Although anyone who has followed 10,000 Birds knows about Hope Batcheller, a remarkable young woman, who I think is destined to change the birding world (ha, ha Hope, try and live up to those expectations!!! just kidding!). She not only has a 14 species lead on me right now in the NYS Region 8 Big Year (I have a big day planned Sunday Night and Monday, so I’m going to catch up!), her persistent work through the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club and the New York State Ornithological Association and her founding of the NYS Young Birders Club is nothing short of amazing.
If only there was something like the NYS Young Birders Club 15 years ago, when I was a teenager. I consider myself lucky in the fact I got to bird, with some of the best the Capital District had to offer. When I was about 5 or 6 my mother participated in a birding group which was lead by Rich Guthrie, I still remember vividly birding at Tivoli Bay and spotting an American Bitternflying over or the banding session at Powell Sanctuary in Chatham, NY when the highlight was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
When I was 11 or 12, I participated on several club field trips with the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club, making my poor (non birding) father get up at 5am on a Saturday (something I would kill my kids if they tried that with me, ha ha!) to go tromping through some odd spot in Albany County. I remember one particular trip to Five Rivers which was lead by Bob Budlinger, and at one point he stopped and asked the group “Who can hear the Phoebe singing?”. The song was faint and I’ll admit hard to pick up over all the other bird song, but I could hear it and raised my hand. I was the only one to raise my hand. He looked at me and said “Hey, your pretty good!” and we continued on our way.
At this point I was hooked on birds, I spent nearly every afternoon after school birding, mainly behind St. Patrick’s Church and Peter B. Coeymans Elementary School in Ravena and Coeymans. I would sneak into the Town of Coeymans compost facility and here I was all alone. I got intimate looks at Blue-winged Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Wild Turkey and Red-tailed Hawk. The highlight was a pair of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, when Gnatcatchers were still uncommon in the county. I watched them slowly, build a nest and raise a family. I would also spend a lot of time at Coeymans Landing and I remember getting excited about Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers, not to mention Bald Eagles, still a fairly rare bird in those days. But the highlight of Coeymans were two birds, Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Both of course are now rather common across the entire region, but in those days, the only reliable spot to find them in Albany County was Coeymans Landing. They were my birds. I of course dutifully called in all my sightings to the Hudson-Mohawk bird line and made it so that I’m sure Frank Murphy will never forget me!
But of course bird watching, especially in a backward place like Ravena, NY is not acceptable for a teenage boy, and I faced a lot of difficulties. I was nearly beat up on several occasions and I thwarted several attempts of people trying to steal my bike. Eventually, I became a closet birder and it gradually took up less and less of my life. At that time, there was little or no internet available and no real way to connect with other kids who shared my interests and I regret that this happened. If there had been an organization like the NYS Young Birders Club, I’m sure it would have influenced where I went to college and what I studied. As such I write to you now well versed in Greek and Roman Civilization and not Ornithology, but such is life. Now, I am lucky in that I had a girlfriend, who later became my wife who helped to rekindle my love for birds and bird watching and that couple with the blooming of birding on the internet has allowed me to connect with people from the past and meet new people as well. I’m very happy with the places in New York I’ve been and the people I’ve met, experiences to last a life time… But don’t worry, there is always that drive for just 1 more species to add to your life list, so I’m not quitting anytime soon.
Why this little trip down memory lane? Because Hope and her peers and hopefully others who come after them, will have the opportunity to excell in a profession I didn’t have. So I encourage all of you to visit the NYS Young Birders Club website and Hope’s Blog and offer kind words of support. Remember birding as a teenager goes against a lot of social standards in today’s society and failure to support our budding future ornithologists could add one more English Major or Classics Major of Art History Major to the unemployment line.