Many Northern Virginians couldn’t identify a short-eared owl, a harlequin duck or a rainbow-bearded thornbill if they were featured in a police lineup.
But the members of the Northern Virginia Bird Club live for these flying creatures. At a recent meeting in Arlington, the mere mention of the sighting of a rare bird near the American Legion Bridge elicited gasps of awe and amazement.
"I think you have to be a little bit obsessive," Bird Club Vice President Larry Meade said. "Well, maybe a lot."
BUT THE Northern Virginia Bird Club isn’t an insular collection of aviary fanatics. They’re just a group of people of people who all happen to like birds — a lot.
"Some people have seen over 300 different species of birds in a year in Virginia," the group’s president Rich Reiger said.
The Bird Club gathers four times a year in a North Arlington church to meet and discuss business. They also take frequent field trips to various locales in the commonwealth to take in the wildlife.
Reiger said that Virginia, a major stopover for migratory birds, is a great place for bird enthusiasts because of its ecological variety. "We have the Coastal Plains and we have the Eastern Shore," he said. "We have the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River … We get a great variety of birds."
But Meade said that many of the best places to watch birds are in the northern part of the state. Huntley Meadows Park in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County is a bird hotspot, he said, as well as the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge and Monticello Park in Alexandria. "[There], the warblers come to your feet," he said.
THE CLUB has been in existence for over 50 years and focuses on organizing programs such as bird walks and seminars in bird watching. At last week’s meeting, a speaker displayed a slideshow of his recent trip to Ecuador that featured dozens of rare bird photos in eye-popping colors.
While many of the Northern Virginia Bird Club’s members have been bird watching for years, if not decades, club member Elaine Franklin said that birding, as it is known, can be for anyone.
"You need a pair of binoculars and a bird guide and enthusiasm," she said. "That’s really all you need."
"You can do it any level you want," Meade said. "If you just want to go out and go on a nice walk in the park and see some birds that’s fine. Or if you want to try to get as big a list as possible that’s fine."
Franklin added that learning how to bird watch is like learning a language in that once you know the basics it’s easy to learn more. "I came to birding through a trip to Peru," she said. "That got me turned on to birds. When I came back home I didn’t know the birds in my own backyard so I started learning."