Every now and then I get a nice reminder of how special it is that so many of us share this love of watching birds.
Here's a letter I got last summer but just re-read. It's from a young birder that was on one of my bird walks a few years ago. I'll let him tell the story...
Hi Bill,All I'm doing is paying forward all the kindness and helpful support shown to me when I was a young bird watcher. My mentor, Pat Murphy, was a cranky ol' gal, except when it came to teaching people about birds. Then she was as tender as an angel of mercy. But if you ever tried to thank her, she turned back into her regular persona, which made us wonder if her clothes were lined with sandpaper.
I apologize for attempting to reach you through your work e-mail address, but I could not find a more personal e-mail address. My name is Alex H, you may remember me from the visit you made to the Chautauqua Institution, New York in the summer of 2002. I was the young kid who also attended the bird walk (you found me my one and only Warbling Vireo).
I wanted to follow up four years later and tell you I am still a very avid birder. I still live in Miami and am out and about all the time. I just saw my 295th bird in Florida on Monday, a Red-billed Tropicbird during a pelagic off Miami! Since I met you I have seen hundreds of new birds in Arizona, Florida, and Europe.
I wanted to thank you for enlightening me that morning about the birding community. Until then, I really didn't know too much about anything outside of my own backyard. Once I got home to Miami, I joined the local Audubon society immediately. I like to think that year I became an avid birder and you helped spark it.
Thanks again for everything.
Alex H., 17
Boy oh boy did she have the knowledge. And I know she was proud of me when all that knowledge began to stick in my brain to be referenced on each and every field trip. It made me want to get to a point where I was good enough to help other bird watchers, just like Pat (without the sandpaper, of course).
A couple of years ago, an emcee introduced me as a speaker at a birding festival by saying "Bill is the pied piper of birding. If you go on a bird walk with him, you'll see what this hobby of ours is so incredibly enjoyable. His enthusiasm is contagious--you can't help but get into bird watching."
I was so flattered by this intro that I got all choked up and couldn't say anything for a few minutes. I take that role very seriously and completely to heart...
Bird watchers are the nicest people on the planet. And that's a fortunate thing because it looks like it's going to be up to us to save this planet. More birders means more of a focus on conservation and preservation of birds and their habitat. That's a GOOD thing.
Let's all make it our goal to get more people--young and old--into watching birds. It will make the world an immeasurably better place.