Monday, May 01, 2006

Big Time at Shawnee

The morning load-out: trying to get 250 birders packed into vans and off on 12 different field trips. Much coffee was spilled.

I spent the weekend with 250 of my closest birding pals at the annual conference of the Ohio Ornithological Society held at the lodge at Shawnee State Forest west of Portsmouth, Ohio. It was one of the best birding events I've ever attended. The spirit of our relatively new organization (I am proudly a founding board member of the three-year old OOS) is amazing--we try to keep things light and focus on enjoying birds, and connecting Ohio's birders with each other--which results in these wonderfully warm, welcoming, thoroughly enjoyable gatherings. The facilities at Shawnee can only handle about 250 people, otherwise I am certain that word-of-mouth advertising would push our attendance much higher.
Giant shoe horns, designed to be used on humans, helped us fill each van to capacity for the field trips.

The birding was very good, though everyone seemed to notice that we were missing lots of the expected spring migrants--palm warblers, maggies, black-throated blues--that we should have found. They just have not arrived yet.

One of Ohio's best-traveled birding couples, Hugh Rose and Judy Kolo-Rose. Clearly the patch has worked for them.

I was the emcee for the conference, and that's a fun gig, getting to introduce the speakers, make the announcements ("Remember to pick up your box lunch at ...." and "We found a lens cover for a Swift binocular on the bus....") and my favorite, going over the checklist. This year we had everyone give a James Brown-like "Uhhn!" if they'd seen a species as we called them out from the list. I am not sure what the lodge staff though of us after at least 124 loud "Uhhn!" sounds from 200+ people.

One of the highlights of the conference was Kenn Kaufman's very moving talk on Saturday night, about his coming of age as a bird watcher and his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, in the last years of her life. I have heard Kenn speak numerous times over the years, and he is always an engaging and entertaining speaker. But this program was on another level all together. Thanks K2!

Peter King, Dan Sanders and I lead the Birding 101 field trips on Saturday and Sunday. We rolled slowly along the back roads of Shawnee State Forest, stopping to look for birds as we heard them, in no rush to get anywhere. We topped 70 species both days, which was great. Saturday's trip got us 19 warbler species, and on Sunday, we got 20 warbler species--many of them in the spotting scope for everyone to enjoy. Shawnee has got to be the North American center of abundance for cerulean warbler. We heard dozens of territorial males along every road.
Our Friday Birding 101 trip was fabulous. Here we are enjoying a very cooperative ovenbird.

My mom has always told me that we two are so much alike in that we "never want the party to be over." That's so true. I love these gatherings of birding friends, where the reason for being together is as much about being together as it is about the special hobby that we all share. And when the gathering is over, we say our goodbyes and head home, already looking forward to being together again next year.


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait for next year! this was such an incredible event. What a great group of people, in an environment lush with plants and birds to delight beyond expectation.



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