Patterson Park Audubon Center's winter weekend highlights urban birdwatching

As traffic whirred by on the I-95 overpass above them, a group of birdwatchers peered through their binoculars.

They looked out onto the water from Swann Park in South Baltimore on Saturday morning, pointing as they spotted buffleheads, several types of gulls, and a great blue heron in the distance.

The birdwatchers were part of the Patterson Park Audubon Center’s first Winter Baltimore Birding Weekend, which continues with more events on Sunday.

“This is a celebration of birds in Baltimore,” said Patty Smith, the center’s development coordinator.

After a successful first Baltimore Birding Weekend last May, people wanted to add a new twist with a winter event, said Susie Creamer, director of urban education and conservation at the center.

In the winter, birds come to Baltimore from the northern United States and Canada. The season offers birdwatchers a chance to see species — such as the bufflehead, horned grebe, and greater and lesser scaup -- visiting Baltimore before they migrate north again, Creamer said. This weekend’s event also aims to showcase urban green spaces.

“We really like to connect people with nature in the city,” Creamer said.

The center, which is part of the National Audubon Society, works to educate the community and to conserve and restore natural habitats for birds and other wildlife. They frequently work with local schools and offer nature-based educational programs for children and adults.

Creamer said even longtime birdwatchers are surprised by the diversity of bird life within city limits. In Patterson Park alone, more than 200 bird species have been documented, including Baltimore orioles, chimney swifts and wood thrushes.

On Saturday, guides led groups of bird watchers through areas including Druid Hill Park, Masonville Cove and Fort McHenry. A boat tour explored the Inner Harbor.

Creamer said the biggest surprise came at Masonville Cove, where the group saw a painted bunting, a vividly colored species whose French name, “Nonpareil,” means “unrivaled.”

Event organizer Jim Rapp and guide Nico Sarbanes led the group that began at Swann Park and then drove to other waterfront areas near MedStar Harbor Hospital and the Horseshoe Casino.

The group was especially captivated by a bald eagle perched on a log in the water near the hospital.

“You never know what you might see at the next stop,” Sarbanes said. “You always have the chance to see something you’ve never seen before.”

Sarbanes had been the first in the group to spot the eagle from a far distance. It’s a skill that comes with lots of practice, he said.

A spring birding weekend is planned for May 18-20. Rapp said every time of year offers something different.

“For birders, every couple of weeks it changes,” Rapp said. “The seasonality of it all is really fun,” Rapp said.

Michele DeHaven of Butchers Hill said she moved back to the city from Harford County a few years ago and has enjoyed the Audubon Center’s regular guided bird walks at Patterson Park. The center also hosts walks at Druid Hill Park.

She used to watch birds in Harford County, but hadn’t previously taken part in group events like the bird walks, which she has found especially educational.

“I’ve learned so much from all the guides,” she’s said. “They know what they’re looking for.”

Jean Fedder of Pikesville said she always liked looking at birds that came to her feeders outside her condo, but she is just starting to learn more about bird watching.

“What these guys know about them is nothing short of amazing,” Fedder said of the guides.

Fedder said she enjoys the beauty of birds — and the fleeting nature of watching them.

“Their behavior interests me,” she said. “I like being a nerd.”

For more information on the birding weekend and to register for events, visit www.baltimorebirding.com.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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