Guest Columnists: Developing the Next Gen of Bird Conservation Leaders

The 12th Annual Ohio Young Birders Conference was held on Saturday, November 3 and hosted by our partners at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center. This keystone event for Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Ohio Young Birders Club (OYBC) includes presentations by student members, a keynote address by a youth conservation leader, and field trip. The annual conference provides an opportunity for OYBC members to boost their self-confidence and presentation skills in a professional conference setting. For all members of the audience, students and adults, watching our youth conservation leaders deliver interesting and informative presentations, is tremendously inspiring! For more information on how to become involved please visit the Ohio Young Birders Club website.

Conference Overview by Elizabeth Kanzeg, OYBC Central Chapter

The Ohio Young Birders Conference comes together like an ecosystem in which all members play a unique role and depend on each other. So many people collaborate to make it possible; from the dedicated adults who work behind the scenes, to the enthusiastic young birders who share their experiences. While last year I was front and center as the Emcee of the conference and loved it, I also enjoyed helping behind the scenes this year. Assisting with the logistical side of the conference showed me the incredible amount of planning and preparation needed for the event.

Months before the conference, OYBC Chapter Advisors, like Darlene Sillick, help presenters perfect and fine-tune their talks and Laura Guerard, BSBO’s Education Director and the OYBC Statewide Coordinator, labors over vital administrative details. Amazing sponsors, such as Zeiss Sports Optics, Kaufman Field Guides, Time & Optics, Hunt’s Photo & Video, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Ohio Division of Wildlife and numerous organizations and individuals donate raffle items and door prizes to support the club and aid with fundraising efforts during the conference. Excitement builds as the summer wears on and the day draws near.

Finally, the week of the conference arrives! The day before the conference, the young birders arrive, looking considerably scruffier than they will the next day, to help set up, pack door prizes, and arrange tables. The wonderful Laura Guerard, always calm and reassuring, delegates the seemingly endless list of last minute projects. Her adorable kids tag along, helping when they can, and explore the interactive displays around the Grange Insurance Audubon Center. The final puzzle pieces are pressed into place.

The day of the conference dawns freezing cold, but the cloudy skies have given way to sunshine. While greeting people at the registration table, I recognize friends from past conferences. As people continue to trickle in, the morning activities begin. Anna Rose leads a field-sketching art workshop, and a team of students from the OSU Ornithology Club introduces Lights Out Buckeyes. This Columbus-based initiative is part of the statewide Ohio Lights Out program that raises awareness about the dangers that bright nighttime lights pose to migrating birds.

Parents pull out cameras as young birders take the stage to present. Adrianna Losey, Katelyn Shelton, and Helena Souffrant share humorous anecdotes, amazing photos and special memories from birding camps. Travis Kaye urges fellow young birders to volunteer, and describes his work at a wildlife rehabilitation center. During the diverse presentations, I consider how the conference gives young birders a platform to thank their families for their sacrifice and investment. Even Oscar Wilhelmy’s siblings, who had been exploring the Scioto Audubon Metropark, take a break from rock climbing to watch him present about pelagic birding.

This year, I assisted Kenn Kaufman with his much-anticipated Kaufman Photo ID Quiz along with OYBC members Daniel Stutzman and Matthew Rice. Kenn selects the quiz photos in advance and the Kaufman ID assistants reveal the answers to the young birders who took the quiz on the day of the conference. In preparation, Kenn shared valuable tips about the birds he selected for the quiz, but graciously considered my input as well. What struck me most was Kenn’s complete confidence in our ability to present and point out the important features of each bird, despite the fact that he is world-class field guide author.

After an energizing keynote by OYBC alumni Sarah Winnicki about her journey to a career in field research, the conference draws to a close. Parents take just a few more photos, new friends trade email addresses, and perhaps a young birder leaves inspired to present at the conference next year.

“Making an Impact as a Teen Birder— How to Get Involved by Travis Kaye, OYBC NW Chapter

Volunteering to help with bird conservation or to protect the environment is one of the most important things that you can do as a teen birder. There are several ways that you can get involved. A good place to start is by getting more involved with your local nature organization such as an Audubon society. This is how I first got started. Another good place to find out about volunteer opportunities is the Internet. You can review the websites of your local Audubon society or other nature organizations to find out about opportunities. Networking is important too. You can ask other birders about volunteer opportunities and experiences that they have had. You can email nature and bird conservation organizations to see if they have volunteer opportunities. Also don’t forget about your parents – they can be excellent resources too. My mother helped me to secure a volunteer position at the Bird Center of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, MI where I work with injured and orphaned birds.  This is where I currently volunteer and I find the experience extremely rewarding.