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Canada Geese

"Piney Run Park is the best place in the county for winter waterfowl viewing," Dave Harvey said.

We were standing at the boat dock area for a guided bird walk scheduled by Carroll County Recreation and Parks every third Thursday at Piney Run Park. Dave and Maureen Harvey lead these walks. There were only two participants this time. I was warned ahead of time that sightings could be sparse, a fact that Dave confirmed. "Most of the migrating birds have left, and, with this warm weather, the winter waterfowl haven't arrived in good numbers yet."

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Nevertheless, here's a partial list, impressive to me, of what we did spot: pied-billed grebes, tufted titmouse, buffleheads, bluebirds, mallard ducks, Carolina wrens, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, white-breasted nuthatches, belted kingfishers, ruddy ducks, American black ducks, wood ducks, Canada geese, black vultures, and hooded mergansers.

Dave and Maureen Harvey are serious birders as attested to by their 40-power and 60-power spotting scopes and their encyclopedic, but not overwhelming, descriptions of the various species we spotted. (These scopes are amazing, turning a faint speck on the horizon into a full, circular frame of a bird.) The Harveys spoke of flight patterns, feeding and mating habits, calls and where the birds are usually found. Emilio Concari was part of our group, a "new" birder with about five years experience.

He joined the Harveys in sharing tales of birds they had seen at the lake.

Maureen told me she became fascinated with birds in the late 1980's when she lived in Howard County and was enthralled by the songs of this bird she couldn't see. It was a couple of years later when she finally did see the bird. At that time she worked with Dave, who she knew was a birder, and he identified the bird for her as a wood thrush. That became Maureen's "keystone species," a term birders use for the bird that leads to the lifelong enchantment of being a birder.

Maureen's entry to birding was typical. Dave's was earlier and somewhat incidental. He ordered a book on China from the National Geographic Society. When it arrived the Society included their new book on birds. Intrigued, he went to a nearby park with a pair of binoculars. Then he began meeting birders. He had no idea there were people and activities like this.

So after identifying Maureen's wood thrush, Dave introduced Maureen and her first husband to the world of birding.

After Maureen's first husband died, Maureen married Dave. In the ensuing 27 years they have travelled widely in their birding pursuits to Central and South America including Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile and Mexico plus Australia and parts of Europe and Asia. They have visited all 50 states in the U.S plus 10 provinces of Canada compiling Dave's lists of birds.

Birding offers the appeal of exercise in the outdoors, the beauty and magic of birds and other animals, the companionship of fellow enthusiasts of all ages and travel. It's a potent and intoxicating mix.

"There are so many possibilities," Maureen said.

The Harveys will continue to lead guided birding tours at Piney Run every third Thursday (as well as leading other tours). Maureen says in the period from December through February one can expect to see at Piney Run, in addition to larger flocks of geese, good numbers of ducks including American widgeon, ring-necked ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, common goldeneye and perhaps an occasional loon and scoter. March will be a slow month as the winter species depart and the summer species don't yet arrive. Then in April the colorful tropical migrants begin to show up including tanagers, orioles, fly catchers, warblers, and other species.

Just as we were winding up our tour a flock of Canada geese came to the lake; they were likely resident geese who had been feeding in a nearby corn field. As we watched the birds fly over then turn to pitch into the lake, Emilio said, "They're so common around here. Yet it's such a delight every time you see them." (And you don't need any special equipment to see them.)

That's birding.

Dave and Maureen are members of the Carroll County Bird Club, a branch of the Maryland Ornithological Society (MOS). See their website at www.mdbirds.org, then click on "Activities and Events," then "Calendar," and then "Most Recent Calendar" for the long list of events, including numerous winter bird counts, of 16 clubs that are part of MOS. See also the National Audobon Society website at www.audobon.org, click on "Get Outside" then click on "Christmas Bird Counts" for information that famous traditional activity.

Anyone interested in birding should look into the Piney Run tours. Go to ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/recpark, click on "Things To Do," then "Winter 2016 Program Guide," then "Piney Run Nature Center." The winter tours run from 8:30 to roughly 10 a.m.

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You must register for these events, and Maureen suggests calling ahead for details on weather, footwear and distance you can expect to walk.

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