Catching a cardinal in your backyard bird bath is exciting. Its bright red feathers are a stark contrast to the surrounding greenery, and if you’re lucky, you can catch him dunking his head in to cool off in the summer heat.
But as temperatures cool down and the leaves prepare to fall, the birds you see and hear in the area will start to change. That’s why we spoke with Larry Meade, the president of the Northern Virginia Bird Club. The nonprofit was founded in 1954 as the Northern Virginia Chapter of Ornithology. It has since evolved into its present-day existence, offering dozens of bird walks a month and offering membership to those who wish to take their passion for ornithology beyond their backyards.
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Meade started birding in the early 2000s when he was 39 years old. Now, he spoke with us about birding and how it differs from bird watching, as well as what you might catch in your backyard as the seasons change. Highlights from our conversation are below.
How did you get involved with the Northern Virginia Bird Club?
I decided to take up birding and started going out to various parks and other birding locations, which is where I happened to meet other birders who told me about the Northern Virginia Bird Club. I started going on their bird walks and attending their meetings, and I was soon proficient enough to lead walks. Later, I joined the board, became vice president for programs, and later the president of NVBC.
What is the difference between birding and bird watching?
We actually refer to it as birding since there is so much more involved than just watching the birds. We study birds and bird behaviors, collect data, participate in surveys and other citizen science projects, and we educate others about birds and the natural world.
What should readers know about bird watching in Virginia?
The Northern Virginia Bird Club welcomes anyone interested in birds and nature. Some people just bird in their backyard, while others travel far and wide to find birds. There are many excellent locations for birding in our region. One way to find them is to go on our website, which lists the places where we bird around the region.
Are there any particular birds that readers should be looking out for as the seasons change?
It’s fall migration, so warblers and other songbirds are starting to come through. It’s also primetime for hawk migration and the local hawk-watch sits can have excellent flights if the conditions are right. Once winter gets closer, waterfowl and sparrows return. For them, this is where they come when they fly south. Late fall and winter are also good times for rare birds to show up.
What is one of your favorite memories of birding in Northern Virginia?
It’s always fun when birders converge to see a rare bird that has shown up in the area. A good example is the snowy owl that showed up at Springfield Mall several years ago. That bird was a big hit! Recently, there has been a limpkin, a Florida native, that has been at Fountainhead Regional Park in Fairfax County. Fortunately, I was able to see it and it was bird species number 250 for my personal Fairfax County list. Birding with my team, the Raven Loonatics, in the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy is always enjoyable, but also somewhat exhausting. We start before dawn and travel all over Loudoun County throughout the day in search of as many bird species as we can find. We usually get 115 or more for the day.
If a reader is interested in birding, what would you like them to know?
Northern Virginia Bird Club welcomes all birding ability levels and beginners are especially welcome. We do a lot of bird walks and the local ones are all free, with no registration needed. Actually, you do not even have to be a member to join one of these walks. We also have four meetings a year in Arlington, where we have speakers who might be scientists who study birds, or birders who have been to exciting and interesting places to see birds. We also do trips out of town, of which we ask participants to be NVBC members. These may be one-day trips, like a recent one we had to Bombay Hook in Delaware, or they may be weekend trips, such as the ones we have to Chincoteague in Virginia, and to Cape May, New Jersey.
How should readers get involved with birding in NoVA?
Just go to our website, check out the schedule and come and join us on one of our walks. There’s no fee, no registration and you don’t have to be a member to participate. It’s also good to know that there are other excellent groups in our area besides the Northern Virginia Bird Club. The Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Prince William Conservation Alliance are very active in education and in protecting natural areas in their respective counties. The Audobon Society of Northern Virginia has workshops and courses, in addition to field trips and programs that are excellent. The Friends of Dyke Marsh and the Friends of Huntley Meadors both sponsor weekly bird walks that are generally well-attended.