Do you ever have that moment where you just think “this really can’t be happening”? On Friday, September 21, 2012 I was having that moment: again and again and again.

By Mike Hudson

Do you ever have that moment where you just think “this really can’t be happening”? On Friday, September 21, 2012 I was having that moment: again and again and again. Every time I pulled out my phone to look at the time I thought that there was no way the school bell hadn’t rung yet and then, when it did, I started to think that there was no way that it was really time to set out on the hour and a half long trip to Hockessin, Delaware. Even when my Mom pulled into the parking lot of Ashland Nature Center after a drive that seemed like it would never end, I was still in disbelief. Once we arrived though, the reality of what was happening struck me like a rush of icy water. That night we were just roasting marshmallows and chatting, but the next day, the first ABA Mid-Atlantic Young Birder Conference would begin.

20120922-_MG_9229-1-smallThe author (right) with Young Birder of the Year Marie McGee (center) and another YBC participant
(Photo by George Armistead).

I decided to get an early start to the day the next morning; I didn’t want to miss a single thing. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, and we left the lodge and started birding before the sun had finished rising. From then on, the day went by faster than any other I can remember. One minute I was watching Philadelphia Vireos on a walk with Bill Thompson III and then I was listening to ABA Young Birder of the Year Marie McGee’s astute and sound keynote on the effectiveness of field notebooks and how her own helped her become the YBY. Then I was the one everyone was looking at for an inspiring presentation. Before I knew it the day was over and I had to go back to my usual routine.

20120922-_MG_9222-1-smallYBC participants in the field (Photo by George Armistead).

The birding was good—not incredible, but good. The amazing thing is that no one really seemed to care that they weren’t overwhelmed with birds. One reason for this was certainly the sheer number of guides and presenters that were there to provide them with an excellent experience. At the beginning of the conference, Bill Stewart, the organizer of the Conference, said that the workshop leaders had been told they had fifteen minutes “to change these kids’ lives.” I took that to heart, and from the workshops I attended, it seems like all of the other presenters did too. There was not a person there who wasn’t bursting with energy and passion, ready to leave an impression on the young people who had come out to enjoy being a youth birder.

Photo by George Armistead.

The Conference’s biggest success though, was getting so many of the kids from all over the eastern US together. So many young birders there, including myself, were just thrilled to have the chance to bird with other people their own age. I think that some adult birders, especially if they didn’t start birding until they were older, take for granted that they have peers they can bird with on a fairly regular basis. Many young birders get that opportunity far less often and I, for one, latch onto it every chance I get. Yes, the Conference brought together a brilliant team of presenters to try and impact youth, but it also brought the youth together to impact each other. New and experienced young birders turned out. People who were into photography and science and simple enjoyment of birds gathered, and that was the Conference’s strongest point. All of the kids that attended went home with a new appreciation for birds and new insights from the presenters and from their peers—people they might never have met without the Young Birder’s Conference. For my part, I was honored and humbled to be in attendance, and I hope that I’ll see all of you next year.

Mike-hudson-smallAbout the author: Mike Hudson is a sixteen year-old birder from Baltimore, Maryland. Mike first got into birding when his grandfather began to draw birds with him. Since then, he has continued to nurture his love of birds and nature by volunteering at the Maryland Zoo and area nature centers. He is also involved in shorebird research and conservation. Mike was one of the presenters at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Young Birder Conference and attended the ABA’s 2012 Camp Colorado.