Ducks Unlimited Podcast

In this episode of the Ducks Unlimited podcast, host Katie Burke interviews Lyndee Zeller, the festival director for the Easton Waterfowl Festival. They discuss what makes the Easton Waterfowl Festival unique compared to other festivals of its kind. Zeller highlights the small-town charm and rich heritage of the Eastern Shore, bringing together the traditions of watermen, culture, and sporting. The festival, which has been running for 52 years, stays true to its conservation mission while showcasing Eastern Shore art, food, and sporting activities. Listeners get a taste of the area's delicacies such as oysters and crabs, as well as enjoy calling contests, decoys, antiques, and artifacts.

Creators & Guests

Katie Burke
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Collectibles Host

What is Ducks Unlimited Podcast?

Ducks Unlimited Podcast is a constant discussion of all things waterfowl; from in-depth hunting tips and tactics, to waterfowl biology, research, science, and habitat updates. The DU Podcast is the go-to resource for waterfowl hunters and conservationists. Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands conservation.

00:00 - 00:21 Katie Burke Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. Today on the show, I have Lyndee Zeller, the festival director for the Easton Waterfowl Festival. Welcome to the show. Thank you. Glad to be here. Yeah, I'm excited. I have never been to the Easton Waterfowl Festival. It's always been on my list and then this year is going to be my first year.

00:21 - 00:23 Lyndee Zeller Fantastic.

00:23 - 01:06 Katie Burke 2023, 52nd annual. 52nd annual. Okay. So I did get a taste of the area this year. I got to go a couple, probably a month now. I went to Guy and Dieter's gun auction. So I went to St. Michael's. So I got a taste of the area. Lovely. Super cute and different than I was expecting and more rural. So, this might actually answer my first question. I've been to Siwi, we've done our expo, which has changed over the years, but it was really big and then now it's kind of going a little bit smaller again, but what makes the Easton Waterfowl Festival different compared to other festivals of its nature?

01:07 - 02:02 Lyndee Zeller I think you kind of nailed it on the small town charm of the Eastern Shore. We really bring that heritage and tradition of our watermen, our culture, our sporting. You see it all here in a nice glimpse, and it truly brings you back in time. So since this festival has occurred for the past 52 years, a lot has been the same. and with some additions as we kind of evolved, but we stay true to where we started for our conservation mission, and then what pieces of Eastern Shore heritage that we bring through art and through food. We've got all the delicacies, oysters, crabs, crab soup, for your food and tasting, and then your sporting with our calling contests, decoys, antiques, and our artifacts, you get to see a sampling of everything.

02:02 - 02:17 Katie Burke Okay. So that's great. So let's do some specific festival things, kind of get a little more information there, and then we'll kind of go a little more into detail on some of those aspects. But what are some of the most popular attractions at the festival?

02:17 - 03:45 Lyndee Zeller We've got Doc Dogs Nationals coming this year. That's a really awesome one that you get to see dogs jump into the water. You get to even sign up your own dog. Also Talbot Retrievers Club, let's just talk dogs. We've got a lot of really cool stuff where you can bring your furry friends or you definitely have some to hang around with. Topper Retriever Club at the Bay Street Ponds is great. Mason Dixon Game Outfitters is coming for the first time this year to do dog trials, the VFW. So anywhere you go, you'll see some dogs. That's a fun one. Then we also have our Raptor demonstrations where birds in flight, they're at the VFW. That's a really cool demo. Each day, twice a day, you can fit some time in to see those. birds of prey just do their thing. It's pretty cool. And then we have our exhibitors. So our exhibitors bring the wealth of the true spirit of the waterfowl. And then the folks that… Both artists and exhibitors, they're the fun ones that you get to learn all about what their livelihoods bring to the Eastern Shore. And then they bring that to the festival. So that's always fun to chat with all of our artists and sculpture carvers. and flat artists and photographers. And then we've got our exhibitors that are sporting. You can get your duck calls, your goose calls, your outdoor gear, all of that fun at the Sportsman's Pavilion.

03:45 - 03:58 Katie Burke And then, because it goes from Thursday through Sunday, right? Yeah. Or starts Thursday night. Yeah. So if you have one day that you're going to come down for, how would you spend your one day? Ooh.

03:58 - 04:38 Lyndee Zeller All right. We'll talk Saturday, right? Okay. Because Friday's fantastic. It's a good kickoff, but if you've got school or work, we'll see you Saturday. I would hit downtown VFW and Elks. So the Elks Lodge and the VFW, they're on opposite ends of town. There's a bus that goes through, so definitely hit up our bus system. Spend half the day downtown and at the VFW and the rest at the Elks Lodge. You will have a perfect pairing of food, local beer, artists throughout, and then you'll get your fair game of raptors and dogs galore.

04:38 - 04:44 Katie Burke Okay. You touched on the food, but people always want to know about food. So walk us through the food that will be at the festival.

04:44 - 05:38 Lyndee Zeller We have over 20 food vendors, more than we've had any year. They're bringing oysters, crab cakes. Really, you walk around a corner and there's another food vendor. We've got rockfish bites, all local. So a lot of our chapters, you're contributing and bringing support to community organizations that are bringing these food vendors and opportunities available. And then you've got the really awesome Cousins Marine Lobster bringing lobster rolls. Jimmy's Fat Rolls is coming. We've got Spanky's Soul Food coming. So you've got a good array. Anything that you're heart desires, we probably have. And then of course, we've got the great local in Oxford, St. Michael's in Easton, we've got town merchants and restaurants that are going to be there serving up all the fried oysters, shooters, galore.

05:38 - 05:51 Katie Burke Okay, awesome. So, okay. And then the other part, which you mentioned in the intro, and we'll talk probably more detail in as we go, but how does the festival work to educate people on waterfowl and conservation?

05:51 - 07:34 Lyndee Zeller Absolutely. So we have a nonprofit hub, and a lot of our community partners that we work with are conservation-oriented nonprofits. So we've got a space for all of them. Also to downtown, Eastern Shoreline Conservancy is one of our new venues that's just for photography. And everybody in that cohort of a building that It's a conservation center. They're all nonprofits. They're all oriented in conservation. So we've got a cool community partner that's right down the road. That's our venue. that we're bringing people to to educate. We've got a keynote and cocktail lecture series new this year. Everybody's speaking at that lecture series. It's twice a day, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Grab your Bloody Mary, your mimosa, and some yummy bites while you enjoy. But you're learning from really cool experts in their field, minorities in aquaculture, Photographer Dave Harp and videographer Heat does a lot in conservation film. We got a professor from Washington College coming in to share about Eastern Shore, past, present, future on conservation. Also have a great relationship with Ducks Unlimited, our official conservation partner. They are bringing in a lot of great opportunities that you'll see all throughout the festival. I mean, you guys are going to be at VFW, you'll be at the Sportsman's, you'll be downtown at Talbot County Airport for the inaugural Sportsman's Bash. That's another great opportunity to attend these events, learn from the experts in the field. Everybody who's a part of folks that our festival goers are chatting with are people who work directly with conservation every day.

07:34 - 08:11 Katie Burke Okay, great. Yeah, I know we're doing a lot. This is kind of like our first year. Well, we've always done something, but this is like our first big year for East End, which is exciting. We're excited. Yeah, I'm excited for that too. I haven't really talked to a lot of my coworkers that are doing it, but I keep hearing more and more people that are going and I'm like, oh, okay, I'll be there. Yeah, absolutely. So it's exciting. We touched on this a little bit, but the Chesapeake Bay and the Eastern Shore, that area, conservation is extremely important in this region. And we can talk a little bit later about the history of that, but how is the festival helping to support the conservation in this region?

08:11 - 08:50 Lyndee Zeller Absolutely. So every festival ticket purchased goes directly to our conservation efforts. We throw this festival for that engagement to preserve our heritage of the Eastern Shore, to preserve the conservation lands for future generations. We have a conservation dedicated committee each year, which is a community and conservation grant, where all of the funds from the festival will then be donated to a regional or local conservation project that will directly benefit conservation efforts. And we've stayed true to that since day one, donating over $6 million to conservation efforts over the years.

