eBird Stories—Sarah Kamis: Beginning Birding

By Team eBird August 4, 2019
Big Belt Mountains

Sarah Kamis birding at Big Belt Mountains in Montana.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their eBird stories. It is so wonderful to hear the variety of pathways that people follow in birding.  The eBird community is incredibly diverse, encompassing people with a variety of backgrounds from around the world—all sharing a passion for birds and a desire to learn more.  In this eBird Story, Sarah Kamis shares how she discovered birding and the value birding brings to her life.

My birding story by Sarah Kamis

At our camp on the riverbank, I’m grumpy after waking up from a nap. I don’t feel like joining my exuberant friends around the fire, so I walk downstream to a marshy bank that meets a canyon wall. Armed with my camp chair, beer, and binoculars I decide to see what happens in the peace and quiet. Not yet a birder, just a camper with binoculars, I’m simply happy to be alone in nature.

I’m four months in to a very rewarding, but very stressful job as an advocate working with individuals who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Most of my time is spent working directly with people who are in crisis from a recent assault or who have experienced months or years of psychological abuse. There’s no way around the stress of these interactions, but I am continuously awed by the strength and ingenuity of the individuals I work with. I fervently tell them that I believe in their inherent rights to dignity, respect, and safety. That belief doesn’t make me impervious to the stress of the job though. It’s a difficult job to separate from the rest of my life; more and more I’m unable to control when thoughts of work enter my mind. I need to pay more attention to my well being if I want to continue this job.

Back on the riverbank I spot a blur of brown flitting through the bushes. It quickly disappears. My post-nap grump hasn’t worn off and I begrudge that the quiet skies aren’t yielding any majestic eagles. The brown blur comes back. With some pessimism I put my binoculars to my eyes, but as I do the blur jumps down out of sight. Keeping my binoculars up, I wait skeptically. Suddenly the blur hops back into sight, and my mouth drops open. It’s NOT a brown blur. Facing me head-on is a fierce, black bandit-mask and a vibrant yellow throat. The mask encircles his eyes just the way a cartoon robber’s mask would, but his forward stance and no-nonsense stare make him seem much more serious than a cartoon. I follow him as he dances through the tangled brush and dips down to the water’s edge. I’ve entered a dreamy escape from time that all bird watchers can relate to. With a lightened mood I go back to camp and join the back-country shenanigans of my friends and to discover in my beginner’s birding book that I have just seen my very first Common Yellowthroat.

When I spotted that Common Yellowthroat, I unknowingly found a vital part to managing my work stress. Bird watching brings me into the here and now, the ebb and flow of movement and sound, the vast life right outside my back door. Through eBird I discovered that my home is 100 yards from a hotspot that has 85 species listed. Through the last half of May I spent nearly every morning before work craning my neck and whipping my head around. I watched Redstarts flit around the tree edges, a Lazuli Bunting diligently deliver his song, and a brief glimpse of a MacGillivray’s Warbler. There I’ve become enamored with the ardor of House Wrens and frustrated by the similarities of flycatchers. I truly couldn’t continue my job if it wasn’t for bird watching, and eBird helped me dive headfirst into the world of birding.

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