by Ioana Seritan
Hello! My name is Ioana Seritan, and I am one of the 2013 Young Birders of the Year. I was asked to write something about myself for The Eyrie. I’m so excited and honored to be writing here. The Eyrie is amazing! While I’ve stolen the limelight, I’d like to tell you a bit about myself, and then offer some advice to everyone participating in the contest this year.
I started birding just over three years ago. My interest in birds came almost out of nowhere. In the fall of 2009, I took my bird to the vet. While my parents and I sat in the waiting room, I saw vets walking around with cockatiels on their shoulders and canaries in cages. I realized that there are adults who work with birds for a living. The moment I had that realization, I was done for. There was nothing I could imagine that was cooler than working with birds. It took me two seconds to decide to become an ornithologist. Once school got out for summer break, I borrowed my brother’s binoculars and tried bird watching for the very first time.
Okay, I was really dumb that first summer. I didn’t have any birder friends who could guide me, so I winged everything. That first day of birding, I went out at 2pm. I don’t know if any of you guys have spent a summer in California, but at 2pm it’s hot enough that even white asphalt makes heat waves. It’s a miracle that I found any birds at all. (FYI, my very first bird was a Black Phoebe.)


Black Phoebe (Photo by Gary Kramer/USFWS)

When I got home I Googled some birding websites. One of my favorites was the forum. The WhatBirders taught me how to identify birds, use field guides, and more. And I was ecstatic to find out that some of the WhatBird users were teenagers, just like me!
Once I found out about bird tours in my area, I started to go on them pretty often, and I made friends with some flesh-and-blood birders, too. I met even more birders when I went to the Western Field Ornithologists Conference last September in Petaluma, California. The WFO gave me a scholarship to attend the conference, and I had an amazing time. That’s actually where I connected with my first two birding mentors, Sami LaRocca and Ed Harper.
Back on the internet, I read blogs run by birders, like Julie Zickefoose, Debby Kaspari, and Sharon Stiteler. It was on Sharon Stiteler’s blog (AKA Birdchick) that I first heard of the ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest. She congratulated Rachael Butek for winning the 2010 grand prize, and the second I found out that this contest existed, I knew I had to participate.
The 2012 YBY Contest was completely different from anything I had ever done before. I signed up for the Field Notebook, Writing, and Illustration modules. The only experience I had with any of those was one time when I drew a Marsh Wren. And in the 2013 contest, for the Conservation/Community Action module, I started a blog, even though I had never had a blog before. As part of my entry to the YBY contest, I made a series of videos for my blog, designed to introduce people to birds and birding. I captured and edited the footage and wrote and recorded the narration. Below is one I made about Yellow-rumped Warblers, and if you want to see more, they’re a couple of pages back on my blog.)

Even though 2012 was my first year, I managed to place 2nd in Field Notebook and 3rd in Writing. So if this contest is the first time that you’re keeping lists of birds, or sketching them in the field, or writing stories about them, or doing a conservation project for them – don’t worry. You are not alone. And your work may be a lot better than you think! Everybody was once a beginner, including all those artists and writers and photographers who you look up to. Don’t worry about how good your sketches look or how your project is turning out. You will improve so much over the duration of this contest, and then improve again when you get the judges’ feedback in the spring. For me, the Field Notebook was the hardest of all of the modules, but it ended up being my very favorite. Try to let go of your anxieties, and just enjoy the experience!


A page from my field journal.

This is an objective statement: My art is not as beautiful as the art of other competitors. I’ve seen the art that some of you turn in, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m assuming that you guys only participated in Illustration, but not any other modules, because I have no idea how I could have gotten the grand prize otherwise. Many of you do not need or want my advice. However, if any of you are beginners like me, and you’re a little freaked about by drawing, I’d like to offer some tips!

  1. Relax. Try not to be a perfectionist. When you’re a beginning artist, your drawings are not going to be perfect. It’s okay! No one’s going to judge you if your first bird sketches are kind of lopsided, or have no feet, or the eyes are the wrong size (or even different sizes). Just keep trying! Practice makes perfect.
  2. Learning to draw is really about learning to see. If you want to draw a bird but you don’t have any idea how, sit down and look at it. What size is its head/neck/tail as compared to its body? If it’s multicolored, what shapes do those colors make on its body? Is its tail fanned or closed, held straight down or cocked at an angle? Make sure you can close your eyes and still see the bird in your head – and then sit down and draw it.
  3. Try new things! Use different pencils, and colors, and pens. Draw your birds in lots of varied poses. Find and draw new species. It wouldn’t be very much fun if your whole notebook was filled with Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead!

By the time you read this, you’ve been working on your modules for a couple of months already. You’ve hit your stride with your notebook and other projects. I hope you’re having a lot of fun! This contest is about having fun and enjoying birds, after all. The prizes in the spring are just a cool bonus. If you don’t win anything, it is okay; you can try again next year! If you do win something, congratulations! Honestly, all of you guys are awesome in my book, just because you’re participating. You rock. And I can’t wait to see who wins the grand prize in 2014!


More field notes!

For me, winning the contest with Eric Hughes was a huge honor. I am so proud to represent the ABA for a year. And I’ll be pretty busy with ABA events! I’m going to Camp Colorado this July, and the Young Birder Conference in Delaware this September. If you are going to either of those events, please come and talk to me! I am dying to make lots of new friends! Until then, I hope you have a fantastic summer. Happy birding, and may the migrations be ever in your favor!

Ioana-seritanAbout the author: Ioana Seritan is 17 years old and lives in Davis, California. She has been birding for three years. Her favorite bird at the moment is the White-throated Swift, and she also has a huge soft spot for raptors. This fall, she is going to UC Berkeley to study Environmental Science. She wants to work with wildlife after college, and hopefully go birding all around the world.