David Wallace fondly recalls his after-school walks along the creek between his elementary school and his boyhood home in Pennsylvania, watching and observing birds along the way.
He credits his third-grade teacher with instilling that interest in observing birds. Describing himself as a “lister by nature, of all kinds,” he still has a bird list he compiled when he was 10 years old, while visiting family in Ontario.
Now at age 92, Wallace still takes frequent strolls along a creek near his home, listing and observing birds, only it’s here, at the west end of Baker Park.
In April, he led a field trip for the Frederick Bird Club in the park. “I never thought I would be going on field trips when I was in my 90s, let alone leading one!” Wallace said.
At the September meeting of the Frederick Bird Club, Wallace was awarded the prestigious Valued Service Award for his 41 years of “dedicated service” to birds and to the Frederick chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society. The award is given to a person for “outstanding sustained performance in some role or capacity.” The certificate also notes the Frederick club’s appreciation for his “generosity in sharing the joy of birds and birding with the community, and your tireless stewardship of Baker Park.”
He is a past president of the local bird club and has led numerous field trips over the years and served as the Frederick County coordinator for the first Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Maryland the District of Columbia, a project of the Maryland Ornithological Society. He coordinated volunteer observers to collect data for Frederick County. If no volunteer was available for a section of the gridded map of the county, Wallace would make the observations.
“I did a lot of extra birding at that time, in the 1980s,” Wallace said. The first edition of the atlas published in 1997. Data collection for the third edition begins in January 2020, he said.
Birding in Baker Park
Wallace moved to Frederick in 1968 and started birding again about 10 years later.
“Over the years, I’ve spent time all over the county,” he said. But for the past 15 years or so, he’s concentrated his birding to Baker Park.
“Not every day, but frequently,” he covers the whole length of the park from U.S. 15 to College Avenue.
In his 41 years of birding at the park, he’s recorded more than 160 different species. His daily record is 40 species. And some of the species were one-time sightings of birds he may not ever see in the park again.
“In the summer, there are 40 different species you might see in a couple hours of watching,” he said. “Flycatchers, Baltimore orioles and several varieties of sparrows among them. In the spring and fall, you could add in various warblers flying north or south, depending on the season.”
And he’s observed nesting birds, like the black-crowned night-herons that have nested in the trees at the west end of Culler Lake since 2005. Winds from this past summer’s storms damaged the trees, sending limbs and nests to the ground, he said. “We are wondering if they will return next year.”
He’s observed other changes in bird behavior in recent years, too.
“I used to see Baltimore oriole nests in the pines but for the past two years I haven’t seen nests and only a few [orioles] passing through,” he said. “I don’t know why. It’s the same with chickadees and titmice. The past couple of years I haven’t seen many in Baker Park. I don’t know whether it’s related to climate change or not.” And it’s been about two years since he’s seen his favorite winter bird, the red-breasted nuthatch.
He said a project in place to deter geese from loitering around Culler Lake must be working because he hasn’t seen many geese or ducks by the lake.
“But I’ve been keeping a record of what I’ve seen every week since around 1980,” Wallace said. “That will go to the Maryland Room at the public library.”
He also sends his observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York. “It’s called citizen science now,” he said. Scientists at the Lab use data gathered by volunteers around the world to help trace bird migration patterns, nesting success rates, changes in bird numbers and environmental impacts on birds, including through habitat loss.
Join the club
Wallace retired in 1994 from the National Park Service, where he was assigned to the Interpretive Design Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. That job took him around the country, to Alaska, California and Washington. He tried to squeeze in some birding adventures in his travels, too.
After elementary school, he said he put that interest away until he moved to Frederick. “In the 1970s, I renewed my bird lists,” he said. “It was a challenge to me to add new birds.”
Bird watching, or birding, is not an expensive hobby, he said. “You can do it with un-fancy equipment.”
He also recommends novice birders join their local bird club. “Birders are very gregarious people and very supportive of people,” he said.
The Frederick Bird Club meets the first Thursday of each month beginning at 7 p.m. usually at Homewood at Crumland Farms main building, 7407 Willow Road, Frederick. The Washington County Bird Club meets at the Mount Aetna Center, 21905 Mount Aetna Road, Hagerstown, the fourth Tuesday of the month. Carroll County Bird Club meets the first Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Carroll Nonprofit Center, 225 Clifton Blvd., Westminster.
For more information on any of these chapters or the Maryland Ornithological Society, visit www.mdbirds.org.