On September 22nd, over 140 participants gathered at the Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, Delaware for the American Birding Association’s Mid-Atlantic Young Birders Conference. After a morning of birding, the conference featured a variety of talks and workshops given by both youth and adult presenters. Two of the youth presenters were Mike Hudson and Marie McGee. Mike Hudson is a sixteen-year-old birder from Maryland. Marie McGee, the conference’s keynote speaker, is sixteen years old and from Michigan. Read on to hear more about these students’ experiences at the conference!
On the 22nd of September, I woke up and realized today is the day!
On that day, I and an astounding number of other youth birders from around the East Coast and, truly, the country, participated in the first ABA Mid-Atlantic Young Birders Conference. From hearing a perceptive keynote address from the Young Birder of the Year, Marie McGee, to the remarkable sight of hawkwatchers standing atop tables to be seen and heard by the crowd of conference participants, it was a truly awe-inspiring day.
One of the conference’s many successes was assembling so many incredible presenters in one place for these young birders to learn from. I was one of the presenters, and we were told by Bill Stewart, the conference organizer, that we had fifteen minutes to “change these kids’ lives.” We all tried to take that to heart. From the conversations that I and the other participants had after the workshops, there can be no doubt that kids’ lives were, indeed, changed—mine among them. All of the presenters were overflowing with enthusiasm and passion, and the workshop attendees just seemed to soak it up.
However, I say without hesitation, that the conference’s biggest success was simply bringing so many young birders from so many different places together. I think that some adult birders, especially those that started birding later in life, take for granted that they often have people to bird with. Youth birders don’t often have that opportunity, and the attendees were just thrilled to be with other youth birders. Young birders of all experience levels turned out to impact each other and be impacted. It was truly wonderful to see. I met so many awesome people I never would have otherwise. I hope I see all of those now familiar faces, and some new ones, next year.
Saturday, September 22 dawned warm and sunny. At Ashland
Nature Center, the air was filled with a myriad of sounds; a group of teenagers exclaiming over a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and somewhere
– ank, ank, ank – a Red-breasted Nuthatch was tooting his nasal horn. For months I had been anticipating this day, the day of the American
Birding Association’s first annual Young Birder Conference. I was honored to be invited to attend as a youth keynote speaker and looked forward to meeting and birding with other youth.
We started off the day with a bird walk around the nature center grounds, serenaded by a vocal Carolina Wren and graced by appearances from both Philadelphia and Red-eyed Vireos, as well as my favorite warbler, the Black-throated Green, still handsome in his faded fall plumage. We then returned to the nature center for a slate of presentations that ranged from the instructive (such as Jeff Bouton’s introduction to the art of digiscoping) to the humorous (Bill Thompson’s entertaining tales of close encounters he’s had while in search of birds).
One session that I found particularly interesting was Bill Thompson III’s presentation on careers in birding. He spoke on many of the different options for those wishing to turn their hobby into a career, from research ornithologists and tour leaders to wildlife artists and photographers. He also shared with us his own, less conventional path, from philosophy major to his current position as editor of Birdwatcher’s Digest. Later on I had the opportunity to talk with ABA staff members who found other interesting work in the birding community, such as directing the Birders’ Exchange Program or programs for young birders. It was intriguing to hear about the variety of backgrounds these people came from and encouraging to see that there are careers in birding for those, like me, who aren’t inclined to study science.
The conference was a terrific event, and the ABA did a fantastic job planning and organizing it. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet some of the many other birders present, both youth and adult. The day was over far too soon, but it was one I’ll never forget; I came away with new friends and many wonderful memories.