Berks County's Baird Ornithological Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The birders have gone beyond searching for additions to their life lists. Their observations and documentation have supported better understanding of bird migration and a changing climate. Their participation in nest box programs helped restore populations of wood ducks, American kestrels and bluebirds, to name just a few.
"Reading down the list of field naturalists during and since Earl Poole's day is an exercise in knowing some of the most ardent birders anywhere in the country," wrote Jim Brett in his forward to "A Century of Bird Life in Berks County, Pennsylvania."
The book published in 1997 was edited by Bill Uhrich, former Reading Eagle photo editor and avid birder and historian for the club.
Tony Grimm, president, calls the group one of Berks County's best kept secrets.
It has maintained a membership of about 70, and even though the pandemic has prevented monthly in-person meetings at Nolde Forest Environment Education Center in Cumru Township, 40 people turn out for virtual sessions.
"At $15 its a bargain," he said.
You don't have to be a birder to join.
It is among the oldest clubs in the country, just a few years younger than Massachusetts Audubon, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
"Right from the start, it was egalitarian," Uhrich said.
The organization allowed women, which was unusual for a natural history group at the time. Some bird clubs didn't allow women until the 1980s.
The group's first woman president was in 1952, Catharine Feick, according to Uhrich's book.
One of the main contributions of the club is documentation of the changing nature of bird life in Berks County, said Rudy Keller, a past president and longtime Oley Valley birder. Having historic records contributes to conservation efforts.
The highly structured point counts aren't focused just on species but on numbers. Those counts lead to inquiries into declines of species such as the tufted titmouse, which appears to be rebounding. The club documented the expansion of Southern species northward such as tufted titmice and cardinals.
The club's Christmas counts show only three species that show up every year — dark-eyed junco, American crow and American tree sparrow.
Another example of the club's contributions is the documentation of the birds like the king eider and pink-footed geese. spotted at Lake Ontelaunee. Spotting those unusual birds forced inland by storms highlights the lake's importance as one of the largest inland lakes between the Chesapeake and the Great Lakes.
No boating is allowed on the lake, which makes it an even more preferred stop on migration, Keller said.
Among the species observed at Lake Ontelaunee are long-tailed duck, common goldeneye, bufflehead and all three species of mergansers. Redhead and canvasback are possible. It is a stopover point in spring and fall for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. More than 300 bird species have been recorded there.
The club is planning a Nov. 12 anniversary banquet featuring a talk from writer and researcher Scott Weidensaul, formerly of Schuylkill County. He has written 30 books, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist "Living on the Wind." He is now living in New Hampshire and has published a new book on migration, "A World on the Wing, The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds."