A hush falls over the crowd in the Easton high-school auditorium. Mike McLemore, a champion duck-caller who earned his laurels in the annual Stuttgart, Arkansas, calling competition, walks to the microphone and announces the first contestant in the World Championship Goose-Calling Contest. Loud applause greets the participant as he enters a makeshift hunting blind high atop the stage and the throng quiets down once again. Off to the side, separated by a curtain and not able to see the contestants, sit five judges with numbered cards before them, not unlike those used by the judges in the Olympics. But no one would dare break out in raucous laughter at the Olympics. In this little Eastern Shore town during the annual Waterfowl Festival goings-on, a hearty, appreciative chuckle is part of the game. Especially when the goose-caller is little more than three feet tall and can't see over the the top of the blind. So it goes. Children, adults of all persuasions -- anybody who thinks the call of the Canada goose can be copied through intricate workings of the throat's voicebands or with the help of wondrous wooden goose-calls -- can get in the running for national recognition and a batch of valuable prizes. "The contestant will start with a hail call, then a feeding call, a toll call, and finish with a return call," says McLemore. "He or she must imagine a gaggle of geese has just sighted the distant decoys. The caller must draw their attention, hail them, then watch them approach, circle above, then leave. The judges will grade the originality of the calls within a 90-second time frame. Are you ready?" The hall fills with a symphony of honking sounds, onlookers nodding their heads in approval or shaking them in disagreement. Talk about tough competition: They come from Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida -- you name it -- all simply to pay homage to the huge birds that turn Maryland's Eastern Shore into a waterfowl wonderland this time of year. Why shouldn't Easton celebrate with a fitting festival? It's only proper. And if newcomers to this area have been complaining about a lack of suitable activities hereabouts, this weekend would be an ideal time to be properly introduced to our own Eastern Shore and the ageless ritual of saluting these wild creatures in the midst of their annual migration from bitter northern climes. Set aside one of the three days to be with the happy thousands who jam into Easton. Take plenty of time to soak up a part of Maryland that's as real as a bushel of steamed crabs or a plate of oysters on the half-shell. The yearly Waterfowl Festival has lots to offer for every member of the family. For starters, you park in the high-school lot just a stone's throw from the eastbound U.S. 50 lanes in Easton. Shuttle buses will ferry you about the town. A host of waterfowl and general wildlife exhibits are scattered all around the city. The Gold Room of the Tidewater Inn will house the works of the nation's most renowned wildlife artists: drawings, etchings and paintings in oil and watercolor on display -- even for sale. But fair warning: Bring your heaviest checkbook along if an original Terry Redlin or Jean O'Connor painting is on your shopping list, although some of the works go for as "little" as $400. The Easton American Legion Home will show the Federal and various state Migratory Bird Stamp winners and runnersup. The Natural Resources Building on South Harrison Street will have the works of the world's leading decorative decoy carvers on display and for sale. There is a buy-sell- swap shop at the local hig walk, and a general feeling of good will all around. What else could you ask for? Not much, except perhaps to heed a warning that you keep your eyes wide open as you cross Chesapeake Bay Bridge on the way to Easton. The Canada geese are invading the Shore's fields and waters by the thousands now. And you don't want to miss seeing the majestic birds, do you? They're even more enjoyable than the imitators in a school hall. WHAT'S WHAT

Tickets to the festival are $2. An additional $2 is asked if you wish to sit in and watch the Mason-Dixon Duck-Calling Championships and the World Championship Goose- Calling Contest. Children 10 and under, however, are admitted free everywhere. The activities are scattered, but if you get to Easton between 10 and 8 Friday and Saturday you'll be in fine shape; Sunday hours are 10 to 5. The duck- and goose- calling contest at the Easton High School auditorium will be held at 8 Saturday night; the decoy auction has a 10:30 preview and the actual auction at 2 o'clock Saturday, also at the high school. Don't worry about getting around town for the various events; the moment you pay your $2 the shuttle buses are there for your use. CAPTION: Picture, Decoys by four of Maryland's most famous carvers; the birds are worth about $2,000. Dick Darcey