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Teens Convene

article spread
by Jessie Barry
Photograph by Marine Cusa

Annual event connects, inspires accomplished young birders

Let’s face it, teenagers who are passionate about birding are few and far between. I know, because I was one. Maybe you were, too, but how many young birders do you know of in your city or even state? It’s always been hard for young birders to meet people who share their interest, but perhaps especially so nowadays, with so many indoor activities vying for attention.

In summer 2009, as a way to bring together promising teenage birders, we hosted our inaugural Young Birders Event. Ten high-schoolers visited Sapsucker Woods for three intense days of birding and seminars by our staff—people who have turned their own interest in birds into careers.

The weekend was so successful that we held it again this year. Ten more students bunked in a fieldwork house (chaperoned by a graduate student), had dinner with our directors, learned the basics of sound recording, and canvassed upstate New York for birds such as Red-necked Phalaropes and Upland Sandpipers.

This fall we caught up with one of 2009’s participants. Andy Johnson, then a rising senior from Ann Arbor, Michigan, parlayed his weekend here into his first field job, spending summer 2010 with godwits on the tundra of Churchill, Manitoba.

Andy, now a Cornell freshman, recalled the event in an email he sent us:

“I was particularly interested in Ph.D. student Nathan Senner’s talk about the Hudsonian Godwits he studies in Canada, Alaska, Chile, and Argentina. It was unbelievable to imagine a 300-gram bird tripling its weight by feeding on a thin film of invertebrates before flying sometimes 7,000 miles nonstop, en route to Tierra del Fuego. I imagined how incredible it would be for Nate to see a travel-worn godwit on the coast of Chile, wearing the unique flag that he had put on its leg in the Arctic in previous months or years.

“It was even more exciting when he mentioned the possibility of being a field assistant. I bit that bait hard, and 10 months later I was working in Churchill, Manitoba, searching for godwit nests, banding godwits, putting radios on godwit chicks, hearing angry godwits in my sleep, and barely surviving the thick masses of mosquitoes.

“And now here I am writing this in my dorm room at Cornell University. Having seen innovative research conducted firsthand, I have gained an appreciation for the art of finding simple explanations for the very complex phenomena of the natural world. In the BC (Before Churchill) era, I was not convinced that I was cut out to be an ornithologist as opposed to a birder. But now I have a much more real sense of what a field biologist gets to do—and must endure!”

 
While working on the tundra, Andy spent off hours shooting photos. Above left, Hudsonian Godwit, above right, Bonaparte's Gull, below right, American Golden-Plover.

We started this event as a way to connect young birders with each other and inspire them—but as you can see, we’re beneficiaries of that connection as well. The Young Birders Event will continue next August, so if you know of a promising young birder, make sure they apply!


Jessie Barry is assistant audio curator at the Macaulay Library. For more about the event, contact her at jb794@cornell.edu. The application period is February 1 to April 15, 2011.

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