08:50 - 08:56 Katie Burke Yeah, that's unique to a festival. I mean, a lot of people do a lot of things with that, so specific.

08:56 - 09:20 Lyndee Zeller Yeah, it's pretty cool. And we're growing that effort, so ensuring that we have new projects that we can share that wealth with and engage in our community partners that we have right here that oversees all of Maryland, that we can make sure we're maintaining our engagement with all of those conservation outreach efforts.

09:21 - 09:51 Katie Burke Wow, that's great. I love to hear that. So the festival is an opportunity to reach new and young audiences and introduce them to hunting and the outdoors in a way that can kind of be a soft opening for some that may not… Because hunting and things like that, especially if you don't grow up in a family that hunts or have access to it easily, these are not always an easy thing to get access to, but a festival could be a really good opportunity for that. So how is the festival trying to kind of bridge that gap?

09:51 - 12:28 Lyndee Zeller Absolutely. So we have a really great family-oriented aspect in pretty much every facet of the festival. You can do our calling contest as a junior if you have any in all experience, we take anyone interested. You can also attend just to watch both live stream and physically at the contest. And that's where you see the beauty of the artistry of calling. Because you see teams or individuals, they almost will, you know, mimic what a duck or a goose went in their flight pattern. There's a lot of intricacies with the technique in not just calling. Another really awesome thing is we have our sponsors provide a limited amount of calling clinic goose and duck calls. So kids on Saturday, there's a limited amount, but Pre-registration is required, but those kids get to blow a goose or duck call for the first time with a lot of our contest winners from previous years being there. Our juniors, our seniors, they're younger guys who have been in the same shoes as some of these kids who've never done it before, but have gotten that experience just here at the festival. So that's a really great one. to be a part of at the Sportsman Civilian in Easton High School. We also have a Chesapeake Mermaid that comes and Eastern Point Pirate just to bring in some of the nauticals. What's really cool about the Chesapeake Mermaid, they're going to be the library this year. She has two shows a day, they're free of cost, and she teaches sign language. So she will give a lot of a crab, how do we sign a crab, or how do we call her on her shell phone so that we can communicate to her via American Sign Language. So there's a lot of cool features that come from Eastern Shore conservation or just environment in general. that we're trying to tie in and educate to just plant that seed early on for that younger set. We also have a really great program called Duck Sitters. If you're in Tauba County or even just local to the Eastern Shore, we take middle schoolers and high school volunteers and they will be helping in every facet of the festival as well. So you get to see a little bit behind the scenes And if you're wanting to kind of do more for the festival, we accept all ages. And that helps with service learning hours too locally for our schools.

12:50 - 13:17 Katie Burke So there are few mediums like sporting art that can capture this unique feeling of nature. Sporting art has this unique way of doing that. And I know that sporting art is a huge part of the Eastern Waterfowl Festival. What is the opportunities around? You mentioned earlier that you'll be able to meet some of these artists. Will they be in galleries? How will this all work with the sporting art? What's the deal there?

13:18 - 14:16 Lyndee Zeller Yeah, we've got six downtown art galleries that all have carving, sculpture, and flat art and photography throughout. And each of them have a booth and they're all eager to chat with you and engage. That's what's so unique. And I think what's great about festivals in general as we move back to live events You have that one-on-one with that artist who created that piece of work and can tell you all about their, you know, adventures of what came to be. Like, they took this nature walk and happened upon this, you know, whatever duck it is, and then they took this photo, or this is the inspiration for their sculpture, and it's this beautiful, large piece. That's a really great opportunity and that's a lot of our feedback from artists every year is now they come to talk to the festival goers because that's the fun piece that they have, where they can learn about you and then share their piece, both downtown and then also at the Spurgeon's Pavilion over at the Elks Lodge.

