Rendezvous Review: BirdTography Success!
By Dawn Hewitt
The weather wasn’t entirely cooperative during our photography Rendezvous, but the birds were! There were just six attendees, plus Doug’s wife, Suzie, who joined us for occasional meals. Two local gals joined us for Saturday birding only, and local birder Daniel Jonas tagged along occasionally, providing additional spotting help. BWD staffers were Bruce Wunderlich, Dawn Hewitt, Jessica Melfi, Wendy Clark, and Hope Eller. Tamron was a sponsor of the event and provided some long, loner lenses for attendees to try during the event. Jim and Jessica took advantage of that opportunity and got some shots that their own lenses couldn’t have provided.
Our tour was off to an auspicious start when we happened upon an active mourning dove nest on our walk from the Lafayette Hotel to Wendy’s house. There, we made our introductions and enjoyed a delicious meal in her lovely, comfy, welcoming home. After dinner, local historian Bill Reynolds led us across the street to Camp Tupper and the Turtle Mound (the Quadranaou Mound) and gave us a short overview of Marietta’s history. (Note to self: Must read David McCollough’s The Pioneers.)
On Friday morning, Bruce took us about an hour north on I-77 to Newcomerstown, a favorite location for photographing an active bald eagle nest at eye level! There was a downy eaglet in the nest, and an attentive parent. While there, we also had close encounters with scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks—mating, no less! The weather was drizzly, but the photo ops were great. Back in Marietta that afternoon, we visited to two historic local cemeteries: The Mound and Oak Grove. At Mound Cemetery, we watched Carolina chickadees attend their nestlings in a hole in a metal fence railing, and then were delighted to spot Cape May and yellow-rumped warblers in nearby trees. Those were much more challenging to photograph than the chickadees! Most of us walked to the top of the ancient Conus Mound, where a northern parula teased us for a while. The birding wasn’t as good at Oak Grove Cemetery, but it was mid-afternoon, after all.
Dinner that night was at the House of Wines, a few miles north of town, and it was delicious. We had a room to ourselves—which was infinitely preferable to eating on the patio outside on that cold, damp evening! The waitress accidentally baptized Rohan with two varieties of white wine, but Rohan was gracious and didn’t whine.
Saturday morning, we met early at the Williamstown Wetlands, just across the Ohio River in West Virginia. We were hoping for a couple of rails that had been spotted there recently, but they were no-shows. Instead, we got tons of swallows, a sweet mama wood duck hauling a literal buttload of newly hatched ducklings, and great looks at a perched-up green heron. The highlight, though, was a mama killdeer and her four little puffballs, who huddled under her and roamed in a muddy area nearby.
Sadly, we had to leave this productive hotspot to join the weekly birding hike at the nearby Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, led by staff naturalist Michael Schramm. The feeders at the visitor center were hopping, and guests included white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. The refuge is Oriole City, and we spotted both orchard and Baltimore. We watched a female orchard oriole collecting long stems of grass right in front of us, flying off to her nest to continue construction, and returning—at least a dozen times.
That afternoon, we headed north along the Ohio River to Newell’s Run, where, on a mudflat we found three sandpiper species (least, spotted, and solitary), swallows galore, a huge flock of red-breasted mergansers, an osprey, and more. When we had seen all there was to see at Newell’s Run, we headed a bit farther up the road to Newport, Ohio, and hiked a bit on the Kinderhook Trail, part of Wayne National Forest. We heard and saw a few things, but again, late afternoon isn’t the best time for birding—especially in the woods.
Dinner that night was nearly spittin’ distance from the Lafayette Hotel, at The Galley, and it, too, was delicious.
Sunday morning was cold and drizzly again, and in a consensus decision, we returned to the Williamstown Wetlands for more killdeer cuteness—and hoping for rails that must have moved on. Doug scored a killer belted kingfisher shot there! And then back to the National Wildlife Refuge. There’s just so much bird life in that place. Rohan had to crawl on his belly, but he got a great shot of a wood thrush!
Because it was Mother’s Day and our lunch plans abruptly fell through, Wendy invited us back to her house again for delicious tacos. It felt good, too, to warm up indoors for a bit. In the afternoon, we headed to Vienna, West Virginia, which is about eight miles from Marietta, to McDonough Wildlife Refuge. Despite the unsavory weather and poor light, it was hopping with birds. A Kentucky warbler put on quite a show for us, and many of us got satisfying photos. We walked for quite a while on sometimes muddy, sometimes steep slopes, but it was still great to be outdoors, looking for birds. Bruce was helpful in looking at our photos and suggesting ways they could have been even better. He’s an insightful, encouraging teacher!
Dinner was on our own that night, but we all went across the street to Austyn’s and had another great meal. Afterward, we reconvened for our final evening get-together. We all got prizes, but Doug won the grand prize: A poster-size collage of Bruce’s photos of Ohio’s seven woodpecker species.
Monday morning, we awoke to chilly temperatures but bright sunshine, at last. We had a delicious farm-to-table breakfast at the Busy Bee Restaurant in Harmar (across the Muskingum River from downtown Marietta). For our final birding session together, we headed back to McDonough, and, oh boy—what great birding! We got warblers and vireos (including a blue-headed!) and much more.
Our final meal was a picnic at a shelter with an active robin nest nearby, and while we were eating, a male summer tanager decided to land on a branch just above our heads! Thanks very much, sir, for the final photo op!