Skip to main content

The bird watchers of Cecil County

Jan 01, 2015 05:31PM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Gallery: The bird watchers of Cecil County [8 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

During a telephone interview in late September, Ken Drier readily admits that he has a pair of binoculars at his side, ready to scope out any bird that might land in his backyard during the conversation.

“I like looking at birds and I like trying to identify them. I can identify most birds by sight or sound,” he explained.

Drier sees a lot of birds in his own backyard. He has been an avid bird watcher for a long time, his interest nurtured by a bird identification course that he took at the local college. The Rising Sun resident was one of the founding members of the Cecil Bird Club when a professor from Cecil College helped establish the group in 1994.

“I’ve been involved with the Cecil Bird Club from the beginning,” Drier explained. “There is a lot of interest in birds in this area.”

Today, the club, which is a chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, has 40 or 50 members who visit popular birding spots in Cecil County—the Elk Neck Sate Park & Turkey Point, the town parks in North East or Perryville, the C & D Canal, or the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area. The Cecil Bird Club is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the understanding and enjoyment of wild birds. One of its main objectives is to conserve avian habitats. It is a club for beginners and experienced bird watchers.

Pat Valdata, a resident of Elkton, is the treasurer of the club. She joined after moving to the area from New Jersey. Valdata is a licensed pilot who marvels at the birds’ ability to fly.

“They are beautiful creatures,” she explained. “They can fly, and that’s amazing. I love their beauty and their songs.”

Drier serves as co-president of the club, along with Sean McCandless. September is a busy month for the Cecil Bird Club. It’s the start of the annual membership drive, but more importantly birds are migrating in large numbers at this time of the year.

Cecil County, with its 72 square miles of water, including the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River and the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, as well the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area, is a popular destination for birds—and consequently a prime spot to enjoy bird watching.

“It’s an excellent area for birding,” said Drier, explaining that Cecil County residents get to see many birds passing through the area, like the bay-breasted warbler, which will stay here for only a week or two before heading on their way south. Drier also saw about 100 broad-winged hawks circling overhead, a sight that he described as spectacular.

“Many people don’t realize that so many hawks and other birds migrate through this area,” Valdata explained.

She added that in this part of the country, there are typically three good seasons for bird watching. The summer might be a little slow because birds seek shelter from the heat and don’t roam as much, but the other three seasons can be very active. Even the winter can be rewarding for a bird watcher as rare visitors like the snow owl can make an appearance.

Drier and Valdata both talked about how much they appreciate those occasions when they see something rare and unforgettable. As a bird watcher, you never know what the day will bring.

“You can go out one day and see a lot of species and go out another day and there won’t be a lot,” Valdata explained.

Many members of the Cecil Bird Club keep track of how many species of birds they’ve seen in his own backyard and at last count Drier was at 65. Members of the club collectively keep track of the birds that they’ve sighted and that number is at 315.

Drier explained that the busiest times of the year are in the spring, when the warblers come in from the south, and in the fall. Many hawks are a part of the fall migration, too. Valdata serves as the hawk watch coordinator. Club members volunteer from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1 to scan the skies for hawks, keeping count of how many are sighted. Valdata said that bird club member Dave Kimball then sends those numbers to the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

According to Drier, bird watching is an extremely popular activity, and many people will travel to places where they can enjoy it.

“I will bird wherever I go,” Drier explained. “It gets me outside, in the field. I always liked nature.”

Because people will travel to bird watch, there are economic benefits associated with preserving locations where birds like to gather. Advocating for the protection of bird habitats is one goal of club members. The Cecil Bird Club also sponsors recreational and social events, educational programs, information exchanges, research on bird populations, and cooperation on issues important to the future of birds. It also holds monthly meetings for members and arranges a full schedule of field trips in Cecil County and nearby locations.

Valdata said that joining the club for any one of the events open to the public is a good way to learn about birds.

There can be some pretty exciting experiences, even for seasoned bird watchers like Valdata, to be enjoyed locally. She recalled a time when an unusual bird came flying over the trees. It wasn’t until other bird watchers positively identified the bird as a short-eared owl that she realized what kind of bird it had been. Now, when she sees this kind of owl, she can identify it by its shape, size, and the way that it flies. One of things that keeps bird watchers engaged in the hobby is the thrill of seeing something new and rare.

Valdata will be leading an eagle watch field trip to the Conowingo Dam on Saturday, Nov. 29. The Conowingo Dam is one of the best eagle-watching sites in the east. It is normally possible to see as many as 50 individuals or more at one time. For more information about this field trip, other activities, or how to join the club, visit www.cecilbirds.org.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Cecil County's free newsletter to catch every headline

Local History, News