Good time to take wing to Shore

OUTDOORS

Outdoors

April 14, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

You don't have to know a lot about birds to enjoy watching them and listening to their singing.

Sometimes the recipe for a perfect day starts with a cup of coffee and a seat on the back porch - a private skybox to watch the finches and chickadees at the feeders and bird bath.

For a change of pace from suburban birds, the lower Eastern Shore is just the ticket for watching herons and osprey, warblers and raptors, and more waterfowl than a Daffy Duck film festival.

The folks down there know they have a good thing and share it every year during the Delmarva Birding Weekend, which comes up at the end of the month.

Some of the most popular programs are filled (you should have signed up back in January when it first was mentioned here, but there's always 2003). But there's still a lot of good stuff available April 26-28.

Go on an owl prowl at Pemberton Historical Park, listen for the sounds of wildlife at Assateague Island National Seashore, check out the night life at the Salisbury Zoo or learn about Maryland's endangered and rare birds at a dinner and lecture in Ocean City.

If you get tired of the real thing, watch top carvers compete at the 32nd Annual Ward World Championship Waterfowl Carving Competition.

To find out what's still available and the cost, call the Worcester County Tourism Office at 410-632-3617 or check out the offerings on line at skipjack.net.

If organized events give you the willies, go on your own excursion.

As I found out last weekend, the rangers at Assateague are knowledgeable, and the bookstore in the Barrier Island Visitor Center just before you cross the bridge to the park has some helpful books and charts.

During Saturday of the birding weekend, naturalists will be on Assateague's trails to answer questions.

Positive ending

Can you believe it? State lawmakers closed up shop for another year, and left sportsmen and women in better shape than when the session began.

Legislators extended the firearms deer season from 13 to 21 days, made the first Sunday of firearms season a legal hunting day and ditched the anti-trapping bill.

They also streamlined the hunting license process, reducing the insane number of combinations of stamps, permits and licenses from 16 to seven.

Of course, someone is bound to whine that they raised the cost of a license to hunt small game and deer from $24.50 to $36. But the price hadn't gone up in 13 years, and a Maryland license remains less expensive than in neighboring states.

And it's also true that the black bear hunting bill was gutted by the House and then killed by a Senate committee. But that proposal had pennies on its eyes from the get-go.

At least part of the credit for the surprising turn of events goes to the 4-year-old Maryland Sportsmen's Association and the fledgling Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus of delegates and senators.

Tim Lambert, the former president of the MSA and a member of the state Wildlife Advisory Commission, gives the groups an A-minus in their first real test.

"I believe the sportsmen came away from the session with real gains," he says. "We made great strides to get organized and attract the support of national groups. We built a lot of partnerships across the state ... and it's paying big dividends."

Although the MSA didn't start out pursuing the legalization of Sunday hunting, fearing it would antagonize non-hunters, its leaders quickly realized the advantage of getting one day.

"This will give us the ability to show that hunters can recreate with others without conflict and show that Sunday hunting is a benefit in helping to manage the deer population," Lambert says.

While no one likes higher license fees, Lambert believes the Department of Natural Resources deserves the cash.

"It takes money to run the department, and we recognize the needs have grown," he says. "An agency strapped for cash is susceptible to pressure from large organizations with immense treasuries. In order to have a strong DNR, we have to provide the money."

DNR issues about 130,000 hunting licenses and 140,000 hunting-related stamps or permits annually. The revenue - $4.4 million - is slightly less than half of the budget for DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service.

Legislative analysts estimate that the higher fees will cause an 8 percent drop in license sales, but will boost revenue by $1.57 million.

A small detail in the bill will pay big dividends to one of the best charitable programs in the state. Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, the Hagerstown program that has caught on in 25 other states, will receive $1 from each license sale to process venison for Maryland food banks.

"This could be precedent-setting," Lambert says. "All the states with [FHFH] are struggling financially. If Maryland leads the way, this is something that's going to carry across the country."

Looking good online

Let's cast a chartreuse kudo (it looks like a bucktail) in the direction of Paul Genovese and George Sackett, the DNR computer elves who have spent the winter months cooking up new online goodies.

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