This morning when I was in my backyard, I heard an unusual (to me) bird call. I found myself wishing I had one of our amazing naturalists by my side to identify this bird for me. I am not alone in my curiosity, I am sure. There are many serious birders, both those that work as naturalists and those who pursue this interest as a hobby. These folks have a wealth of knowledge in their heads. Others are, like me, just casually curious. Since 1934 Cleveland area birders, both casual and serious, have had opportunities to learn about our feathered friends in Cleveland Metroparks.
One of the earliest, and most popular group activities offered by the fledgling (pun intended) nature education program was the Sunday morning bird walks held in April and May. When I began working as historian for the park I often came across references to this activity and the large numbers of participants involved in it. Hundreds of people showed up for these events. OK, maybe not hundreds on any one day, but some photos do show at least fifty to seventy people at one time. The annual report for 1934, the first year the walks were offered noted that the total number who attended the eight walks offered that year was 610, or an average of 76 people per walk.
Not being a morning person, or a serious birder, it never occurred to me that these lovely bird walks took place at the crack of dawn. Walks began at 6:45 a.m. The walk lasted an hour and then there was a fifteen minute “summary and discussion.” In North Chagrin Reservation the new trailside museum was the gathering place for the walk and the talk afterwards. Walks were also held in Rocky River Reservation, but the museum there was not yet built so I imagine they may have met at one of the picnic shelters.
Over the years more walks were added, such as “Tree Walks” and “Mushroom Walks,” but the bird walks remained the most popular. In 1939 winter walks were inaugurated in the Brecksville Reservation. Held at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, a much more civilized hour, in my opinion, these walks were more general in nature. But winter birds were still a big draw. Winter walks ended up in front of the cozy fireplace at the new Brecksville Trailside Museum with a cup of hot cocoa.
World War II put a damper on many activities in the parks, including the bird walks, but they sprang back afterwards and continued to be a popular activity throughout the next decades and continue even today. You can now find a plethora of birding activities offered by Cleveland Metroparks. Our new reservations at the lakefront are terrific areas to observe bird migrations. The nature centers offer formal birding activities as well as comfy spots to sit and watch the birds at the feeders. Don’t miss an opportunity to hand feed a chickadee, a perfect way to get close and personal with these bright eyed creatures. Or just take a walk in the winter woods, maybe even at 6:45 a.m., because you know what they say about those early birds!
Our beloved first naturalist, A.B. Williams, in an iconic picture