14:16 - 15:09 Katie Burke Yeah, you know, you said that and it made me think because I've talked to lots of artists because of my job and I never thought about it, but you know, particularly, I think artists in general, but particularly sporting artists, like they live a very kind of I wouldn't say hermit life, but they live very secluded, right? They kind of live kind of near their subjects. They spend a lot of times outdoors or in their studio. And I guess they really don't have the opportunity to really get to talk to the people who buy their work. or might buy their work, or just interested in their work, or admire their work. And I never thought about that until you just mentioned it. Because I feel like most other festivals that I've been to, you would only get to talk to the artists if you paid to go to the VIP event, or it was a special thing you got to do. But this is really… I bet they do enjoy that part of it. I never even thought about that.

15:09 - 15:33 Lyndee Zeller Oh, they love it. You can talk all day. And toward the end of the day, it's like… They recharge, they can do it again tomorrow. They love it. It's one of the reasons they come back every year because the folks that come to the festival just plan on mapping out your day where you can spend some time with these artists and exhibitors. They're pretty great people to continue to work with that we'll see year after year return.

15:33 - 15:39 Katie Burke Oh, that's amazing. And how does the duck stamp go into this as well, into that side of it?

15:39 - 16:12 Lyndee Zeller So we both Maryland and Federal Duck Stamp will be on display at Easton High School right across from the Sportsman's Pavilion. Both winners will be there. There's also an inaugural, this is the last year they're going to do it, the 50th Annual Migratory Duck Stamp Design Competition. Live judging will occur on Saturday at the high school for 2024-2025 winners. But both Previous year winners, this year's winners will be on display. And nine times out of 10, you'll be able to speak with the designer and the artists themselves as well.

16:12 - 16:15 Katie Burke Yeah. And the competition is for the Maryland stamp, correct?

16:15 - 16:27 Lyndee Zeller Yes. Yep. Competition for the Maryland. Just want to make that clear. Yes. And then the Federal… Yeah. Federal's totally different. Yes. Totally different animal. But the Federal Doc Stamp winner will be there as well to enjoy. Okay. All right. That's amazing.

16:27 - 16:44 Katie Burke So this is my favorite part and what I'm most excited about, because I haven't been there, but what I'm most excited about are the decoys. So I know Guyette and Dieter will have their auction, and it's actually the same time as the festival this year. Correct. In previous years, it's been before, correct? Yeah.

16:44 - 16:52 Lyndee Zeller So it's been Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday before, but this year will be the same dates as our festival, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

16:52 - 17:35 Katie Burke Yeah, that's really neat. I recommend people to go into the auction. I can't guarantee you'll go in an exciting moment, but there are sometimes exciting moments, so I do recommend- Yes, live auction. … checking it out. Always entertaining. And people will spend a lot of money on a decoy, so you might be in there at a good moment. But what I love about and my most excited about is at the high school, right, you'll have all the exhibitors, the decoy collectors and carvers. So I always really enjoy that. Not only do you get the carvers who I know like Cameron McIntyre will be there and Mark McNair, like there's a few I know that'll be there who can talk about their work and show you. Will they be carving at all? Will any of them be chopping out?

17:36 - 17:46 Lyndee Zeller We do have two live carvers. Tim Kuka and Charles Jobes will be live carving at their booth. So you can kind of see them throughout the day. Anytime you go by, they should be carving.

17:46 - 17:50 Katie Burke Oh, great. Oh, I'm excited. Charles is going to be there. I haven't seen him in a while. I'm friends with Charles.

17:50 - 17:51 Lyndee Zeller Awesome.

17:51 - 18:13 Katie Burke Yeah, Charles is great. And I hope Patty's there because I love her too. Yeah, they're awesome. So yeah, so that's really cool. But the collectors are also really interesting and they have a wealth of knowledge of the history and of what they collect and they're very passionate people. So I'm very excited to go to that and see them. Absolutely. How many will you have?

18:13 - 18:44 Lyndee Zeller We are hoping for more. We're almost at 50, which is our goal. And we've got a lot of returners, some new… I mean, you're right on that mark with… These guys are passionate, have been doing it for 30, 40, 50 years. They can tell you the source of where the wood came from and how to get that color and that… It's pretty phenomenal what their brains hold and what their expertise to use folds. Definitely check everybody out there.

