What would you think if I told you I spent ten days at a birding festival and didn’t go birding? That’s not exactly what happened, but it sure felt like I did much less birdwatching this year at the Biggest Week in American Birding (“BW”). It wasn’t because of the less-than-perfect weather — cold and rain don’t stop birders. And it wasn’t because the birds didn’t show up — they most certainly did. I saw 136 different species, including 12 Life Birds (species I’d never seen before).
No, the surprising thing to my introverted self was that I turned into a social butterfly, seemingly overnight. This was my fourth year attending the festival and my second as a volunteer, and each year I’ve been absorbed further into what I can only refer to as a huge, loving “birder family.” Admittedly I don’t have much to compare it with, having not attended any other large birding festivals, but I can’t imagine that many other events this size could be as welcoming and embracing of everyone as the BW.
This year I was eager to reconnect with friends I’d made last year and to meet for the first time some I’d only known online. One friend issued an open invitation to hang out at her cottage on the shore of Lake Erie and I went out there twice to enjoy her wonderful cooking and hospitality. Another friend is a talented singer/songwriter and he entertained us so well our sides hurt from laughter. I made new friends of all ages, from the early 20s to about 70. We went birding together, we had long talks about all sorts of things, we ate pie to celebrate our life birds, and we hugged each other every day. I know there are people who don’t like to hug or be hugged, but I am not one of those people. I’m a hugger. And boy did I get my fill of great big bear hugs.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve struggled my whole life with finding friends who really “get me.” I’ve never felt this type of acceptance and love from anyone I wasn’t genetically related to before. It’s new and wonderful — and a bit scary. A little voice in my head keeps trying to warn me that it won’t last, and that maybe it wasn’t really as real as I thought it was. Or maybe that I’ll go back in my shell and lose touch with them…I don’t know why I always feel a sense of doom when things are going well in my life.
All I know is that, this year at least, those beautiful birds took second place to the people. I’ve always felt that I’m on the outside of our society (or at least on the fringes), looking in at people who don’t understand me or share my outlook on life and the natural world. As it turns out, all these wonderful people were out there, and they see the world the same way I do. They understand how humans are connected to our environment and they work to preserve the habitats that we and the birds depend on. Many of them are scientists, researchers, and self-taught naturalists. They’re kind. They’re funny. They’re open-minded. They’re people I can respect and learn from. They’re my birding family. I wonder why it took me so long to find my tribe?
Since I got home I’ve been feeling a bit sad about having to say goodbye and see them all go their separate ways, back to their homes in New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. By the way, I’ve never been one that’s drawn to the southwestern desert part of our country before, but now I have a reason to want to visit. My friends who live in New Mexico really love it there, and I need to go see what it is they’re so passionate about.
This last picture is a Carolina Wren belting out his beautiful tune with all he’s got. I was reminded of it yesterday when I told the owner of our local Wild Birds Unlimited store about my surprise at my recent extrovert tendencies and she said matter-of-factly, “You’re singing more.” I love that image of myself as a bird singing just for the sheer joy of it, because life is good. I’ve said this many times but I need to repeat it: Birds and birders have changed my life. I don’t always like change, but this kind of change has been a long time coming and I’m loving every minute of my new outward-facing life. Thanks for letting me share it with you.