Learning to appreciate the natural wonders of Trap Pond

Fritz and Elsbeth Whal look on as naturalist Diane Twining 
shows them the field guide she prefers to use when identifying
species of birdat Trap Pond State Park. Photo by Tony Russo
Diane Twining stood under the portico at the entrance to the Baldcypress Nature Center talking to the few people who had assembled there. There were two couples, the Mehalyaks (John and Pat) and the Whals (Fritz and Elsbeth) each there for the Saturday Morning Bird Walk. The walk was as much an introduction to the park and its potential as it was to the practice of birdwatching.
Birding is one of those hobbies that can feel difficult to crack. There are hundreds (at least) of different species with demarcated by subtle things like “wingbars” and “eye rings,” but as Twining pointed out as she talked about these issues in the pre-walk presentation, those are concerns for a later time.
“Enjoy the moment,” she told the assembled, “don’t be intimidated.”
If you have ever seen a great movie over and over again and noticed something new, even a minor new thing, every time, you can understand the process of becoming a better birder. After all, birdwatching is something most of us already do at some level. We can identify a robin, say as spring comes on and we see them hopping along after a winter’s absence.
Learning how to focus on birds and some of the general things a person can look or listen foras markers is really what the walk was about. It followed a loop around the parking lot at Trap Pond, traced some of the wooded path near the pond itself and came back around toward the nature center. 
Twining explained that one of the reasons the trip didn’t include the deeper parts of the woods is it wasn’t necessary. There are plenty of birds who hunt and play from the forest’s edge. They are the more common birds and are a gentle introduction into how simple and pleasurable the practice can be.
Fritz Whal and Pat and John Mehalyak search the trees near trap 
pond in an attempt to see one of the birds flitting between branches.
Photo by Tony Russo
Everyone who came brought their own binoculars, but they didn’t have to. Rather than have the absence of binoculars be a bar to participating, Trap Pond provides loaners to adults and children alike. Although the summer camp at the park has a birding component, Twining said she tries to encourage people to bring children on these excursions. 
Birding, especially for the new enthusiast, doesn’t require utter silence. The group spoke among one another in normal tones throughout. Not only would a child be completely at home among the birders, he or she might come to appreciate the practice or the park. This final aspect is the most important part of this and many of the other guided outdoor activities provided at Trap Pond.
The central lesson is that, if you are open to the experience, the park can provide it. Whether it is birding or exploring the baldcypress swamp learning to be still and appreciate the stillness is a lesson that is easily recalled for a lifetime. Names of species or identifiers might fade over time, but the ability to listen to the forest and let the details of it emerge, once practiced, is like riding a bike.
Plus, there are great field guides available. Twining uses and recommends “Birds of Maryland and Delaware,” by Stan Tekiela. It is available with a companion CD for bird call identification. Thumbing through the book, Twining can often find the bid she has just seen. If not, she doesn’t get too caught up in it. She either can make a mental or physical note and page through at her leisure.
Twining is a volunteer naturalist, camping at Trap Pond State Park for the summer as part of a volunteer residence program through the park service. Simply put, in exchange for 32 hours per week of volunteering, she has use of one of the park’s campsites. 
 Elsbeth Whal scans the treeline for birds during the August
Trap Pond Saturday Bird Walk. Photo by Tony Russo
Some people participate for a month, some people for more. Twining has been volunteering from the spring until the fall since she retired seven years ago. 
She’s had a lot of different jobs at the park, and still does, but recently she has taken over the monthly bird walks. Twining is proudly not an expert but equally as proudly working on becoming one. Birding experts can be a little intimidating and her primary job is to get people to begin to get a better sense of the park and its birds. She sees herself as something of an enabler, someone who can point to the various ways about what makes Trap Pond so special and encourage people to adopt the entry point they prefer.
Some people come to the park for camping, as she did. Some prefer the boating, the fields or just having a public place to picnic in the woods. The point isn’t to already be attracted to all of the park’s recreational and conservation opportunities, but rather to understand that such things exist. From there, people learn how to appreciate them and, finally, to embrace them. 
Twining very much enjoys working at the park and throughout the morning expedition remarked on other of her jobs and how they related to one another. She’s among those, for example, who leads the evening pontoon boat excursions  and mentioned the many birds seen on those trips. 
She is attracted to birding precisely because she is developing her sense of looking for birds and her ability to identify them.

“It’s just the mystery,” she said. “You see something and you’re, like, ‘What is that?’”
The Saturday Morning Bird Walk occurs the first Saturday of each month. For more information on this and the other programs at Trap Pond click here.
This story originally appeared in the August 6 edition of the Laurel Star.

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