November is one of the most beautiful months on the Eastern Shore, when a chill is in the air and the changing leaves show off a riot of colors. All of this — and more — makes this the perfect time for one of the region’s longest running festivals.
The town of Easton hosts the Waterfowl Festival, an event that salutes the thousands of geese and other migratory birds that pass through the Atlantic Flyway each autumn. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021, the three-day event runs November 12-14 and attracts more than 15,000 visitors.
While it focuses on art, sportsmanship, and conservation, the festival is fully integrated into Easton. The streets in downtown are cordoned off to create a vast pedestrian mall, allowing you to stroll from event venues to locally owned boutiques, art exhibits, and buzzy restaurants with ease. There’s a lively vibe as families, couples, friends, and even dogs — lots of dogs — soak in the best of the season.
Wild About Art
Excellent wildlife art defines the Waterfowl Festival. Painters, sculptors, carvers, and photographers from all over North America exhibit at five different venues, offering a chance to engage with the artists directly. Hundreds of pieces of artwork will be on sale, making this event a major attraction for art collectors, whether you’re looking for investment pieces or unique holiday gifts for friends and family.
Plan to say hello to featured artist and one of the world’s premier wildlife sculptors, Bart Walter, whose work can be found at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the Jane Goodall Institute in Arlington, Va. Like most of the festival artists, he will be on hand throughout the weekend, so you will have a chance to interact with him and learn about his inspiration.
A new bronze piece Walter created especially for the Waterfowl Festival, entitled “Wind and Waves”will be on view, with casts in varying sizes available for sale. And there’s nothing that honks Waterfowl more than snapping a selfie in front of the dramatic bronze sculpture of a pair of geese with their hatchlings titled “A Family Affair” that Walter created for the festival’s 25th anniversary and now resides in front of the Waterfowl Building at 40 South Harrison Street.
Easton is a well-regarded arts hub, anchored by one of the East Coast’s finest small art museums, the Academy Art Museum, which this year will be exhibiting art produced by wildlife artists, along with its own extraordinary collection. You can interact with artists and watch them work at galleries throughout downtown. Count on a stop at the leafy Talbot County Courthouse grounds, where a majestic bronze statues of American abolitionist hero Frederick Douglass, who was born enslaved nearby, stands sentinel.
Extensive festival programming means there’s always something fun and engaging to do at the Waterfowl Festival. Retriever Demonstrations are among the most popular events of the weekend, where hunting dogs respond to their handlers’ commands as they dive into a local pond, locate objects, and bring them back to shore, always to a cheering crowd.
Animal lovers will also want to check out the North American Diving Dogs competition, a national competition where pooches put their paws to the test in a long jump from dock to water to see which dog can leap the furthest. And the highest stake event of the entire festival weekend is the World Championship Duck and Goose Calling Contests, where winners can net a prize purse of $12,000.
Crab, Oysters, and More
No visit to the Eastern Shore is complete without sampling the best of what the Chesapeake Bay offers. Food vendors will be serving crabs and oysters, served in every imaginable way. Try local favorites include Shoreboys’ award-winning cream of crab soup, which you’ll find in front of Easton Antiques on Harrison Street, and the freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, sold on Washington Street near the courthouse.
At the festival’s tasting pavilion, $15 earns you unlimited small pours, along with substantial tastings from local artisanal purveyors. And nearby, a beer garden serves up regional craft brews and games, including the ever-popular cornhole.
People watching is a must during the festival weekend. Discover a perfect perch at one of Easton’s acclaimed restaurants, many of which offer outdoor dining on their patios, porches and sidewalks.
Along Harrison Street, try a sidewalk seat at Banning’s Tavern for elevated pub grub, the garden courtyard at Legal Assets for shareable bites, many with Asian flair, or the wide patio at Hunter’s Tavern, where they’ve been serving local specialties since 1949. On Washington Street, take a table on the slate patio at Scossa, renowned for Northern Italian fare, or a window seat at The Wardroom, coveted for cheese plates and an international wine selection.
Cap off your weekend visit with a sweet treat at one of downtown Easton’s two locally ownedice cream parlors. Storm & Daughters is ideal for kid favorites, serving rainbow sherbet and towering waffle sundaes, while Bonheur appeals to a sophisticated palate with grownup egg-custard-based frozen treats, including maple walnut and apple pie spiked with bourbon.
A three-day pass costs $20 ($15 if you buy ahead) and gains entry to all the venues, including bus transportation to and from satellite sites outside downtown. Scope out the event sites on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and then return to your favorites throughout the weekend.
Insider’s Tip: While paper maps are available, you can also access the Waterfowl Festival app at GooglePlay and the iTunes Store.
For the Kids
Kids under 10 can attend the festival for free. There are plenty of family-friendly activities that will keep the little ones entertained and well fed!
+ Paint Your Own Decoy: Throughout the weekend kids can decorate miniature carved decoys under the guidance of artisans.
+ Children’s Fishing Derby: Budding anglers can show off their skills. (Same day registration means visiting kids can take part, if they get inspired to cast a line.)
+ Raptor Demos: Birds of Prey alight for “ahhh-worthy” moments at the hands of an experienced falconer on all three days of the festival.
+ Insider’s Tip:Beeline to Christ Church at the intersection of South Street and South Harrison Street for fried candy bars. Kids—and kids at heart—will not be disappointed!
Breakout: Stay A While
Immerse yourself in the heart of downtown Easton by staying at an intimate bed and breakfast like Hummingbird Inn, a Queen Anne mansion with dog-sitting services, and the Bishop’s House, a romantic Victorian with cozy fireplaces in some guestrooms. Or base yourself at the town epicenter at the Tidewater Inn, a handsome brick hotel with a spa and restaurant. There are also myriad short-term rentals, from historic cottages to sprawling waterfront estates. Pro Tip: Book early because Waterfowl Festival weekend is one of the busiest times of the year.
Going to the Dogs
Bring your four-legged buddies. They can attend dog-centric events, like retriever demos and diving dock competitions. Plus your dogs will be treated like VIPs in downtown Easton, where they can promenade along the main routes of the festival and fetch water and treats from local shops and restaurants. Pro Tip: Pooches with competitive streaks can sign up day-of for the diving dog competition.
Insider Shopping Tip for Waterfowl Fans
Albright’s Gun Shop, nestled next to the Avalon Theatre, is a mecca for serious gun enthusiasts and collectors. Two excellent bookstores — Flying Cloud, which stocks new editions, and Vintage Books, which specializes in antique volumes — offer a large selection of books about the beautiful Chesapeake Bay region.
The Talbot County Office of Tourism and its partners offer a variety of brochures and maps featuring Talbot County's many beautiful attractions. We want to help you navigate our beautiful small towns, scenic roads and more than 600 miles of coastline. If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact us!