Birding Competition

(This column first appeared in the August 18, 1997, Buffalo News.)

     When I look around at meetings of natural history organizations here on the Niagara Frontier, my concern deepens that the average age of members appears to increase each year.  The number of middle aged participants declines and there are seldom any youngsters at all.

     One reason for this: Today the energies of our youth are focussed almost entirely on tightly organized athletic competition.  Even as a former coach (whose football team once won 23 games in a row), I am disturbed when I see my grandchildren dragooned into games beyond their skill that (a)Żlead to tears as they field baseballs with shins or chins and (b) arouse their parents and coaches to apoplexy.  (An athlete I much admire is former Miami Dolphin Larry Czonka who, for similar reasons, would not allow his children to participate in Little League sports.)

     Which leads me to the subject of this column.  The American Birding Association and Leica Sport Optics have announced a new September-to-April birdwatching competition designed to encourage youngsters to develop field observation and recording skills by keeping a field notebook and writing essays about their experiences as they begin and finish the year.

     Three levels of competition should assure fairness, each with first prize a pair of Leica binoculars as well as tuition and air fare to attend a Colorado summer ornithology camp.  Second and third prizes provide field guides, sound recordings and computer software to encourage further skill development.  The age categories are 10-12 years, 13-15 years and 16-18 years with the winners in each group those who show most improvement.  This means that participants who start with very little knowledge have an equal chance to win.

     A panel of top United States birders will judge the contest.  Two of them, Kenn Kauffman and Pete Dunn, have lectured at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

     All participants will receive a copy of the National Geographic Society field guide that is widely used by experienced birders, as well as a field notebook and an identification pin.  They will also receive a birding newsletter produced by other young birders entitled "A Bird's-Eye View."
 Although I support this contest because of my own interest in birds, I believe that it will have wider values for its participants.  It will introduce them to scientific observation and record keeping and quite possibly even to that central scientific skill, the development and testing of ideas.

     There is, however, a serious problem associated with this competition.  Although it was just announced, those who wish to compete must obtain enrollment materials and send in $21 for registration fees and subscription costs by September 7.  If you are interested, immediately contact Paul Green, ABA, PO Box 6599, Colorado Springs, CO 80934 (phone: 719-578-9703, fax: 519-578-1480, e-mail: paulgrn@aba.org) to obtain the necessary forms.

     I believe strongly that no youngster of this region should be excluded from this contest for financial reasons.  If cost deters you, contact me at 689-8301 (messages at 645-3175) and I will seek funds for your support.  Also call me if you have other questions about this contest or, once you have started, if you need assistance in learning about birds.

     Here is a chance to compete in a non-violent but physically and intellectually demanding activity.  Birding has challenged me for sixty years yet I still come up with new and exciting aspects of this fascinating avocation.  It is also one of today's most popular outdoor activities, in fact second only to gardening.

     And as a final outcome, you might then join and reduce that average age of Buffalo Audubon Society and Buffalo Ornithological Society members.