The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently hosted a workshop for young birders. Ember Hobbs, 17, who lives on a farm near Richland Center, WI, applied for the July program and was selected. Subsequently, the WSO Board of Directors awarded Ember $600 to pay her tuition. Ember expressed her thanks to WSO and offered members this report on her experience:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Young Birders' Event was exciting- and exhausting. We rose before the sun to set out birding, and we returned to the dorms well after sunset, having listened to many interesting presentations. The 16 students traveled from all across the U.S, and even from China and Guatemala, to attend.
Everyone offered their enthusiasm and treated others with respect, from one student with photographic memory who could name anything he saw to another who had never bird-watched before but had experience with bird-banding. I am honored to have been able to participate and glad to share some of my experiences.
I arrived in Ithaca, N.Y., a day early due to airline schedules and was pleasantly surprised to meet Chris Wood and Jessie Barry, the event directors, at the airport. After learning about my fascination with corvids over dinner, they arranged for me to spend Thursday morning with Dr. Kevin McGowan, a biologist and crow researcher for The Lab of Ornithology.
I was absolutely thrilled to tap into this great well of knowledge. I learned a great deal about the Ithaca area's American crow families, and I was even able to see a nest full of nearly fledged Fish Crows. I am now making efforts to befriend my local crows with peanut bribes in the hope of learning more about these social creatures.
The YBE kicked off Thursday afternoon with the presentation "Birds Can Save the World" by John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the lab. From there, we toured the Lab and learned more about some of the work being done there. Every evening we had dinner at the Lab with professors and employees, which was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the Lab, Cornell University, and anything we could think to ask about birds.
The first of the nightly presentations taught us the value of eBird- seriously, every time you enter a complete checklist on eBird, you are giving scientists new and valuable insights.
We also learned about the Lab's support for avian research. Students and independent researchers can have unlimited access to video and sound recording equipment so long as they submit a plan for what they want to record, and provide a copy of their recordings to the Macaulay Library. We were actually able to use the equipment Friday morning; our recordings can be found on the Macaulay website. A graduate student gave us a presentation about his travels in Ethiopia documenting endemic species, which was funded by the Lab. We also heard the story of a group of students, who, several years ago, received a grant to discover undocumented bird species in South America. Learning about research showed us potential job opportunities in the ornithological field.
The best part of the event was, of course, the birding. We spent hours in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. My favorite bird of the trip was seen here: the Green Heron. We also spotted five large, dark birds in a dead tree, sunning themselves like vultures: when we turned the scope on them, we discovered that they were all juvenile bald eagles.
In roadside wetlands, four Virginia Rails responded to a recorded call. We were able to see these small marsh birds up close when they came to investigate the speaker. I believe all of the students saw a lifer at some point during the trip, which was cause for great excitement.
The Young Birders' Event reinforced many of my beliefs, and opened my eyes to new opportunities. It was an indescribable experience to be around so many people with the shared goal of bettering the world through understanding and conserving avifauna.
My eyes were opened to the opportunities available at Cornell University. Being part of the community there left me with a sense of fulfillment, nad I am now more eager than ever for the possibility of attending the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a biology major.
I would like to offer special thanks to Barbara Duerksen--without you, I would've never even known that the Young Birders' Event existed. And to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and Coulee Region Audubon Society- your contributions to fund the tuition and travel costs is greatly appreciated by myself and my family. Thank you all so much- this was, truly, a life-changing event.