Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mid-Atlantic Birding Conference

Delaware was so much fun! I've been looking forward to and planning for this conference since July, and it's strange to realize that it's already over! It was such a great experience. The kids were great, the events were fun, the birding was super nice. I didn't get to talk to all of the young birders, but the number who I spoke with were all AWESOME. The attendees asked questions after the presentations, pointed out birds on the birdwalks, smiled... it was wonderful.

I'm glad I could spend my weekend with such a rad group of young birders. If only we could have get-togethers like this every weekend! Sadly, cross-country flights aren't exactly feasible every weekend. :P The presentations were also totally cool. I loved that while my friends back home were studying, I was learning about The Ethics of Playback and the World Series of Birding.

The ceiling of the Ashland Nature Center.

There were lots of cool presenters, including Jeff Gordon (President of the American Birding Association), Jonathan Alderfer (artist for the National Geographic field guides), and Michael O'Brien (co-creator of the CD Flight Calls of Migratory Birds). I love hearing people talk about birds and their birding experiences, so this was absolutely wonderful. I myself was a presenter! I was honored to give a keynote address as one of the 2013 Young Birders of the Year. I spoke about my experience with the Young Birder of the Year Contest, and encouraged people to discover what their unique birding skills and weaknesses are, then develop them into an awesome body of work. Many people complimented me afterwards, which made me really happy! And people laughed at my jokes, which made me even happier!

So what was the weekend actually like? Well, there was a loooooot of birding. Which was marvelous. Non-birders may not know this, but there are around 750 species of birds in the United States, and they vary hugely by region. So it's VERY EXCITING for birders to travel to different states and especially to different coasts.  Most of the species were new to me, and I spent my two days wandering around in a state of wide-eyed joy.

One of my lifers from this trip: Eastern Bluebird!

I flew into Delaware on Friday afternoon, and wasted no time in going birding. A couple of very sweet girls, Kathleen and Sarah, and their families drove me around and led me on my first East Coast birdwalk. Sarah was actually my host birder for the weekend. She's a lovely gal, and I was so happy to meet her after emailing back and forth with her for a few months! That first afternoon, there weren't too many birds, so we looked at lots of cool caterpillars and flowers and such.

American Toad!

 Suddenly, at 7 p.m., there was a wave of warblers, flycatchers, and wrens. I suppose they were making one last feeding frenzy before bedtime! Anyways, Sarah quickly got tired of the Warbler Neck, and before we knew it, we were all laying on the ground, looking straight up at the canopy. There was even a super cool cameo by a male Red-bellied Woodpecker who flew directly over us and into his roosting cavity.

That was a really enjoyable introduction to the birds of the East. I woke up the next morning excited for more! The weather was perfect for it. Saturday, Sept. 14, was the actual Mid-Atlantic Young Birder Conference. It was a jam-packed day of going on birdwalks, running from talk to talk, and shaking hands with lots of cool kids and adults.

One of the biggest attractions of the day was Hawk Watch Hill. We climbed up that hill a number of times, keeping our eyes peeled for any dark specks in the sky that might resolve themselves into raptors. Let me tell you, the birders on that hill knew their stuff. They told us how to identify Broad-winged Hawks by the shape of their silhouetted wings, swapped tips on telling apart Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks, and more.

One of my favorite things that happened on Hawk Watch Hill wasn't even about birders. At one point, certain adult individuals who will remain anonymous started talking and laughing behind me. It turned out they were sharing some Hot Birding Gossip. I didn't even know there was such a thing as birding gossip. But there totally is.

We got nice looks at a number of really cool raptors! (Check out that change of topic.)

Bald Eagle.
In fact, I came to Delaware having seen only one Bald Eagle before, and left having seen three or four more. You East Coasters are way spoiled with your Eagles.

Black Vulture.

Other than Hawk Watch Hill, we spent a lot of time in either the Lodge or the actual Nature Center, listening to talks. They were all so interesting! I wish I could have gone to them all, but it's hard to be in two places at once. :P One of the talks I attended was given by Eric Hughes, the other Young Birder of the Year. He gave a really inspiring talk about his experience with the YBY Contest, and his SUPER COOL Conservation/Community Action project, where he worked to improve a park in Pennsylvania by removing invasive plants and spreading awareness through bird tours.

Eventually, the clock struck 4 pm, and the long-awaited and highly-enjoyed MAYBC came to an end. Alas. It was fun while it lasted. People filtered out of the conference center, lugging all their new ABA merchandise and chattering about their new experiences. For me, the day was not over! Kathleen and Sarah led me around the center for the rest of the afternoon in a determined quest to get me 25 Delaware lifers. (Actually, by the end of the conference, most people knew I was trying to get 25. People would come up to me to congratulate me on my talk, then ask if I'd reached my goal yet. I ended up with 17, which is still an amazing number!)

Magnolia Warbler.
Eastern Wood-Pewee.
Carolina Chickadee.

One of my other favorite moments in Delaware was when Sarah led Kathleen and I to a very climb-able tree. I'm not going to lie, I'm very afraid of heights, and when I accidentally climbed up a bit too high I kind of freaked out, but then it was all good. It was such a calm spot in the forest. The sunlight lit up everything around us, and a river ran just to our right. We read all of the initials carved in the bark and came up with fake names for the initials. It was great.

The very next morning, I was back on my way to California. This was such an amazing trip, and I know I'll remember it fondly for a very long time. Thank you to the American Birding Association for flying me out to Delaware! And thanks to all of the ABA employees and volunteers who worked so hard to put this conference together. While I'm thanking people, I should mention Sharon, and the O'Neil and Luca families! These people opened their doors to me and drove me around, for which I am super grateful. I can't wait to return to the East Coast and bird even more!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome write-up!! & I love the pics of us warblering & tree climbing lol ;D Yup I'm spoiled & I love it... I got a bald eagle on two different days on the way to school last week ;)