It was a cold, dreary Saturday morning at Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore County, but Sam Cucuzzella could have cared less.
The eight-year-old Loch Raven Village boy was too busy watching in awe as an outdoor nature educator and several park rangers introduced him to Bubo, an injured great-horned owl.
Sam, a Cub Scout, loved five-year-old Bubo, whose name is short for his species, bubo virginianus.
But Sam loved the rangers, too.
"I want to be a forest policeman when I grow up," he said.
Sam was one of dozens of people, from as far away as Pikesville and Phoenix, who turned out for the second annual Bird Extravaganza and Great Backyard Bird Count.
The two-day event in Lake-Falls gave everyone from Cub Scouts to veteran birding enthusiasts a chance to identify and count birds and to learn what it would be like to be a bird. They could identify and count birds, or play games, like trying to run as fast as birds could fly, or imagining being a bird caught in high winds.
Bubo can't do either one. He has an injured wing and is "an ambassador," said his handler, educator Walter Massey, of the Phoenix Wildlife Center.
Also an ambassador was Shannon Davis, a ranger for Robert E. Lee Park, which sponsored the event.
"It's a great way to get people interested in science," Davis said as she showed photos of birds most commonly seen in the park, including Carolina chickadees, American robins, red-tail hawks, downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, swallows, crows, and herons of all kinds.
There's even a family of bald eagles in the park, she said.
The Bird Extravaganza was also a great way to show off the 415-acre park near Mount Washington, which the county leases from Baltimore City.
The park, located near Falls Road and Lake Avenue, has been extensively upgraded with new nature trails, two bridges, a boardwalk with observation posts, and a dog park within the park called Paw Point, in which dogs can run off leash. Extensive erosion control has also been done, Davis said. A children's natural play area called Acorn Hill is planned.
A heated tent in the park, near the Lake Roland dam, served as an information and welcome center for the event, where Robert E. Lee Park Nature Council members tried to recruit new, dues-paying members.
Peter Lev, of the 200-member Baltimore Bird Club, which conducted the bird count, stood outside the tent and extolled the virtues of the 67-year-old club, in a day when membership is declining.
"A lot of people get their bird-watching (information) on the Internet," said Lev, 64, a film studies professor at Towson University, who lives near Lake Roland.
But there was no substitute for the hands-on fun of a morning of watching birds in the park.
"It's fun. They're beautiful," Lev said, pointing out a golden crowned kinglet flying overhead.
It was especially fun for the children, including some who served as volunteers at the event.
Declan Budnitz, 11, a fifth-grader at Odyssey School, tended a nearby campfire.
"I need to keep the fire going. I did it last year," said Declan, who was participating in Bird Extravaganza for the second year.
Girl Scout Kristen Metzler, 10, of Timonium, sat at a table in the tent, coloring in birds on paper. Charlotte Galley, 12, of Bare Hills, made bird feeders of lard, pinecones and other materials.
TU science professor Cody Sandifer brought his sons, Shea, 15, a Towson High School freshman, and Cole, 11, who goes to Ridgley Middle School.
"Shea might volunteer," his father said.
Later, on a bird walk, handyman Chris Davidson, 58, of Riderwood handed his binoculars to eight-year-old Kate Weetenkamp, of Towson, for her to see birds he had already spotted.
Kate, her twin brother, Henry, 8, who is a Cub Scout, and their sister, Avery, 6, come to the park often with their father, John, a business development official for Stanley Black & Decker.
But, said their dad, "We need to see what you don't normally see on a regular walk. It's amazing what you see when you know what you're looking for."
Even passersby were hooked.
"I can't run without stopping to look," said a jogger, Rob Hagan, 37, of Mount Washington, as he took a break to watch Bubo, the owl.
Hagan didn't know the event was happening, but said he often bird-watches in the park.
"You should come at the crack of dawn. That's when you see the most birds," Hagan said. "The early bird catches the worm."