Monday, September 2, 2013

Young Birders Event at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Over the last weekend of August, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a part of the Cornell Young Birders Event, led by Jessie Barry and Chris Wood.  I knew the event would be an incredible experience, but I had no idea just how much I would learn about birds and the science behind them.  Myself and 15 other high-school aged birders convened in Ithaca on Friday afternoon for an introductory presentation by John "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, the director of the Lab.  We then got a tour of the Lab of Ornithology's beautiful facility, filled with both the history and endless possibilities.  We visited the Macaulay Library, which is the leading resource/database of bird vocalization recordings, and is now adding videos to their extensive digital collection.  We ate dinner with staff and graduate students, followed by an interesting presentation on Whimbrel nesting on the arctic tundra near Churchill, Manitoba.  Then it was off to the hotel - we would need sleep for an early start the next morning.

The next day we left at 6:15 AM to go to Myers Point for a video/ audio recording workshop with the staff of the Macaulay Library.  We got to play with all kinds of equipment, from 800mm lenses on DSLRs to parabolic microphones to record bird calls.  To practice recording calls, we carried shotgun mics around the park and trained them on a cawing American Crow.  I also recorded an immature Osprey splashing into the water to catch a fish.  The video recording process was equally as interesting, and I got some great pointers for my own work - and being that I have all the equipment to do this, I may begin recording bird videos in the near future.

We then went out and did some birding - great views of several warbler species (including Magnolia and Chestnut-sided) and heard a distant Eastern Screech Owl.  After this foray, we headed back to the Lab for a series of fascinating presentations about careers and opportunities in ornithology.  We were all shocked when it was time for dinner - I didn't think three hours watching presentations could have flown by so fast!

Irby showing us how to properly handle the specimens

After dinner we headed into the Museum of Vertebrates for a tour with Irby Lovette, an evolutionary biologist.  Irby has worked extensively on warbler phylogeny, so as an exercise we split into groups and tried to organize a group of warbler specimens.  It was pretty tough, but all of the groups came relatively close to replicating the actual warbler "family tree".   After this activity, we were shown the "special" drawer in the museum, where the Lab houses extinct animals like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, and Eskimo Curlew.  We were then given free range over the collection, and we poured over all of the specimens for hours.  Albatrosses, Woodpeckers, Motmots, Quetzals, Blackbirds, and Birds-of-Paradise all captured our imaginations.  None of us wanted "Irby's Night at the Museum" to end, but we had another early start in the morning.

The next day was spent birding around Cayuga Lake, especially in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.  Early in the morning we spotted a Cerulean Warbler, which gave us all amazing views.  I had only heard Ceruleans before, so it was nice to finally catch a glimpse of this beautiful blue canopy-lover.  While we were checking out the Cerulean, someone spotted a Bay-breasted Warbler, which was a lifer for me.  Chris imitated a Barred Owl call, and was greeted by one calling in return from the depths of the forest.  Later we searched for (and found) Red-headed Woodpeckers (rare in NY), and visited Towpath Road, a place where we could overlook a large impoundment filled with shorebirds.  There we found Sandhill Cranes, Peregrine Falcons, Common Nighthawks, a Wilson's Phalarope and a few Baird's Sandpipers, among many others.

Sandhill Cranes in Montezuma NWR

The next day we did a little more birding (and salamander hunting).  Afterwards we headed back to the lab, where we were all surprised when Zeiss gave us all brand-new Terra ED binoculars!  We were all VERY excited, and I think we all have new go-to "bins" for our birding adventures.

Unfortunately, this incredible experience had to come to an end.  I thoroughly enjoyed the entire event - I was able to meet and befriend 15 other young birders, learn so much from Cornell staff and students, and see some awesome birds (I saw 131 species over the weekend).  I cannot thank Chris, Jessie, and all the others who helped with the event enough for their hospitality and dedication.  This was truly unforgettable, and it taught me so much about the vast range possible careers and opportunities in the wide world of ornithology.

Now time for school...

No comments:

Post a Comment