18:44 - 19:47 Katie Burke Yes. It's very interesting how they can do all that stuff. And then they're happy to show you. And that's one of the things we always tell people on our show, because we have a lot of collectors and carvers come on, and we talk about if you want to be a collector, this is a super good opportunity to go and handle a decoy. Like even if you go to, I know Guy and Dieter will do their preview on Friday night, which is open to the public. And you can go to that. You can handle decoys that are worth a few hundred bucks to like thousands of dollars and kind of get a idea of what you're looking for. Like why does it make it this valuable? And you can see it, like it's evident, but it's really neat that you'll be able to do that. You'll also be able to ask the questions too. You can say, if you don't really understand and it's something you're confused by, you'll be able to hold that decoy and ask that collector why and they can answer. It's great. I've learned so much in those settings and it's so cool.

19:48 - 20:23 Lyndee Zeller And it's that interactive hub, right, that just gives you… You don't have to look at it online. You get that one-to-one time. And what's interesting, too, about both… So at the high school, we have Buy, Sell, Swap, which is our collector's galore. And then we have our artifacts exhibit right across the hall. And those are also those big collectors who have been going to museums and purchasing museum quality. pieces and bringing them to show you at the festival. And they love chatting all about that. So it's a great opportunity.

20:23 - 20:31 Katie Burke Do you have a… Do y'all change for the exhibit? Is it like a theme every year? How do you decide what you're going to put on for the artifacts exhibit?

20:31 - 21:18 Lyndee Zeller Actually, this year, we will have a pop-up artifacts exhibit at Guyot and Dieter's auction. So you'll be able to see a little bit of both if you see the country school. But our chairman has been doing it for over 15 plus years, been a board member as well. And they chat through what their newest pieces are, new to them, meaning they are ENT, to see what they can do to spice it up each year. And then we've got, actually, for the first time in a while, a few new artifact exhibitors that are going to share their personal collections. And then we work with some community partners, too, to bring in their museum pieces. but they always try to have something new that at each year you can kind of marvel at.

21:18 - 21:53 Katie Burke Okay. And then my other question, which is kind of a two-part question, I don't know if the whole audience will understand, but this area of Maryland is such a rich decoy carving history area. And it has so many carvers from this area and a style of its own. So with the exhibitors, I'm sure you focus more on all of the East Coast, but do you try to kind of drive home or at least educate the public on the history of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland? Like how does that work?

21:53 - 22:51 Lyndee Zeller It is our backyard. Even if you come and visit, you will see the Chesapeake Bay coming across the Bay Bridge to get to East End. Water surrounds us, both St. Michael's, Oxford, all of those, it's our backyard. It's where we were born and bred. So everybody has that very home feel because we've lived it and breathed it. So we give a lot to… We're getting our oysters. We've got the Waterman's Association from Talbot County and surrounding counties that are contributing to the festival. This is very much so volunteer-led. We've got over 1,000 folks from the surrounding counties in the Eastern Shore putting this festival on for you and for our visitors who are coming from all over. So there's a lot of pride and passion and deep roots that will continue to come each year to kind of give back that Eastern Shore hospitality.

22:51 - 22:59 Katie Burke I love that. Okay. Before I go into my last two questions, what is something we haven't talked about that you want to talk about that you'd like to make sure we hit on?

23:00 - 24:26 Lyndee Zeller We do have a cornhole tournament this year that's new. That'll be right downtown on Saturday. Friday and Sunday, you can do family pickup games or just anybody can play. Saturday is the tournament itself. You can pre-register online, only 50 bucks a team. We're excited about that. It's an Eastern Shore fun. People play no games. It is professional, but amateurs are welcome. I've never been in a tournament, but we'll all hold our own. Another one that's fun this year on Friday and Saturday at the Sportsman's Pavilion, we'll have a Brio steak grilling competition. Okay. What does that mean? Brio is a flameless fire pit. They're phenomenal. Definitely check them out. They will be at the festival. Everybody's going to want one for this fall, but it comes with a grilling set. So this flameless fire pit, you can throw in your backyard. also comes with this grilling set. When you enter this competition, you use all of Brio's setup that they have. We provide the steaks. You just work your magic as your grill master and then you have a chance to win the set that you're grilling on or two to three other awesome full Brio sets. So check out check out our competition online. Only 20 entrants, so I need these grill masters to claim their spot Friday and Saturday morning. All you got to do is grill stink, so we're pretty excited.

