This year’s Ohio Young Birders Conference will be held at the Toledo Zoo on Saturday, November 2, 2013. Learn more by visiting the Ohio Young Birders Club website. -eds.
by Aspen Ellis
It’s not often that I get the opportunity to spend time with birders my own age, watch presentations by fantastic birders, and go birding with groups of amazing birders of all ages, and that’s one of the reasons that I so enjoy attending the Ohio Young Birders Conference. I went for my first time in 2011, when I was quite a new birder, and it affected me pretty strongly – I was inspired to participate in birding competitions, learned about college and career opportunities for young birders, and met great people. For some reason, I thought that after last year’s success, I couldn’t possibly enjoy just as much the second time around, but I was very much mistaken! The 6th Annual OYBC Conference was awesome.
We drove down from Ann Arbor on a Friday night in early November and turned in, prepared to get up early for a busy day. The conference the next morning started early with a bird walk led by some of the conference leaders and participants at the Aullwood Audubon Society’s property, followed by a banding demonstration. The highlights of the walk were a calling Winter Wren, three Pileated Woodpeckers, two Brown Creepers, and the elusive Kenn Kaufman. The banding demo was also pretty busy, with a whole lot of White-breasted Nuthatches flying into the nets.
Then it was inside to the warmth for presentations… all done by young birders! After opening remarks from Kimberly Kaufman, Charity Krueger, and Kate Zimmerman, we heard from 14 year-old (consistency with later ages) Doug Whitman, who discussed casual birding and birding without binoculars; from 17 year-old Kristina Polk about her experiences getting into birding, bird banding, Gray Catbirds, and the importance of nature education and conservation; and then from Dakota Callaway, age 15, whose presentation was an introduction to the many citizen science projects that are easy and fun to participate in. Then came the special guest speaker Hope Batcheller, a junior at Cornell University, to talk about things to consider when choosing a college as a young birder, majors that are helpful if you are interested in focusing on ornithology. She also introduced us to a new website called the Young Birders Network, which you all should go check out now if you haven’t already, as it’s an amazing resource for young birders that’s being developed by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
After lunch and some door prizes, we heard from 15 year-old Kayla Parry, who talked about her life as a birdwatcher, and then from Kathleen Seeley, age 18, who told us about the Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens camp and the work that Project Puffin does conserving and restoring seabird populations. The last presentation of the day was the keynote, presented by Benjamin Van Doren, a freshman at Cornell University, on his research on nocturnal migration and the morning flight patterns of migrating birds, and the techniques that he used to do his research. He showed us sonograms of the flight calls of nocturnally migrating warblers, played first at normal time, which was practically unidentifiable, and then slowed down, where we could really see the pattern of each call (some ascended in pitch, some descended, some sounded buzzy, some sounded pure), and explained how he used these to gather research about the species and quantity of birds that were flying over at night. He also explained a technique in which you point a scope at the surface of the moon and count the birds that fly in between the scope and the moon over a period of time, and then do some awesome math to figure out roughly how many birds are flying over your count site.
With that, door and raffle prizes were awarded, the results to the Kenn Kaufman bird photo identification quiz were announced, and closing remarks were made. My dad won a Prothonotary Warbler nest box as a door prize, and though his initial response upon winning it, judging by his facial expression, was something like, “I really have no idea what I’m going to do with this object” he and I ended up talking with the woman who organized the nest box project and donated the nest boxes as door prizes, Darlene Sillick, who explained optimal placement of the box depending on the species that we’re trying to attract. Find out more about this project here. Kenn Kaufman’s annual identification quiz was also a great success, with quite a number of winners and some really nice prizes – Kaufman Field Guides!
Then we went to dinner with a few of the conference organizers and participants, and I really appreciated the opportunity to enjoy dinner while being serenaded by the impromptu bird song quiz that Kenn Kaufman was giving us on his phone (not that I could ID any of the stuff he was playing! Who knew that American Dippers sound a bit like Curve-billed Thrashers? Not me, apparently). The bus ride back to the hotel was a lot of fun, too. It’s not often that a whole busload of people starts competing with one another to show off their owl imitations. The next morning I went on a field trip with some of the conference participants (more Pileated Woodpeckers and Brown Creepers!), and then, unfortunately, we had to return home to Ann Arbor.
When the Ohio Young Birders’ Club was created, it was really the only club of its type. Not only was it the only young birders’ club in the US at the time, the young birder club members had the idea that instead of having a bunch of famous, accomplished birders come to talk, the young birders would be the ones doing the presenting! And what a good idea – sure, it’s always amazing to hear famous birders speak, and it can be really inspiring to see how those people have succeeded in turning birding into a career, but to hear from other young birders is such a great experience, and one that you don’t get to enjoy very often. Seeing how amazing some of the young people are that were there and hearing them speak was incredible. Young birders have the power to be really influential people, as birding often (and wrongly) seems to be seen through the eyes of teens as, “that weird nerdy hobby for slightly quirky older women,” and the more that kids can see that there are lots of really cool people of all ages doing it, the more likely kids are to feel good about participating and get excited about it! Now, following the example of the Ohio Young Birders Club, many more states and regions have started clubs like this. The Ohio Young Birders Club and Conference have also grown tremendously over the last six years, with nearly 140 conference attendees in 2012. I’m really pleased that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in this event two years running, and I hope that I’ll be able to continue to attend in years to come. I’ve met some awesome people, and really enjoyed myself. If you ever have the opportunity to go, definitely don’t miss it!
About the author: Aspen Ellis is a 16 year-old birder originally from Bangor, Wales, but now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She’s been birding since she was 14, when she was introduced to birding by another young birder. In her free time, she sketches and paints birds, volunteers with captive and rescued birds, and volunteers preparing study skins of bird specimens at the UM Exhibit Museum. Her favorite birds are vultures and swifts, and she plans to go into a career in some form of ornithology in the future.