Several organizations played a role in the evolution of birding in Montgomery County. The Biological Society, formed in 1880, published lists that included Montgomery County birds. One of these, published by May Thacher Cooke in 1929 in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington [42: 1-80], contains 287 species. The Natural History Society of Maryland, formed in 1929, had an active ornithological program and published bird records. Other records of Montgomery County birds are scattered in the literature. However, it was not until 1958 that we find rather complete coverage of the subject with frequent mention of Montgomery County. This came with the publication of “Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia,” by Robert E. Stewart and Chandler S. Robbins, in North American Fauna [No. 62, 1958]. Stewart and Robbins also list many people who carried out field studies in the early part of the 20th century.
The Audubon Naturalist Society of the District of Columbia (now of the Central Atlantic States) was formed in 1897. An 1898 list identifies 290 species for Washington, D.C., and vicinity. The society’s first official birding trip to Montgomery County occurred on May 13, 1901, when a “Field Meeting” was held at Forest Glen Seminary. As reported in the Washington Star, “ The meeting was led by Henry Olds and Arthur H. Howell, and the participants were 13 women,” who probably were students in their bird class. The paper reported that 50 to 60 specimens were “inspected.” In 1908, Dr. C. W. Richmond prepared a list called “Birds of Chevy Chase” that included 42 permanent resident species, 46 summer residents, 40 spring and fall migrants, and 10 winter residents.
A mimeographed, four-page leaflet called Audubon Bird Bulletin No. 2 May 1945, by Richard Tousey, is entitled “Where to See Birds in the District of Columbia Region” and includes the C&O Canal in Montgomery County. The April 1946 issue of the Wood Thrush, the first journal of the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS), reports that the first Breeding Bird Census was conducted on April 14, 1946. Led by Robert E. Stewart, Chandler S. Robbins, and B. M. McHenry, the participants covered the area from Sycamore Island to Minnehaha Creek. In May of 1946, there were trips to Langley Park and a “Big Day Trip” to Seneca. That year’s Christmas Count, on December 21, extended into part of Montgomery County. In 1947, the Audubon Naturalist Society published the first edition of A Field List of Birds of the District of Columbia Region, compiled by John W. Aldrich, Irston R. Barnes, Roger Tory Peterson, Chandler S. Robbins, Robert E. Stewart, and Richard Tousey. Two Montgomery County sites, the C&O Canal and Seneca, are listed. The Second Edition (1961) added the Buckeystown-Dickerson area, and the Revised Edition (1968) included Hughes Hollow and Great Falls Park.
Two other ANS publications were Montgomery County Localities: Where Birds Live. Habitats in the Middle Atlantic States, edited by Shirley A. Briggs and Chandler S. Robbins, 1951; and another, edited by Shirley A. Briggs, 1954. The latter contains short articles by several birders who tell of their favorite birding spots, including the Potomac River and the C&O Canal.
When the Maryland Ornithological Society (MOS) was organized on April 9, 1945, as an offshoot of the Natural History Society of Maryland, record keeping became more organized. In the May-June 1947 issue of Maryland Birdlife, W. Bryant Terrell reports on bird activity at his feeding shelf in Takoma Park, the first reference to Montgomery County birds to appear in that publication.
The first recorded county Christmas Count was the Seneca Count of 1955-1956 when, in 10 party-hours, the participants saw 32 species. The annual Christmas Count has since been expanded to include the Triadelphia, Sugarloaf, and DC Christmas Counts.
In March 1968, MOS published Field List of the Birds of Maryland, by Chandler S. Robbins and Willet T. Van Velzen. Known as the “Yellow Book,” it listed 329 species and included five specific Montgomery County birding spots. The second edition by Chandler S. Robbins and Danny Bystrak, published in April 1977, listed 374 species. By the time the third edition appeared in May 1996, compiled by Marshall J. Iliff, Robert F. Ringler and James L. Stasz, the number of species had risen to 399. The Field List also lists each bird by county, and of the 399 Maryland species, 319 have been reported in Montgomery County in recent years.
Under the leadership of W. Bryant Terrell, a chapter of MOS called the Takoma Park Nature Club was formed in 1951 and remained active until 1962. Another chapter, the Rossmoor Bird Club, existed from December 1968 until 1972 at Leisure World in Silver Spring. These groups organized field trips and kept some records of Montgomery County birds.
From 1964 to 1969 Carl W. Carlson, a resident of Bethesda, wrote a series of 19 bird-finding articles in the ANS publication The Atlantic Naturalist. An article on Montgomery County, published in January 1965, described “Travilah, Seneca, and Sycamore Landing, Maryland.”
About this time, a group of active birders who were members of MOS and ANS came together to form the Montgomery County Chapter (MCC) of MOS. Founded and organized by Carl W. Carlson and Sarah Baker, the new chapter first met in October 1964. In March 1965, its first annual meeting drew 63 members. On March 21, 1965, Carl Carlson led the new chapter’s first field trip, along the C&O Canal from Potomac to Sycamore Landing. The Chapter’s newsletter (now called The Chat) first appeared in 1967.
In 2003 the name of the chapter was changed from Montgomery County Chapter/MOS to Montgomery Bird Club, a Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society. Today, membership stands at about 220. Since the club’s founding in 1965, 31 individuals have served as president of the club.