24:26 - 24:46 Katie Burke Oh, and I guess we didn't mention, isn't the duck call competition, is it a world or is it… It is the world. Yeah, it is the world. Is it already… I can't remember. I should know the answer to this. But are all the entrants already like from… They had to be from a regional… Basically, can you enter there or… Yes.

24:46 - 25:25 Lyndee Zeller No, absolutely. You can enter on-site and we've got the times for registration. It's usually an hour and a half before the contest itself. And that's going to be on Friday and Saturday, junior and senior. Okay. And we've got all that information on our website. You can look over the rules and then you can register the day of. Yep. And that is our world waterfall calling contest. Okay. And it's duck and goose. Duck and goose. Yep. And you can do junior, senior, and then we've got group and individual. Okay. Oh, I've never seen group. That's pretty fun. Yeah. That's really awesome to watch. And we live stream it. So if you can't make it, it's just something to marvel at. It's really cool. Yeah.

25:25 - 25:32 Katie Burke I've never seen a group. I've seen the youth in that. Yeah. How do people learn more about the event? The who, what, when, and where?

25:32 - 26:24 Lyndee Zeller Yeah, our website has all of it. You get your schedule. You can buy your tickets online. Definitely aim for the Thursday if you're in town beforehand. That's our opening ceremonies and premiere night, VIP night. It gives you that extra day to just see the art gallery. We got food and drink and horse-drawn carriages and bourbon bars and all that fun, but all online. So If you're a local to Talbot County, our official guide comes out in attraction in November. So all of November's attraction magazine will be our official guide. We also have pocket guides and maps throughout. You can also call our office, 410-822-4567, or shoot us over an email at If you need anything at all.

26:24 - 26:28 Katie Burke And then the dates are November 9th? November 10th.

26:28 - 26:36 Lyndee Zeller Yep, November 10th and 11th are general festival dates and that VIP premiere night is the 9th, November 9th. Awesome.

26:36 - 26:43 Katie Burke Okay, if you can describe Easton Waterfowl Festival in three words, what would it be?

26:43 - 27:06 Lyndee Zeller We will always throw heritage and conservation in the mix. I really am looking, I'm like digging deep for something other than what we've already discussed. Heritage, boarding, these all seem very boring because we've already chatted through a ton of fun. Heritage, sporting and artistry, I think will be the three.

27:06 - 27:33 Katie Burke Awesome. Okay. Well, thank you so much. That was awesome. I'm really, really excited. It'll be so fun. We're super excited. Yeah. I get there, I think Thursday, we fly in around lunch and I'll be there. I'm actually there after, I'm hunting after. So it's also, so people know that if you're going to fly to Maryland, if you're coming from out of town, it's also the opening weekend of duck season in Maryland.

27:33 - 27:49 Lyndee Zeller Yes. So plan it all. And hey, buy what you need for your hunting, for your guides, and then go have fun. And that's also a fun spot if you talk to all our sporting exhibitors. Oh, yeah. Yeah. See if they'll give you the secret spots of where to hunt.

27:51 - 27:53 Katie Burke Thank you so much, Lyndee. This is great.

27:53 - 27:59 Lyndee Zeller Good luck. Thank you so much. We can't wait to see you. Who's counting that we've got less than a month away? Oh, I bet you're counting. We're ready for you.

27:59 - 28:11 Katie Burke All right. Well, thank you, Lyndee, for coming on the show, and thanks to our producer, Chris Isaac, and thanks to our listeners for supporting wetlands and waterfowl conservation.