A little late, but I will keep up my promise of one post a week. I have a post in the pipeline that I cannot wait to write but I’m busy for the next two weeks. I have my thesis proposal defense a week from today and then after that my cousins are visiting me for a week (and I have two exams that week as well). The post I want to write requires me to do some research, and I don’t have the extra time to devote to it at the moment. So for this week, I will do a cop-out post. I was challenged by one of my friend’s a couple weeks ago to do the Facebook post a nature photo every day for a week challenge. I told the story of how I got into birds for it with each picture I posted, so I’m retelling the story here, with more detail. I love when scientists talk about how they got into their respective fields, so I hope you’ll enjoy my tale.
Birds were in my periphery for the first sixteen years of my life. Growing up (and still present day) my grandma kept many bird feeders in her backyard, because she loved looking at birds. I spent a lot of my childhood at my grandparents’ house, so I would watch the birds when they were there. I was an animal lover (still am) so I liked the birds. My grandma had an old Peterson that I would occasionally look at because it was a book with animals in it. My childhood was filled with reading animal books and watching Animal Planet back when it was good. Birds were animals, I loved animals, therefore birds were okay in my book. Birds were elevated from the okay status when I entered high school.
My freshmen year of high school, I had my first ever dedicated biology course. It was love at first sight. After a disastrous year in Earth Science, biology was a breath of fresh air. It had felt like I had found my niche. The experience I had my freshmen year in biology inspired me to take AP biology my junior year. This is where the birds began. My AP Bio teacher, Mr. R, was an enthusiastic, younger guy, who unfortunately was tasked with teaching advanced placement biology at 8:00 am to a bunch of half-dead juniors and seniors. I loved AP biology just as much as I loved biology my freshmen year. I sat up front, dead center in front of Mr. R, in order to stay awake and focus on the lecture.
Like most teachers, Mr. R would inevitably talking about himself a little bit. One of the things he talked about the most was his love for birds and bird watching. Mr. R was not your casual Sunday birder, he was a birding beast. Traveling around Long Island to see all these different birds, going birding while at different teaching conferences, competing with other teachers at the school to get the most species. He was super into birding y’all. I’ll be honest now, in high school I loved talking to my teachers before class and interacting with them outside of class. And I really wanted to talk to Mr. R, he taught biology, I thought he was super cool, and since no one in my family or my friends were science/animal oriented like I was, I was craving interactions with people like me. So, I asked Mr. R about getting into birding. I’m sure he told me places close by to go and things of that nature, but I can’t remember the specifics.
The first time I went birding for real was in April. I woke up really early, woke my mom up really early so she could drive me, and off we went. The location we went to was a small state park close to my house. I may or may not have had binoculars, and I definitely didn’t own a field guide at that point, but I did have a camera. I have pictures of that day of mostly waterfowl (Mallards, Canadian Geese, and Mute Swans), sea gulls, and a robin. By my present day standards, that was not a great birding day, however young Natalia enjoyed it a lot. The birding continued. My parents had found binoculars in the basement for me to use and I purchased a Peterson’s Guide to birds of the East Coast. My main birding spot was another state park near my house, Sunken Meadow. It had forest, river, marsh, and beach habitats, and plenty of birds. I really cut my egg tooth there so to speak. Every time I went out, I made lists of everything I saw in whatever notebooks or paper scraps I took with me. I became proficient at identifying the local birds so I could tell my mom with confidence a just a smidgen of superiority, “That’s a Great Egret Mom, not a Snow Egret”. In high school, birding was my hobby. I was unaware that I could actually make birds my life until college…which I’ll cover in Part 2, next week.