I have been an avid birder since I was seven years old, when I fell in love with a Northern Cardinal outside my window. Fifteen years later, you could say that love has turned into an obsession. My parents and grandmothers fostered my passion through bird feeders, field guides, and plush toys; and as I grew older, birding trips became a symbol of that growing interest and my close relationship with my family.
With birds being a huge part of my life, it was no surprise that I turned to them for comfort during the pandemic. When worries of the pandemic broke my concentration while tackling piling assignments, I coped by watching two fledging Blue Jays perch on a tree by my window—appearing as if they were encouraging me to continue my studies. When anxieties peaked with not being able to see friends or my grandmothers, I found peace when I came face-to-face with a Barred Owl at a local park. These feathered species’ calming presence reminded me that despite living in a global pandemic, birds and nature are a constant in our lives.
Earlier this summer I was reminded of another constant: the Trinity River Audubon Center. This 120-acre oasis for birds, located in southeast Dallas, Texas, holds a special place in my heart. Visiting the center reminds me of my favorite birding adventures there and elsewhere in Texas; of the times my father and I searched for Painted Buntings, only to settle for hearing their melodious song.
I visited Trinity River Audubon Center with Christine Lin, Audubon’s senior producer of visual storytelling and fellow Dallas native a few weeks ago. Walking up to the front doors of the center, I felt the familiar calm settle in, once again being reunited with the sights and smells of nature. Even though we constantly reminded ourselves to stay six feet apart and wore masks, the natural world connected us and our work.
During our visit, Lin and I spoke with the staff and learned more about the center’s efforts in reaching audiences during the pandemic. Like all of the centers in the Audubon network, Trinity River closed to the public in mid-March to limit the spread of COVID-19. And although the trails at some Audubon nature centers remained open, trails at Trinity River Audubon Center were closed to the public entirely.
Trinity River staffers Marcus Cole and Jacob Poinsett admit they were anxious about the pandemic’s effect on their community. Cole, an educator and live animal coordinator at the center, and Poinsett, the center’s academic programs manager, had to ‘creatively reach’ their audiences in order to continue their work. By using technologies like Zoom, taking on new roles, and being flexible with changes, both were able to teach children how to safely explore nature outside their house or apartment.
“I was concerned that people wouldn’t have access to nature, how that would affect birds and wildlife in general, and how long that would be,” says Cole. “You don’t really need to go far to enjoy nature, since it’s all around us. We try to encourage outside exploration as much as possible,” says Poinsett.
While the center is planning to reopen to the public on September 8, Cole and Poinsett are still innovating around their online programs and how to keep nature accessible to the communities they serve. Learning how they had to adapt to this new virtual world reminded me of the transitions I experienced from school to everyday life. My visit to the center reaffirmed my constants in life—the constants that I will continue to hold dear to me as I begin my last semester of college.
Despite the uncertainties that lie ahead, I know that I will always have birds and nature. And thankfully for those of us who live around Dallas, we can find that solace through the in-person and online work of the Trinity River Audubon Center.