Article and Photos By: Sunshine Jowell
It’s a bright sunny morning in May as I drive out to Floyd Lamb Park for my next birding adventure with Red Rock Audubon Society. This time, I’m stepping up my game to participate in a workshop for field guides hoping to lead future events. I get out of my car, and a surprisingly cold wind whips my face and skin. Luckily, as a birder, I have a trunk full of backup supplies for the field. I’m grateful for my long jacket.
Being a birder can be about many things: one may be an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys the art of fine photography, or it can be a simple distraction from the everyday life of a working from home office environment that boxes us into four walls 40 hours a week.
I think for myself, it’s a little bit of both…and more. I enjoy learning. Birding and learning about the environment we live in has kept me engaged, entertained and constantly experiencing things in the world around me. It should come as no surprise that many of us feel the aching need to share our experiences with others. Who hasn’t been trapped in a conversation with your friend who loves birds?
For this workshop series—conducted over four weeks, with two groups—we not only want to learn how to be engaging, but how to invite the uninitiated into our world.
Our fearless leader for this series is Alexander Harper, a naturalist and volunteer field guide for RRAS. His philosophy on communicating and connecting with the people he’s guiding through his birding tours is to say, “Here’s what I’m thinking, and here’s a way you can understand this, too.”
Now that we’re able to meet up again, with some limitations, he feels that working regularly with a small group of people to develop and create relationships will promote a core group of reliable field guides for Red Rock.
A major part of our workshop is understanding the various limitations we and others may have when it comes to birding. We also have a lot of expectations.
Learning how to appropriately identify species goes a long way to gaining confidence into being a successful guide. But it’s also important to find ways to learn and guide using alternative methods. Accessibility is important when it comes to which locations can be chosen concerning terrain and walking difficulty. Some birders are better at identification using hearing, rather than sight. I personally notice a bird’s behavior, before I notice their shape or color.
All of these things can work in tandem or individually to make a successful birder.
It’s also important to make birding less intimidating, and to manage expectations. We can avoid alienating new members by explaining jargon and lingo, and setting clear expectations for safety and individual accountability. It can be exciting seeing migrating and nesting birds, but we must understand the precious need for their privacy, and the best ways to avoid disturbing their habitat.
“I have to meet you where you’re at,” says Alex. “We can get creative if I’m willing to take that time and give my attention to you.”
Our hope is to have more qualified field guides available for more diverse birding events in the future. These guides will all have their own unique perspectives on birding, as well as imparting their knowledge and working with our members in ways that will be inclusive and exciting.
Being a part of this community is something very special, and there is a place for everyone. It’s important to know that limitations can be overcome with communication.
Alex feels the birds are an anchor for all of us to connect. “I think for us to get better, and to get well, and to tackle some of the issues ahead, we need to take care of each other.”
I can’t wait to see you all soon, and that we manage to stay safe and healthy. I’m looking forward to welcoming new members, and introducing the exciting world of birding to future enthusiasts very soon.