When Matthews resident, Tony Lombardino, repeatedly appeared in Laurie Horne’s bird supply-store, Backyard Birds (1819 Matthews Township Parkway), the shop owner began to take notice. Tony didn’t ask many questions but knew much about birds, fowl, and wildlife.
As time went on, Laurie realized he seemingly had all the answers. She also learned that he was an avid birder who has lead many bird walks for visitors to the Rockefeller University Field Research Center in Millbrook, NY, and as a docent at the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. She asked if he would lead her monthly bird walk group, and, so, the second-Saturday-of-the-month bird walks at (first Squirrel Lake and now) Colonel Francis Beatty Park began. That was more than three years ago.
Today, a dedicated group of between five to twelve individuals regularly join Tony, and, of course, Laurie. Not all are bird aficionados; some are photographers. But, all share a love of the wild, nature, and, of course, birds.
"This is very informative,” said Laurie, “and not just the birds you see in the back yard feeders.” Over the years, the group has seen dozens of seasonal birds, waterfowl and even a bald eagle.
On this frigid day, eight people joined Tony to walk the park. Conversation excitedly turned to what birds people had seen recently, and then to the specific birds right near them: Ruby-crowned ringlet (only here in winter), gadwall (duck), song sparrow, chipping sparrow, red-tailed hawk, and brown-headed nuthatch. Each sound and visual spotting produced a flurry of discussion with rapid-fire identification and other ancillary, but related information.
Also present was wildlife biologist and avid birdwatcher, David Crowe, on his first meet-up with the Matthews group. “This is a fun travel hobby,” he said. “You can stay watching birds all year.”
With an education in neurobiology, and experience working on a 12-acre wildlife refuge, Tony learned decades ago about the lifestyle of birds in the wild, how they reproduce, and nearly all the bird songs and calls. (Tony’s original work focused on the song of birds and how their brains produce the sounds). Ornithology remains a deep love and passion.
“When I’m hearing them, I know it’s part of the communication system,” said Tony. “[It’s] what allows them to propagate…and continue to be here….Everything we are seeing and tracking helps us appreciate what’s been here longer [than we have].”
Part of Tony and Laurie’s joint mission is to offer an experience which is both fun and informational. “People don’t realize how easy the bird walks are,” Laurie said. “They think you need hiking boots and dress. [In this case, you] walk from the parking lot to the field and stand watching.” The two picked Colonel Francis Beatty Park for “the terrain and the habitat it offers,” she said.
Tony explained, “There is consistency [in returning to] one area, be in nature, in something that’s deeply resonant for human beings. To be in the natural environment, it’s inherently relaxing. When you know the sounds, you are much more aware of what’s around.”