By Analicia Hawkins and Aryn Maitland
Throughout the past year, opportunities to connect with the birding community in person and enjoy nature together have been few and far between. Even though birding alone can be a fulfilling experience, there’s something special about being able to share that experience with others—especially with people who may be birding for the first time.
Earlier this year, Golden Gate Audubon Society members and staff led a day of birding and exploration for a group of young outdoor educators—an all-womxn cohort from the Outdoor Educators Institute (OEI), a program of Youth Outside.
OEI is a year-long program that supports young adults by providing immersive and culturally relevant training, development, and leadership opportunities. The program is designed to support participants in advancing their careers as educators in a way that centers under-represented groups working in the industry through inclusion and representation. As queer birders who rarely see other queer birders in a structured setting, it filled us with joy and hope to be in the company of such bright, passionate, and engaged birders, many of whom shared similar identities and experiences.
Members of the GGAS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee planned a day-long excursion that led participants through two local wetland bird habitats. We began our day at the Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary in Alameda as the tide began to retreat, offering us excellent glimpses of various plover species, American Coots, terns, and more! Participants gathered on the viewing platform and, with the support of GGAS members, gained basic comfort and familiarity using binoculars—some for the very first time—and learned how to use various field guides. The enthusiasm from the group was infectious (COVID pun only slightly intended).
Afterward, we made the short drive to Arrowhead Marsh at MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland. As we began our walk, members of the group stopped to appreciate an Anna’s Hummingbird perched on a fence showing off the striking colors of its gorget in the sun.
“I would have just thought that was just a regular bird on a fence if I were walking by, but it’s actually beautiful!” one of the participants remarked.
A few steps later we looked up just in time to see a Northern Harrier gliding above the marsh, even pausing for a moment. This sighting was particularly exciting for one member of the OEI cohort who would go on to give a prepared presentation later in the day about that exact bird. In fact, all of the participants had a chance to see the bird they’d been assigned to present!
For hours we walked along the edges of the marsh, with GGAS members sharing various ways to spot and identify birds, tricks and tips for memorizing a medley of songs, and the vital relationship we all have to the natural world. Clay Anderson, GGAS’s Youth Programs Manager, offered a unique and heartfelt perspective on his experience as a Black outdoor educator; he described his work introducing inner-city youth of color to nature, instilling in them a love and appreciation for the natural world and ways to interact with it. Cohort members were engaged and eager to learn more about ways to get involved, either through volunteering or learning how to advance their own careers in nature education.
After a break for lunch, it was the cohort’s turn to teach. In the days leading up to the event, GGAS members provided a list of birds we expected to see in the area and each cohort member prepared a brief presentation on a species. Participants dazzled the group with fun facts, drawings, audio recordings, and even choreographed dances. Even GGAS’s experienced birders learned a few new pieces of information. (Did you know Buffleheads eat their food whole while underwater?)
At the end of 6+ hours of birding together, we were all a little tired but so excited about our newfound connections and conversations. The cohort members were given the option to do what they wanted for the last half hour or so, and many participants chose to put their new skills to use and continue birding with us!
We decided to search one last time for elusive Ridgway’s Rails, and although they didn’t come out for us, I’m sure that at least a few new birders will be back to look for them, along with the 230+ other species that can be seen at MLK.
The world of birding is slowly but surely becoming more inclusive, and we are thrilled to be a part of it. We can’t wait to see what this cohort will do next!
Want to get involved with Golden Gate Audubon’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee? Email Committee Chair Dan Roth at email@example.com
Analicia Hawkins (she/her) is a queer Chicana/Filipina. She works as an events planner at an LGBTQ non-profit in Oakland. She loves birding, roller skating, and finding places where she can do both at the same time.
Aryn Maitland (they/he) is a transgender Oakland resident and a student at the College of Alameda. They have been involved with GGAS for several years and can’t wait to join other birders for regular walks.