds of prey included both vultures, a perching Bald Eagle, a soaring Red-tailed Hawk, and a rapid flyover of a Sharp-shinned Hawk on a mission.
The success of group birding depends in large part on the leader. Our leader was Wayne, a friend I have known for years, a retired professor from the nearby Washington College Center of Environment and Society, and a renown birder, lecturer, and teacher. He led the group through forest and fields with his trusty companion and aging black dog, Cinder, like Moses leading us to the promised land of Aves, constantly teaching, pointing out, and calling in the birds. He apologized for the morning not being as “birdy” as hoped, but when the final tally was made we had seen 58 species, including life-birds for some and year or county-birds for many.
One of the advantages of group birding is the access one is given to a beautiful private property on the Eastern Shore. This grand historic home has a central brick Federal-style hall built around 1800, with symmetric hyphens leading to later additions. The gracious owner had a wonderful brunch waiting for the returning sweaty birders in the elegant dining room. The corn pudding, leafy salad, freshly picked asparagus, and cider with a kick were gratefully received and consumed on the waterfront veranda. Wayne and the group compiled the day’s list and presented one lucky birder with a jar of home-made jam for correctly guessing the final tally. I missed the mark by seven but am more than willing to try again soon.