Birding: Past, Present, and Future Challenges and Opportunities (a young birder's report from the 21st Annual Mass Audubon Birders Meeting)

By John Shamgochian

In March I had the opportunity to attend the 21st Annual Mass Audubon Birders Meeting, held in at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. In recounting the experiences given us by this enthralling event, I shall attempt to not bore you with arbitrary details. I will, instead, send your great gray matter bounding at warp speed nine across the galactic "birdaverse", spiritually and mentally with the same (now fascinating) arbitrary details. 

The meeting started on the morning of March 16 with a trickle of birders which quickly waxed into a gush, a wave of avian knowledge in a non-avian form. It crashed onto the grounds of Bentley University, leaving a trail of dazed locals in its mighty wake. From trickle to gush, the pale-necked river eased into a smooth flow. Birders are one of the world's greatest evolutionary feats, easily rivaling the stunning birds of paradise, the neck of the giraffe, and even the giant blind penguins of central Antarctica, albino survivors of a crooked past.

Of all the evolutionary twists and turns written in birding archives, very few of the world's birding masterpieces have come out as fine as Wayne Petersen, the day's announcer (a role he has played many times before). Standing on the slightly elevated stage, Mr. Petersen acquainted with the day's main courses and in quick succession introduced us to the presidents of Mass Audubon (Henry Tepper) and the Brookline Bird Club (Eddy Giles), both of whom greeted the expectant audience warmly. 

The first speaker on the roster was John Nelson of Gloucester, equipped with his speech "Reflections in 20th Century Birding in Massachusetts," which had just as many old photographs as it sounds like it would have. His speech, although perhaps not my favorite talk of the day, was definitely the most interesting. He started off by talking about birding in the age of Peterson and continued to talk about birding in the age of Peterson until the lights had switched back on.  

IMG_0142 - Version 2A photo similar to many used by Nelson of Gloucester, this photo is, as some may recognize, of me.

Next was Ashley Dayer, armed with "The Next Frontier in Birding: Harnessing Emerging Technologies to Engage People in Bird Conservation". She steadily bounced conservation slogans and photographs of the eBird homepage into the audience. It was a good speech, if not one that personally interested me. 

Before the next pair of talks, the dazed birders were released into the vendor room where they as a single entity collapsed on the pile of books, brochures, and binoculars laid out before them.

Then it was back to the meeting. David La Puma was up next and was perhaps the speaker with the most birder-important information. His speech, "The Bleeding Edge", left all listeners quite bloodless, some with excitement for future experiments, some (the less geek-friendly among us) horrified with the way birding was going. Who knew you could listen to migrating warblers without leaving your armchair thanks to the microphone in a flowerpot on the roof?! This fact was quickly followed by countless radar images. It was all very psychedelic.

The last main speaker sallied forth onto the stage and with incredible skill advertised his books. To help him with his speech he had employed a strong British accent and number of witty remarks which sent ripples of mirth through the auditorium with a few obnoxiously loud guffaws to boot. After completely exhausting the greatness of his books, the mighty Richard Crossley lost himself in a labyrinth of birding experiences which steadily amused the audience until his allotted time had long since elapsed.  

Lunch followed and then it was time for the four breakout presentations. We, as mere mortals, were only able to attend two of these talks, which took place in sets of two in separate rooms. Oh, for the abilities of a Time Lord!

Of the first two presentations, "Birdlife in the Gulf of Maine: What Challenges Face Birds in this Critically Important Region?" by Rebecca Holberton and "Birding by Habitat: Using the Landscape as an Aid to Better Birding" by Jim Sweeney, we chose the latter. Jim Sweeney, a local of Providence, my fair city,  seemed like an amiable chap who clearly and precisely led us through his talk. T'was a talk whose title leaves nothing to be desired in way of explanation. 

The next set of talks, from what I saw of them, were equally excellent. "Ornithological collections: Windows into Environmental and Evolutionary History," was presented by Scott Edwards, while Dick Walton took the other stage with, "Birding by Ear: A Brief History of our Passion for Learning the Songs of Birds." Again, we chose the latter. Dick Walton's talk was perhaps my favorite of the day. He led us smoothly and wittily through his speech. We understood the bird audio recordings, but he lost us when he got to the bit about Socrates. Nevertheless, we all agreed it was excellent.

I came home laden with free books and a bundle of facts, with which your clear sighted eyes need not be concerned, and a indebtedness to my grandfather (John Goodchild) who funded and supervised me and my brother on this most excellent of days. Our internal economies had been once more stabilized for such is the power of birders conferences.


John-shamgochian-2013About the author: John is just a poor boy with his story seldom told and he has squandered his existence for a pocket full of scribble such are lists. John speaks, for no one goes on fighting. He has risen with the lark since the delicate age of eight (he is now 14) and then watched the lark with considerable intensity. John is a birder with unbridled fancies, facetious language and sweet romantic nonsense. He gives free play to his spirit without restraint. This prowling inhaler of Red Corpuscles has always considered the Red-necked Phalarope to be his favorite ave (just as the Lake Emerald is his preferred ode), but as a whole fancies most entities (most notably excluding the Freckled Duck). John lives in East Providence, Rhode Island and although he has not been able to fully prove it, believes that there are far nicer places. You can read more of John's writing on his blog.

2013-06-17T14:30:00+00:00