It’s a warm June day on the sidewalk outside Springfield Woods, but it’s 10 degrees cooler inside the woods, where a dozen people are looking upward into the tree branches and listening for bird calls. Was that a catbird call? “No,” says Helene, “it was a mockingbird imitating a catbird.”
Welcome to Baltimore Green Space’s Bird Walk Bash – a day when birders and residents watched for birds in five forest patches maintained by residents. Bird walks are one of the activities that Baltimore Green Space coordinates for the Forest Stewardship Network, both to spread the joy of our forest patches and to document the wildlife. Other birders explored the woods at Jonah House, Fairwood Forest, and Chinquapin Run.
Helene goes on, “It’s so much fun to get a mockingbird to mock you! Once I tried to get a mockingbird to sing Beethoven’s Fifth. It got the first three notes, and then went off on its own.”
The birding experts leading the walk, Dan and Georgia from the Baltimore Bird Club, lower expectations as they hand out a sheet of paper depicting common birds of Baltimore. The spring migration has been and gone and there might not much to see other than the usual robins, cardinals, crows, and house sparrows. That’s okay with Denise, who is active in the Winston-Govans Neighborhood Improvement Association. “I like to be in nature. I watch the birds in my back yard. There are more than there used to be, like the blue jays. They disappeared for a long time, but now they’re back with a vengeance!”
Denise’s friend Stephen agrees. Not only are there more birds, but more animals generally. Stephen has worked to clean up the local forest patches. “There’s more deer and foxes, and less trash so animals can survive and stay in the woods. Do you want to live in garbage? Well, neither do they!” Stephen’s mother taught him to forage when he was a boy, and he is happy to see the pecan and mulberry trees in the Wilson Park Woods and the Springfield Woods. “Where there’s food, there’s birds.”
It’s turning out to be a good birding day. The birding sheet is starting to fill up: catbird, downy woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, Carolina sparrow, turkey vulture, crow, starling, Baltimore Oriole, blue jay, white-breasted nuthatch, cardinal, song sparrow, mockingbird, robin, house sparrow.
Then a yellowish-brown bird flies out of leafy branches and settles on a branch on a dead tree in the sunlight, in clear view. It’s a northern flicker. Dan sets up his tripod and trains his scope on it. Everyone gets a close look at the flicker’s yellow-brown chest with brown dots, facial mustache, and bright red spot on top of its head. Then it flies away and disappears for a minute. Then it flies back, and away again, but it keeps returning to the dead tree. Someone spots the reason why the bird keeps coming back: a baby flicker has stuck its head out of a hole in the tree.
Dan finds a good spot for the tripod to get a good bead on the nest hole. One head, then two heads poke out of the hole as everyone lines up for a look. The parents are trying to stay cool as a dozen excited humans gawk at their babies, but the babies blow their cover by yowling for food.
At the end of the walk, Katherine and Eric agree that the baby flickers were the high point of the walk. Eric points out, “Whatever gets you out in nature, whether your interest is plants or trees or birds, it builds your connection to nature and to other people who care about nature.”
Katherine says, “You can’t have birds without plants. It’s all connected.” She adds, “Baltimore has an amazing network of naturalists and people who love city nature.”
Indeed – 52 people came out to the walks to listen for the birds’ small sounds, and catch some glimpses. The morning’s bird count was 209 birds, of more than 35 species. Many thanks to the Baltimore Bird Club, for making this wonderful event possible.
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