Bird Paddle from Sycamore Island

by David Winer

Sycamore Islander, November 1997


The Montgomery County Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society (MCC/MOS) held a bird walk, deemed a bird paddle, from Sycamore Island on September 27. Gathering at 7:30 a.m., we found the river clear and calm, and the air clear and cool -- absolutely perfect conditions. Our club canoes provided 18 birders uncommon access to various nearby shores and islands, and of course, the sky above the river. In close formation of six canoes, we soon began to encounter numerous riverine species, such as Osprey, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Caspian Tern, and Double-crested Cormorant. The season was too early for wintering ducks, but we found active overhead plenty of Mallards, Wood Ducks, and Black Ducks. The river vantage provided a bonanza of woodpecker species during the two hours afloat: Downy, Hairy, Pileated, Redbellied, and Northern Flicker.

Although the canoeing itself was a novelty for some of these birders, the highlight of the event for many came later on the terra firma of Sycamore Island. After a coffee-muffin break in the clubhouse, we set out in small groups to bird along the paths recently developed by our creative and energetic caretaker. The combination of ideal air temperature, unimpeded strolling, and sunlight filtering down into the deep shade was irresistible to birders. Fortunately, the birds seemed happy with the island as well -- we were surprised at the number and diversity of migrating warblers flitting through the overstory of the island's trees. Here was a prized opportunity, an identification challenge posed by a fallout of what guide books term, "confusing fall warblers." It was a particular surprise to have so many Black-throated Blue warblers; other good finds were Black-throated Green, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, and American Redstart. As organizers of the affair, Jane and I took great pleasure at observing the watchers so intent on their mission, with fingers pointing, binoculars scanning upwards, field guides opened to the pages depicting difficult fall plumages.

By noon, we gathered on the clubhouse deck to tally everyone's sightings -- 54 species, distinguishing the day as a successful outing from this standpoint alone. This early fall event on Sycamore Island seems to have found a regular place in the MCC/MOS annual schedule of bird walks. Should any readers of the Islander wish to join us next year, please let Jane or me know we'll keep you posted.