Obsessive. Strange. Inscrutable. Yes, birders of every stripe came out in droves (flocks?) for the American Birding Expo, held this past weekend just outside of Philadelphia. (However, I’m applying those adjectives not to my fellow bird lovers, but to the panoply of humanity that descended upon the other hall at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center for the “Walker Stalker” convention of Walking Dead fans.)

The third incarnation of the expo had a little bit of something for everybody. The field trips ran the gamut of the Philly area’s great birding destinations, from the woodsy Wissahickon Creek Park to the multi-habitat Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and more. The weather this past weekend was perfect—cooler winds from the north aided migration, yet even at the cusp of October it was warm enough to require only a light jacket—and no rain anywhere in sight. Trip leaders reported long sighting lists; Sunday morning at Heinz produced a bevy of migrating raptors and warblers, and many lifers were seen. Hard by the convention center (barely 2 miles as the Fish Crow flies, dare I say?) is the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, and many birders not only got to indulge in their favorite pastime, but also learn to more about the giant of American birding.

When field trips wrapped up, it was time to head back to the Expo Center. Aisles of exhibitors tempted visitors with birding trips to such far-flung locations as Colombia, Kenya, and Sri Lanka, and grown men and women got all kid-in-a-candy-store at the optics booths. There were also birding books, birding gear, bird feeders, bird paraphernalia (if I buy one more cute owl-decorated felt coin purse …), and bird art. And conservation organizations spread their gospel, including Jeff Gordon from the American Birding Association (at left).

There was plenty of live action at the expo, too. Keynote speakers included Julie Zickefoose and Scott Weidensaul. (And I was so bummed to miss both of them, but unfortunately the first two days of the Expo fell during Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year; a hungry 6-month-old meant I couldn’t fast this time, so it was important to me to at least be able to join my husband at services.) Workshops covered everything from how to feed birds in your backyard to how to buy binoculars. And Sunday was “family day,” with fun activities for kids (make a Crisco-and-pinecone bird feeder! feel different types of feathers!), including an enlightening visit by two of the Audubon Center’s resident Eastern Screech Owls and its Great Horned Owl Oden (at right).

Bill Thompson III of Bird Watcher’s Digest, which co-sponsors the Expo with the ABA, promises a bigger and better expo next year (in the main hall—take that, zombie fans!). So I’ll be blocking September 21-23 out on my calendar (after High Holidays, woot!) and looking forward to sharing my city with birders from all over. And maybe I’ll bring my little guy to see his first owl!

Written by Meredith Mann
The lowly Red-winged Blackbirds in suburban New York triggered Meredith Mann's interest in birds. Five years later, she's explored some of the the USA's coolest hotspots, from Plum Island in Massachusetts to the Magic Hedge in Chicago to the deserts of Fallon, Nevada. She recently migrated from the Windy City (where she proudly served as a Chicago Bird Collision Monitor, rescuing migrants from skyscrapers and sidewalks) to Philadelphia, where she plans to find new editing and writing gigs; keep up her cool-finds chronicle, Blog5B; and discover which cheesesteak really is the best. And she will accept any and all invitations to bird Cape May, NJ.