The morning was misty, that morning fog that envelops the trees, and lies across the water like a down comforter. The sunlight was bright, but diffused, as if a private battle was occurring between the elements for the rights to morning. My dad was driving, I must have been, oh, I don't know, 10, maybe? He was drinking coffee, I was absorbing everything with the intent and the priority of a kid - colors and sounds and little things that loom large in the eyes of youth.
We were headed to Presque Isle, for a bird banding demonstration. I don't remember a lot; pulling into the parking lot, a few other people, walking down a trail to a small gathering in the morning woods. I remember no faces. I don't even remember the mist net. What I do remember is the blazing handful of sunshine in the bander's hand. He (or she) was holding a Yellow Warbler. I remember that. The contrast of the brilliance against the subtle morning was intense. That was my introduction to a group of small birds called warblers. It quite possibly may have been the singular moment my affinity for them began, as well.
In the years that followed, I have been lots of places and seen lots of birds. It is most likely something inborn that I have a weakness for small things - I have had that since childhood. In any case, to this day I maintain a fascination with warblers, the little birds that frustrate so many other people. It also appears that I'm not alone in my addiction.
The Roger Tory Peterson Institute (RTPI) is hosting a Birding Festival June 4-7 and they are focusing on, you guessed it, warblers. Specifically they will focus on those warblers that nest on the Allegheny Plateau. There are 27 of them, you know. Now, it won't be all warblers because it is impossible to take a birder out and tell them to ignore all but the warblers. But the objective of the field trips is to go to all the different habitats to find all 27 warblers.
What better excuse do you need to attend than the possibility of a field trip? Some of the locations on the itinerary are Hearts Content, Akeley Swamp State Gameland, Newbold Estate, and Presque Isle State Park in Pennsylvania, and Allegany State Park, Watts Flats Wildlife Management Area, Conewango Swamp Wildlife Management Area, 100-Acre Lot and RTPI, Audubon Center and Sanctuary, Woodchuck Hill, Long Point State Park, Chautauqua Lake Outlet Wetland Preserve, and a special multi-site field trip featuring some of Roger Tory Peterson's old birding haunts in the Jamestown area. Whew. That's a relative Who's Who (or Where's Where?) list of great birding in this area.
As if the field trip lure isn't enough, there will be workshops and field trips with some of the hot names in birding, Kenn Kaufmann, Pete Dunne, Lang Elliott, and John Rappole. Scott Stoleson, a famed ornithologist from our neck of the woods, does bird banding and research and will be there as well. Scott does bird banding at Audubon on Saturdays in May and we love him (and so do the visitors that show up at the crack of dawn)! If you don't know these people, or at least their names ... well, I'm just speechless.
Of course, the main appeal of this event is that there are going to be all sorts of birders with a variety of skills and areas of expertise there. And when you get that many people who are obsessed about birds together, it's amazing they don't all start sprouting feathers, the energy level is that intense. It's fun, too. You get to be outside, sharing something you love with others, and learning things from people that live and breathe birds (not literally of course, that would be weird) daily and get paid for it - this is their job! How cool is that?
I started my obsession early and it has followed me through life. I'm not a seeker - going out to just check a bird off my list. I love the birds themselves, and the most familiar are the ones I connect with the most. I can't teach a group of children in the spring without singing "sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet!" and then pointing out the Yellow Warbler broadcasting that song from the tip of a dogwood bush. It is the song of spring, and the handful of sunshine I saw when I was a child changed my life. It could change yours, too.
For more information, visit the Web site www.rtpi.org/birding-festival.html or call Jim Berry at 665-2473 ext. 225. The festival will be fun, a good time, and you'll get to see warblers! I really can't conceive of a better way to spend a few days than that. If you can't make the festival, keep in mind that both the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and Audubon have good birds and a lot of knowledge to share. We love birds, but we'll talk to people too, if it means we can share our love of birds!
RTPI is located on Curtis Street, adjacent to the Jamestown Community College Campus in Jamestown. Audubon is located on Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Many of the birding spots mentioned in this article are open dawn to dusk, so go birding! You can find more information about Audubon at www.jamestownaudubon.org or by calling 569-2345. We hope you can attend the festival, and pass along the information to other birders! Happy Warble-ing!