by Chloe Walker
Although I “officially” started birding when I was eleven, my interest in birds began when I was nine. I remember taking my mom’s camera outside and just “playing around” with it. I photographed Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, and other common backyard birds and identified them with a field guide I got for my tenth birthday. I hung up bird feeders in our backyard, and soon I became quite familiar with many common bird species. In the spring of 2011, I went with the Nashville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (NTOS) on a few bird walks at Radnor Lake in Nashville, TN. I thought they were the best birders in the world, identifying all these warblers and other species by songs and calls! I knew I wanted to be skilled like them, so it was then and there that I became a true birder. Since then, I have been very active in the NTOS and have even become their field trip coordinator. I love birding with everyone who is a part of that group and have piled up a lot of wonderful memories being with them. To be honest, they’re like a bunch of extra grandparents, aunts, and uncles!
The same year (2011) I met a nature-lover at a wetlands very close to where I live, and she sent me an email about the ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest. At first I was worried about participating. What if I didn’t do a good job?? What if the judges didn’t like my work?? But I entered anyway, and I’m very glad I did! I chose the field notebook, photography, and illustration modules the first year but did not place at all. Still, I wasn’t going to give up. In 2012 I chose the field notebook, photography, and writing modules, and I was so excited to find that I placed 2nd in the contest. With one more shot at first place in the 10-13 age group, I registered for the contest once again. This time I chose the field notebook and conservation modules. Imagine my excitement as my mom handed me the phone, saying it was the ABA crew asking for me! Sure enough, after a brief discussion about the abnormally cold weather, they announced that I had won and congratulated me for my efforts!
I enjoy participating in the ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest because it gives me something fun and educational to do during the dreadfully hot Tennessee summer. My favorite part of the contest is receiving comments from the “pros” like Steve Howell, David Sibley, Richard Crossley, and others. It’s very helpful to know what the experts think about my work. This lets me know what to improve in the future and what to apply in the field.
For those of you who are participating in the ABA YBY contest, I have one thing to say and it’s something you’ve probably heard a gazillion times: NEVER GIVE UP! This applies to all of life, not just with the Young Birder of the Year Contest. Even if you don’t place, that’s okay. Simply pick yourself right back up and give it another shot.
Outside of ABA contests, I love to write about birds. In fact, last year I created a blog called Better Bird Habitats. This came out of a project on improving the bird habitat in our yard for the ABA YBY contest’s conservation and community module. I wanted to share with others how to create a bird-friendly habitat in their own yard, and that’s what this blog’s all about. Earlier this year I created a Chloe‘s Birding Blog. This is where I share my personal birding adventures. I really love blogging, and I hope to continue it for as long as I can!
Besides writing, I love to photograph and sometimes draw birds. I enjoy getting dirty and planting bird-friendly plants in our backyard. In the past I’ve been to several birding hotspots across North America such as Magee Marsh, OH; Point Pelee, Ontario; Cape May, NJ; and more. In 2012, I attended the first ever ABA Young Birders Conference in Hockessin, Delaware, and this year I’ll be attending ABA’s Camp Avocet. It’s fun to go new places and to increase my life list (which, as of this post, stands at 306 species. My most recent lifer was Red-billed Tropicbird). I also have an interest in bird conservation. I mentioned above that I worked to improve the bird habitat in our yard, and that’s one of the conservation projects I’ve done. In 2012 I also created wrist bands that say “Tennessee Sandhill Cranes…Worth Watching!” and sold over 500 at our Sandhill Crane Festival in Birchwood, TN to raise money for the Tennessee Crane Fund.
Recently, my heart has been captured by pelagic trips. I went on my first on July 19, 2013 with Seabirding off Hatteras, North Carolina. I remember liking it and wanting to go again, but it wasn’t until May 21st, 2014 that I truly fell in love with pelagic trips. And it wasn’t just love…it was addiction. On that day we had Fea’s Petrel, Trindade Petrel, and Bermuda Petrel, plus a European Storm-Petrel!!! I went on two other pelagic trips that same week, and I can’t wait to go again! I guess what I love most about pelagic trips are the challenges they bring (like identifying the storm-petrels) and each day’s thrilling, unique adventure. I love watching Black-capped Petrels wheel at full-speed past the boat, and I know it might seem crazy, but I think the coolest job in the world would be throwing chum to storm-petrels! Starting next year I’ll be helping out as a junior spotter/leader with “Seabirding,” so that will be very exciting.
In closing, I’d like to congratulate all the past participants and winners of the ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest. Second, good luck to those who will be participating in the contest in the future. And lastly, “Good Birding!” to all my fellow birders out there.