Bill Parkin, 79, remembers walking down a sidewalk at Lake Frederick with his binoculars nearly seven years ago when Dave Boltz, now 72, pulled up in his car and asked if he was bird watching.
“And we’ve been birding together since,” Parkin said.
Parkin has been bird watching since 1993, when he and his wife went on a second honeymoon to Cape Breton in Canada.
“There were eagles all over the place,” he recalled. They also saw “puffins and all sorts of exciting new birds that I’d never seen before.”
At the time the couple lived in central New Jersey, and Parkin would walk near their house to spot birds in the area.
Parkin was a state epidemiologist and director of epidemiology and disease control in New Jersey for about 15 years following eight to 10 years in epidemiology in Pennsylvania.
After he and his wife retired, they moved to Lake Frederick in 2010.
“Birds brought me here,” he said.
He had read about a barred owl spotted at Lake Frederick, and he traveled to the area to see it.
“Didn’t see the barred owl,” he said.
But he did find a new place for himself and his wife, who was retiring from being assistant dean at George Washington University and wanted to move out to the country.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen over 200 species of birds,” Parkin said.
He said that Boltz has spotted four or five types of birds that he hasn’t seen.
Boltz saw a golden eagle that Parkin has yet to see.
Typically they see birds like Canada geese, Carolina wrens, eastern kingbirds, mockingbirds, gold and house finches, sparrows and blue jays, Boltz said.
But both men said the most unusual bird they’ve seen at Lake Frederick is a white pelican, which is often seen on the Atlantic coast but usually not this far inland.
Boltz also recalled seeing several black-bellied whistling ducks for a few hours one day. Those would be expected on the southern coast of Louisiana or Texas, he said.
Though Parkin has many more years of experience in bird-watching, he said that Boltz has the better ear for identifying bird calls.
“They have to call out to us and tell us they’re there,” Parkin said. “When we hear the birds, that tells us where to look.”
Boltz, who played trumpet in the Air Force band for many years before teaching band in Fairfax County, retired in 2011.
He became interested in bird watching while living in the Alexandria area and hearing that the Wild Bird Center was hosting bird-watching activities.
“I like to do a good outdoor activity,” he said.
But be warned: Bird watching, he said, is addictive.
“It’s a laid-back kind of hobby that gets you outdoors,” he said. It also offers “a lot of neat things besides birds.”
Twice, he recalled, he and Parkin encountered bears in the wild while searching out birds.
Another time in West Virginia they saw a rattlesnake.
“We weren’t in danger of being bitten,” he said.
One of Boltz’s favorite places to spot birds is Briery Branch Gap west of Harrisonburg where, he said, “you find a totally different set of birds.”
“We did a two-week trip to Texas, Bill and I, and saw over 200 species in two weeks,” he said.
Parkin said it’s hard to choose a favorite spot because the world offers such interesting birds.
Having traveled to Chile, Brazil, the Galapagos Islands and Svalbard between Norway and the North Pole, he said one bird he’s still hoping to see is Ross’s gull, a pinkish seagull that lives in the far north and which he missed seeing in Svalbard.
“Other than that, I love penguins,” he said, and he’s seen five or six species.
In Ecuador, he “blinked at the wrong time” and missed a bright orange bird that his group had been watching for.
“The guide was the only one that saw it,” he said.
Many people, when they travel, visit museums or cathedrals, Parkin said, but birding takes him and his wife — an “SOB” or “spouse of birder” — into the smaller towns and countryside.
“We end up back in the backwaters somewhere,” Parkin said. “There’s always a bird that I want to see.”