Eastern Pond WarblerEastern Pond Warbler. / Barbara Goodman photo

UPDATED Nov. 1: On a cool October morning, a group of about 30 people met at Shannon Beach in Medford at 8 a.m., early by most people's standards for a Saturday, but not for them. This gathering was to celebrate 20 years of the Menotomy Bird Club, whose members range from complete novices to someone who has seen nearly 4,500 species.

For members, it was a chance to enjoy coffee, muffins and fruit -- and to compare notes about what they’ve seen, the best places to find birds and what the hobby truly means to them. 

“Birding,” said Jennie Rathbun, of Arlington, “takes my attention from the news, from fears about the future and regrets about the past, and has me focus on the moment I’m in. Plus the birds themselves are incredibly beautiful and interesting. I love them all.” 

The club's genesis was when Renee LaFontaine, a Medford resident, would call her friend Marj Rines, formerly of Arlington, to tell her about the birds she had been seeing. Rines then began a listserv so that people could let each other know where and when they were seeing birds and what species had been spotted.

Alan Akers led the first trip for the group, to Shannon Beach in March 2003. “Around that time,” he recalled, “bald eagles started being seen here, and that helped increase the number of people on the listserv, so we decided to meet. Someone said, “ 'This feels like a bird club, so let’s call it that.' ” 

The club now sponsors some 40 to 50 local birdwalks a year -- and sometimes as many as 100. Arlington Reservoir, aka “the Res,” is often a favored spot, but the group also takes trips to Medford, Saugus, Concord, Lexington and other area towns. jennierathbunJennie Rathbun. / Marjorie Howard

President Paul Ippolito said that there are no dues or fees, and he notes that the club hosts speakers during the winter months, recently at the Fox Library. “For me,” he said,” the most exciting thing is watching beginning birders evolve. We have [even] had a handful of kids who participated in our trips who are now in the ornithology field -- Ian Davies is a project leader at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and Jeremiah Sullivan does research and field work.” Blue Heron. / Barbara Goodman photo

Members keep each other informed about what they are viewing, sending descriptions and locations and sometime photos, saying such things as: A little over an hour ago I got a very good look at a Prothonotary Warbler… As a nice surprise today, I had six Bonaparte’s Gulls together in the Upper Mystic Lake…

The Res is a popular place because, in addition to the songbirds it attracts, shorebirds show up when water is drained and it temporarily becomes a mudflat. “It’s a real hot spot right now,” said Justin Wiley of Arlington. “There are lots of killdeer and herons.” One of his first memories is of going to an Audubon Sanctuary with his parents at age 3. Now he works outdoors, and, he says, “I’m birding all the time.”

Not everyone is a longtime birder. Kristine Cataneo doesn’t even own the one unofficially required tool of birding, namely binoculars. But the Arlington resident enjoys birding anyway.

 “I spend a lot of time in nature and enjoy going to Spy Pond and Menotomy Rocks. At some point I went with a friend who pointed out birds and their songs. That became fascinating, because I couldn’t always see them but enjoyed hearing their songs and their calls. I heard a cardinal at Menotomy Rocks and realized it wasn’t just tweeting; it was distinctive. Other people might talk about sports or TV shows; now I talk about birds.”Pond Warbler. / Mary Dineen photo

For Diane Fruguglietti, it was a trip to Tanzania that evolved into what she now calls “an obsession.” While others on the trip were paying attention to the leopards and cheetahs, Fruguglietti couldn’t help but see birds she’d never seen before. Now she’s been to 55 countries and all the continents and has seen nearly 4,500 species of birds.

Rathbun was birding even as a child but didn’t get seriously interested until about 20 years ago when she met her wife and decided to show her something about birds. “Now she’s as passionate about it as I am.” The two have taken trips to Ecuador, Georgia islands and Costa Rica to see birds. But they’ve gotten just as much satisfaction from going to the Res, Menotomy Rocks or Arlington Meadows just off the Minuteman Bike Path. 

“It’s been fun to watch a friend who recently got enthusiastic about the birds that come to her feeder,” said Rathbun. “Things that I think are old hat are exciting to her, and it rekindles my enthusiasm. It’s an infectious activity that brings people together at any age or fitness level. It’s a great way to meet people and share something in this fractured world of ours.” Hawk
Hawk. / Barbara Goodman photo

Birding, she said, “connects me with the reality that I’m just one of billions of organisms on the planet, so it diminishes my self-importance; it’s a literal reminder I’m not the center of the universe.” 
As birders will remind you, there’s no need to travel around the world or spot exotic species to watch and take pleasure in the behavior and variety of colors you can see nearby. Most people can recognize blue jays or robins. Wrote one birder to the listserv after seeing those very birds outside her window, “Always nice to have a birdy day without even having to leave the house.” 

Those interested in learning more may contact the group via Facebook and/or join the Google group Arlington Birds

This article published Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, was contributed by YourArlington volunteer writer Marjorie Howard. Brynn O'Connor, assistant to the editor, did the layout. It was updated Nov. 1 to change photo formatting.