Is winter finally over?

Don’t be too sure. Maine weather has a way of turning on you, but a hope for warm and dry weather springs eternal among golfers and bird watchers.

Whenever I browse the pages of old newspapers, I always find a wealth of connections to the Twin Cities we know today. Familiar names and places pop up on every page, and headlines about the Stanton Bird Club in the Lewiston Evening Journal for March 23, 1920, caught my attention.

It seems that ice and snow were quickly yielding to the spring sun. The one-year-old organization, which thrives today with its preservation efforts at the 357-acre Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary in Lewiston, was anticipating another successful year.

The 1920 story said, “Professors, ministers, doctors, lawyers, clubwomen, teachers, bankers and other leading citizens, all alert to see the first spring migrants, roll out of bed at five in the morning and plod over soft muddy roads and fields in chase of the jubilant sparrow, robin, bluebird and others of their kind.”

Carrie E. Miller, a founder, said in that story that the club conducted 50 walks averaging 20 members out for each trip in 1919.

“The club was able to identify accurately 80 different migrants, which is a very excellent record,” the article said.

There were picnics at sunset on high points of land, possible Thorncrag.

There were monthly meetings and lectures during the first year. It may sound quite proper and sedate, but one incident put some unexpected adventure in one of the club’s first bird walks.

“Their only notorious escapade was when they were mistaken for tramps and fearful neighbors sent for the police patrol,” the newspaper story said, adding that “no arrests were necessary.”

Birding has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. It’s a huge industry, and Lewiston-Auburn is a location that has a national and even international reputation for fine bird watching.

Last summer, a car with Ohio license plates stopped when I was working in the yard of our farmhouse on the Auburn banks of the Androscoggin. The driver hesitantly introduced himself and the man seated next two him who held a pair of expensive binoculars. The driver, on vacation several years earlier, had stopped and asked my father about birds in the area, and he got an answer that impressed him for years to come.

My father eagerly shared all he knew about the nearby fields and woods he knew so well, and he soon offered to take the stranger out on the 30-foot stern-wheel paddleboat he had built and sailed on the river above Gulf Island Dam.

That visitor talked fondly of that afternoon when he ventured onto a homemade boat with someone he had never met before, while his wife waited for hours at a hotel unaware of where he might be.

The visitor had hoped he might meet my father again. It had been a significant enough experience for him to bring a friend on a long trip in hopes of repeating the adventure.

Much of the area’s popularity among birders comes from the excellent information on the Stanton Bird Club’s Web site. That was evident to me on another day last summer when my wife, Judy, talked briefly with a motorist on the road. He was from Ireland, and he was here because of what he learned about the area’s outstanding birding on that site.

The reach of the Internet has put information about this local attraction worldwide. In 1920, reports of the opportunities for bird sightings had a much more local flavor.

The newspaper account credited Willard E. Waterman of East Auburn with regular accurate information.

It said Waterman “has observed birds for nearly a score of years as he has followed his suburban mail route. His observations are always considered reliable.”

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and an Auburn native. You can e-mail him at [email protected]


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