By Ioana Seritan
In June, I was invited to speak at this year’s ABA Mid-Atlantic Young Birder Conference (MAYBC) at the Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin, Delaware. This was a huge honor and such an exciting opportunity. How could I turn it down? It seemed like the conference was so far in the future. All summer I looked forward to visiting Delaware, meeting my lovely host family, and giving my talk. Then, suddenly, the conference came and went.
On Saturday, September 14, 2013, the MAYBC brought together around 100 young birders for a jam-packed day of good times. The conference started early in the morning with a bird walk. The energy in the Ashland Nature Center was amazing! It’s a rare and special feeling to be with scores of excited birders. The attendees were bright-eyed and ready. Plus, they really knew their stuff – and that was great for me, because as a West Coast birder, I did not know what I was doing at all. Every young birder who I asked, “What is that call?” happily told me the identification. They were all so cool! If you attended the conference and you’re reading this right now, you’re so cool! I mean, I’m sure even those of you who weren’t at the conference are cool too, but if you had been at the conference, I would have known it for sure.
The rest of the day was just as much fun as that first bird walk. We listened to talks including Michael O’Brien’s introduction to nocturnal flight calls, the Upper Main Line YMCA B.B. Kingfishers’ description of how they won the World Series of Birding, and Eric Hughes’ experience winning the Young Birder of the Year Contest. Of course, every talk was super cool. Actually, most of the time, there were two talks going simultaneously, which was such a shame – I would have loved to attend them all! At every single one of the talks, the attendees paid rapt attention, laughed, asked questions, went up afterwards to talk to the speakers… I’m telling you, we soaked up this birding talk like sponges.
Just before lunch, I did what I came to do and gave my Young Birder of the Year keynote address! I spoke about the contest, and about how you can find your birding strengths and develop them into skills. The audience was so great. They all get a million brownie points for laughing at my jokes and being interested in my stories. At the end of the talk, Eric joined me and spoke as well!
We spent plenty of time actually watching birds, too! We had numerous chances to go up onto Hawk Watch Hill. This was my first hawk watch, and it was so totally awesome. There were a dozen adult birders on the hill who coached us younger birders in the ways of raptor counting. How they identified distant black specks in the sky as Bald Eagles and Broad-winged Hawks, I don’t know. Actually, I do know. It’s magic. (Magic involving looking at the wing shape and flying patterns, but we don’t talk about that. It’s completely, undeniably magic.)
We ended the day with a fantastic keynote address by Jonathan Alderfer, artist for the National Geographic bird guides. Then there was a marvelous giveaway of binoculars and other gear, final parting remarks from the awesome conference organizers, and it was over! Really, it was over too soon! This conference was so much fun.
My stay in Delaware wasn’t quite done, yet – a couple of friends birded with me around the Ashland Nature Center for the rest of the afternoon. On Sunday morning, sadly, I flew back home to UC Berkeley and resumed my hectic college life. I can’t believe the conference is already over. But, you know what? No one else here can say that they spent a Saturday birdwatching with 100 amazing young birders in Delaware. And I carry this memory with pride.
About the author: Ioana Seritan is 18 years old and beginning her first year at UC Berkeley. She is majoring in Environmental Studies and would love to work in wildlife biology or conservation after college. Her latest lifer was a Red-eyed Vireo at the MAYBC. She loves all birds, but her favorites are aerial acrobats like raptors, swifts, and swallows. She’s honored to be one of the 2013 Young Birders of the Year, and can’t wait to pass the baton to next year’s Grand Prize winner!