Be someone’s spark
As a kid growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, I got many of my first lessons in nature education from Joe, our neighbor. He had a big yard with lots of trees, where my siblings and friends and I could run and explore.
For decades, Joe was a subscriber to National Geographic, and, as far as I know, he kept every issue. I recall seeing bookcases in his house holding nothing but the distinctive yellow-sided magazines. Eventually, he ordered a Nat Geo subscription for me and gave me a collection of pocket-size field guides — to trees, insects, birds, rocks, the night sky. His generosity sparked an interest in nature and the wider world that this city boy otherwise might not have learned.
Most of us who call ourselves birdwatchers or birders either had a person like Joe, a mentor who nudged us along the birding path, or had a chance encounter with a bird that opened our eyes to the world’s rich and varied birdlife. In our April issue, Sophie Osborn describes the moment that sparked her interest in birds: a pulse-quickening sighting of Hooded Mergansers on a pond near her home (page 22). Her view of the beautiful ducks led her to a career as an author and wildlife biologist who has worked with condors and many other species throughout the Americas.
While spark birds, or “portkeys” as Sophie writes, undeniably lead people into birding, they are governed entirely by chance. Those of us who are already birders should, whenever possible, take the opportunity to be someone’s spark — a mentor who helps a friend, or a child, or a neighbor see the world with new eyes. If you’re looking for a place to get started, any of the 90 birding festivals listed on pages 32-34 would be great experiences for new birdwatchers. Or check out the 274 birding hotspots we have written about over the years. Who knows what your generous nudge into the birding life could lead to?
Matt Mendenhall, editor
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