Every year for the last four decades, a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has opened its doors to the world, inspired by the winter tradition of migrating wildlife. But the Waterfowl Festival in Easton is not just about ducks and geese anymore. With such a broad range of attractions offered at the festival, it might well be called the Waterfowl-Art-Eating-Strolling-Shopping-Watching-Learning Festival. Celebrating its 41st year, the Waterfowl Festival kicks off with a donor party on Thursday, Nov. 10 and runs through the weekend.
The festival is billed as many things. It is a homage to the migrating Canadian geese, soaring southward overhead throughout the weekend’s festivities. It is a showcase for local Chesapeake Bay area artists. It is the home of the World Championship Calling Contest, complete with stunt dog demonstrations and decoy auctions. And if, like me, you’re a city dweller through and through, you can only imagine what a Calling Contest entails—but that’s why you need to go! (I don’t think it refers to calling for takeout, at which I might already be the World Champion.)
According to the festival’s organizers, the calling contest—which, for the record, is a duck calling contest—attracts audiences of over 600 people, and covers six contests, setting the stage for an exciting evening. Whether a novice or a master quacker, anyone is welcome to try their hand. Proud duck and goose callers representing at least 16 states and Canada make the journey to Easton each year in order to compete for the coveted titles. And one of last year’s winners was Easton local Mitch Hughes. Watching Hughes defend his title is surely worth a look—or a listen.
The festival is also a dog-lover’s daydream. Some of the biggest attractions at the festival are the featured dog events—particularly dogs in motion. Judges measure so-called “Dock Dogs” on the distance they can jump from the dock into water. Divisions range from novice, an under ten-foot leap, to super elite, which constitutes jumps over 25 feet. And a few lucky Labs and Retrievers get to show off their fetching and swimming skills as well.
In addition to things with wings and tails, 400 exhibitors will be offering everything from master classes in painting and photography, to wine and food tastings, to a fishing derby for kids. Needless to say, ducks are a pretty dominating theme. There are decoy carving and waterfowl painting classes, a duck stamp exhibit and competition, and a chance to view antique “waterfowling artifacts,” some dating from as early as the 19th century.
Another reason to visit the festival is for Easton itself. The town goes all out dressing up for the festival, as volunteers decorate the old streets and historic buildings. Organizers expect Easton and the surrounding area to draw about 15,000 visitors during the festival. But the volunteers are as diverse as the festival-goers. Many come from Talbot Country and throughout Maryland, but still more come from other states around the region to help out; they are business leaders, teachers, government officials and members of volunteer groups.
And perhaps most importantly, the non-profit Waterfowl Festival, Inc., helps to preserve the life it so vividly celebrates. Over the past four decades, the festival’s organizers and volunteers have raised more than five million dollars to protect water birds and their habitats. The money goes to projects throughout the Atlantic Flyway, with a particular focus on the Chesapeake Bay.
“Whether you buy a cup of soup or a sweatshirt or a piece of art, it is the waterfowl that are benefiting,” says Megan Miller, the festival’s events and communications coordinator.
But the weak economy has hurt sales, and this year’s success hinges on whether the stock market is up or down and what the weather is like. Tickets sell after a good week on Wall Street, with blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. And what’s good for the festival is good for the birds. It costs ten dollars to get in, though the classes and the competitions are extra. But no matter what the outcome, one thing is for sure, says Megan Miller: “It’s all about the birds.”
For more information, visit on the event visit WaterFowlFestival.org