Hatching a New Group: Ocean State Bird Club

Ocean State Bird Club member Dan Berard leads a group on a dusk adventure.

It’s dusk. A dirt parking lot (well, more like a clearing of dirt) retains a few cars, and further back there is a small circle of people sporting binoculars. They wear the full palette of the bird watcher’s color wheel: khaki, tattered khaki, dirty khaki, spanking new khaki, and new khaki stressed to look old. (We are nothing if not consistent.) A bearded young man in the circle speaks to the group, sometimes nearly shouting to be heard over the buzz of cars and the blasts of motorcycles flying by at 60 mph.

“Welcome to Ocean State Bird Club’s walk, ‘Birds, Bugs, and Bats’. I’m Dan Berard, and I’m leading this walk. Let’s take a minute to introduce ourselves and talk about what we’d like to see tonight.” The group introduces themselves one by one, and the general hope is to sight nighthawks, which may be migrating at this time. Dan Berard is the vice president of Ocean State Bird Club (OSBC), and in the circle is the president, Jana Hesser. The location is Steere Hill Land Trust in Glocester, and tonight, 23 people have shown up. This is the latest in the new club’s first season of outings, and adding such themes as “bugs and bats” to the list of trips is no accident. It’s a deliberate effort to broaden the appeal of the outdoors by using topics and locations that are somewhat overlooked. Other outings have been entitled “Birds and Butterflies”, and even “Birds and Beers”.

Searching the skies.

Searching the skies. Dan Berard, left, is flanked by OSBC President Jana Hesser.

OSBC, Rhode Island’s newest birding club, was the brainchild of Jana Hesser, a retired worker from the health care field. Hesser was a regular at informal bird walks, but felt there were parts of the state that were being neglected; particularly the northern parts. “I met Jack Sullivan and Sue Dunn on these walks,” she explained. “We agreed that there was no shortage of walks in the southern part of the state, but the feeling was ‘what about us’ (in northern Rhode Island and Massachusetts)?” Some time passed, and Hesser continued to talk over the idea on bird outings. “Finally, a few of us thought maybe we would try to have a little get-together of people who might be interested.” The time was arranged, and word went out that the location would be a local restaurant. If Hesser was concerned about whether more birders than Sullivan and Dunn would show up, she needn’t have been; that night, thirty birders came by to talk about hatching a new birding group.

The group moves through a path at Steere Hill in Glocester.

The group moves through a path at Steere Hill in Glocester.

Back at Steere Hill, the group hasn’t made it out of the parking lot and onto the path when Dan Berard begins to point out nighttime insects, first by the sound, and then by following the sound to the source. There’s a Davis’s Tree Cricket, a pale green slender insect. Then Berard points out a Carolina Ground Cricket. The latter looks almost exactly like the critter most people picture when considering a cricket, but the Carolina Ground is perhaps a third of the size. Berard’s sense of hearing is preternatural, and his ability to distinguish one species of insect or bird from another is the perfect complement to his ears. The noise these insects make, known as stridulating, is “the production of sound by rubbing two body parts together,” Berard says. “Most orthopterans (the insect family that includes crickets) stridulate by rubbing a scraper at the base of one wing against a file at the base of the opposite wing. Basically, that’s what produces the sound.”

The line of birders snake their way through a wooded path. A Wood Pewee, a kind of Flycatcher, makes a quick appearance in the gathering dusk. Berard keeps up a steady stream of sound identifications, peppering the ID’s with pop culture references in order to make the names and sounds easier to recall. He mentions Dr. Evil, Cone Heads, and go-carts, just to name a few. His binocular strap is decorated with the Batman symbol. This is not your stereotypical staid birder. And this, in turn, is why Jana Hesser was so pleased that Berard was interested in forming a group.


“We had people with all these different talents who pulled together and contributed their skills,” Hesser says about the restaurant meeting and the weeks that followed. “We did an informal survey of people’s abilities and interests at our social gatherings, and from those came dedicated people who began to organize, developing OSBC’s bylaws and creating our web site (www.oceanstatebirdclub.org).” Audubon Society of Rhode Island (www.asri.org) was an enthusiastic supporter from the start, and ASRI board member Candy Powell joined the new club’s board as well. Hesser is pleased with the cooperation: “It’s been fantastic having Audubon on board right from the beginning. They’ve given us use of some of their facilities, and we’ve become a sort of feeder organization for each other.”


A Milkweed Tussock Moth.

Eventually, the path in Glocester opens out to a field as the visitors emerge at the summit of Steere Hill. A three-quarter moon rises through the trees on this unusually warm early September night. A breeze caresses the hillside as the crew keeps their eyes on the skies. Some spot a Woodcock peent-ing through the darkening skies. In the distance a pair of Barred Owls seem to be having a discussion, calling to each other (or at each other) across a long distance.

The journey brings with it dozens of species of bugs and birds, though only a brief bat sighting. Still, as the group makes their way back to the noisy dirt lot, no one seems disappointed. There has been plenty to see, hear, and learn. Before the group breaks for the night, Dan Berard makes one final observation: “I think the insect chorus at night is just as impressive, or maybe even more impressive, than the dawn chorus of birds. Tonight, I wanted to bring the birders’ attention to a part of the outdoors that we may not always pay attention to.” Which, in a way, is what Ocean State Bird Club, the club of birds, yes, but also butterflies, bugs, bats, and even beers, is aiming for.

OSBC is currently planning a boat trip for pelagics. Visit their web site by September 21 if you’d like to go. Later, attend a party to celebrate the successful launching of the club on October 17 from 6 to 8 PM at ASRI’s Environmental Education Center in Bristol. Members as well as the general public are welcome. Visit www.oceanstatebirdclub.org for more information.



  • Great article Hugh! Wow, just terrific the way you wove everything together. We couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m sure it will give OSBC a boost. Many, many thanks!!

    • I calls ’em as I sees ’em. Glad to oblige.

    • VERY IMPRESSIVE EXCELLENT ! All inclusive !
      Hugh did the Club a very nice service.

      Thank You , Hugh ! Jack

  • I knew I should have gone. Ah! those insect noises that I love so much.

    • It was a lot of fun, Mary. Hopefully you’ll be out on the next one!

Leave a comment