Reflections on a Rally - Kiptopeke 2012
by Nate Swick
For a few days last week I had the good fortune to spend some time on the eastern shore of Virginia, soaking in the experience of the ABA's first rally, held at Kiptopeke State Park on the southern tip of Delmarva. My responsibilities were simple - help out on a few field trips, make an airport run, cut up some fruit into salad-sized chunks - but I couldn't help but feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of it all, for reasons both personal and professional.
When I came on to manage the ABA Blog, I wrote about my relationship with the organization from my days as a kid birder thankful to the American Birding Association for a scholarship to go to "bird camp" to a concerned bystander to someone charged with taking an idea, that of a multi-author blog geared towards making a somewhat staid group more relevant and immediate, and successfully integrating it into the ABA's larger mission. What I meant, but left unsaid in that old post, is that I came in as an outsider, as one largely ignorant of the organization's history and baggage. And yet, I have been brought into that fold, made welcome, and now endeavor to make others feel welcome too.
In living a great deal of my birding life online it's easy to feel as though the needs of the modern birder are, in many ways, fulfilled by the myriad options available in interspace. As the proprieter of this here weblog, I have to hope that this is at least somewhat the case. But we are social animals after all. And we do well to remember that often the best thing about being a birder is having the opportunity to be around birders.
This group gathered on Virginia's Eastern Shore to take in the mind-numbing spectacle of fall migration on the Mid-Atlantic. In my first morning, before many of the guests had arrived, I stood on the hawkwatch at Kiptopeke State Park and watched flock, yes flocks, of Red-breasted Nuthatches pass southward between a gap in the pines. I watched kettles of Turkey Vultures and lines of falcons in three species sliding past. I saw more Yellow-rumped Warblers in more places than I have ever seen. None of these birds are particularly rare, but one cannot help being moved by the gravity of watching great masses of birds go by in one direction with one purpose.
Yes, I'd say that part of the rally was a great success.
We ate well too, local seafood in soup and sauce and cake form. Smith Island Cake from the Chesapeake Bay cut with a fishing line. Lunches in the field and at the park. Coffee, bird friendly, of course.
But best of all were the birders. This site was chosen for the first ABA rally because it is near and dear to the heart of ABA President Jeff Gordon, who hails from up the coast in Delaware, but because events coordinator George Armistead has been birding the area since he, himself, was a kid birder. Though based in Colorado Springs, the ABA staff has a strong mid-Atlantic connection anymore, and additional help was provided by Bill Stewart of Wilmington, Delaware, whose work with the ABA Young Birders has been phenomenal, and New York based birder and finder of rare birds in Alaska, Doug Gochfeld. It was a great lineup to say the least.
And between the hawks and the nuthatches and the food, birders got together. It is perhaps an understatement to say that, for many of us, birding takes up an inordinate proportion of our lifes. When I talk to people about my interest in birds they'll occasionally ask what else I do. What else? Are they unaware at how easily birding can envelop your life? Of how every day offers new opportunities? Every trip new birds? I've often thought that it is only around birders that we can truly be ourselves, to completely geek out on migration and molt and bits of ornithological arcana that the rest of the civilized world doesn't see or doesn't want to.
That's not, by any means, a call to insularize, to further pull ourselves into our own little cliques be they online or off; birding needs us all to be ambassadors for nature. But it is a call to appreciate those moments and opportunities to get together, be they at events such as these or your local bird club's monthly slideshow. We need these, for our own well-being if for nothing else, and the American Birding Association wants to continue to offer those opportunities.
If you are not yet a member of the ABA, please consider joining. And take a look at the updated schedule of ABA Events to see if any interest you. This is only the beginning of what we all hope will be an exciting time for the American Birding Association.