Local bird watchers have passion for hobby

August 08, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Finding a rare bird can set a birder's heart a flutter.

Dale Gearhart of Shady Grove, Pa., remembers the time members of the Conococheague Audubon Society spotted a pink flamingo in a farm pond near Duffield, south of Chambersburg, Pa.

Then there was the glossy ibis, a denizen of the southern shores. And the time they saw a varied thrush in Caledonia State Park. That bird is supposed to live in the Northwest.

The local society has about 35 active members with another 400 who are "non-active," member Bill Hague said. Where from? He and his wife, Jessie, of Chambersburg, Pa., have been members since the mid-1960s.


Hague schedules the society's outings, usually about 35 a year. The members spend a lot of time at home in Franklin County and nearby Cumberland County, but they also travel to western Pennsylvania, to New Jersey and even into West Virginia on birding expeditions, he said. An average trip will see 15 members on the trail.

Birders have their moments.

Three summers ago, Gearhart's keen eye and hearing led him to a nesting pair of Eurasian collared-doves under the eaves of a barn behind Kline's Grocery in Shady Grove.

"It sounds somewhat like a mourning dove, but it's different," he said. "I reported it to the Pennsylvania Society of Ornithology."

It was the first reported sighting of the birds nesting in Pennsylvania, he said.

At first no one paid attention to his claim. Then some professional birders came to see the doves for themselves and verified Gearhart's sighting, he said.

Now more and more of the doves are being seen in the area. This year he spotted some sitting on wires in Greencastle. "They're spreading into our area," he said.

The doves natural habitat is the southeastern United States.

"They're going to be like house finches," Jessie Hague said. The bird's normal habitat is western part of the country , her husband said.

"In the 1960s, the club went to Hagerstown to see the first one in the area," she said. "Now they're all around here."

"Thirty years ago I would have called anyone crazy who said I would be watching birds one day," Gearhart said.

"It's a great hobby. You see birds everywhere and they have pretty songs," he said. "And it's always a challenge to find that certain bird. Our club has identified more than 280 birds," he said.

Technology is adding to the enjoyment of bird watching, Gearhart said. When he started, the birder's bibles were the books of noted ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson and records of bird calls.

"Today we have tapes, CDs and videos to help us identify birds," he said. Binoculars, too, are more advanced.

The Conococheague chapter was organized in 1961.

Projects sponsored by the chapter include providing public school teachers with Audubon Adventures materials for classroom programs, offering scholarships, sponsoring local teenagers to attend the Penn State Conservation Leadership School, sponsoring science fair projects and running a speaker's bureau and nature film series for club meetings.

Its field work includes the annual hawk migration watch each fall atop Tuscarora Summit on the Franklin/Fulton county line, establishing bluebird trails and winter feeding stations, the local Christmas bird count in December and spring migratory count in May.

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