At the mic: Patrick Newcombe is a freshman at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., and enjoys birding with the Sidwell Friends Birding Club and Youth Maryland Ornithological Society (YMOS). Patrick has birded in Tanzania, as well as at Camp Chiricahua, the YMOS summer program, and the Hog Island Audubon Camp. In addition to birding, Patrick is passionate about conservation, and interned at the American Bird Conservancy during the summer. Additionally, Patrick helped a graduate student with research on Red-naped Sapsuckers in Idaho last summer, and was thrilled to learn more about birding, conservation, and ornithology at the North American Ornithological Conference.
Imagine being in a room full of ornithologists, all sharing the same passion for birds. Then imagine the speaker had just returned from the tropics with scientific research re-shaping how we look at the evolution of birds. Then imagine that, at the same time, there were at least 10 other fascinating talks you didn’t want to miss.
I experienced this at the 2016 North American Ornithological Congress, the largest-ever ornithological meeting, where attendees traveled from 41 different countries across all corners of the globe to hear over 1,000 presentations about birds and bird conservation. The breadth of topics covered at the conference was hardly believable. I moved between symposia on complex DNA sequencing of the ‘Alala, or Hawaiian Crow, which is now extinct in the wild, to resource partitioning of Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins, then switching over to the dynamics of tropical mixed-species flocks, experimentally studied by removal of the alarm-calling bird and observation of the changes of behavior in different species. As a young birder dedicated to becoming an ornithologist, it was inspiring seeing all the different ways that others have pursued their interests. I left the conference enlightened to many different paths in research that I never knew existed.
One of my favorite parts of the conference was putting a face to the names of many people I had communicated with or heard about but never actually met in person. I attended a very interesting talk about Cerulean Warbler microhabitat, and was surprised when I realized the presenter was someone I was publishing a paper for in my bird club’s newsletter. Almost everyone at the conference was very approachable and willing to talk if I had questions. Once, I came upon a friend of mine who I did not expect to see at this conference, and he generously invited me to join him at a luncheon for Grasshopper Sparrow researchers.
Grasshopper Sparrows, along with many other species, are declining. The theme of the NAOC was connecting science with conservation. Despite the dire threats facing Grasshopper Sparrows and other birds, this conference left me with hope that we can overcome the challenges we face. This theme was illustrated to me in a presentation by the Sonoran Joint Venture, where scientists used very thorough and complex models to predict the viability of bird populations in certain areas according to a variety of potential impacts from a changing climate. I left this conference truly believing in the importance of collaboration between science and conservation and am excited to contribute my time, skills, and knowledge to both in my lifetime.