[Ed. note: Our Chief Network Officer David J. Ringer is going coast to coast to hear and report stories about how Audubon chapters, centers, volunteers, and members are giving birds a fighting chance. Read about his discoveries in the new series "Stopovers."]
Where: Anacostia River, Washington, D.C.
Who: Audubon Society of the District of Columbia (D.C. Audubon) and Earth Conservation Corps
Alarm Went Off: 6:30 a.m.
Breakfast: Complimentary hotel granola bar
Favorite Bird: Tundra Swan
It's one of those cold, gray March mornings where your fingers get numb but spring keeps poking through the bleakness. We hear it in a robin's song at the dock; we see it in a Red-shouldered Hawk carrying sticks to a big old sycamore fork. And we see it when a 'What's up there?' turns into a 'Tundra Swans!' whoop. There are 45 in all, headed north, white against implacable gray clouds, necks long and straight. The swan-caller is Nick Lund, known to regular Audubon readers as The Birdist. He's my age—a first-wave Millennial—and an environmental attorney working in Washington. He's also a board member of the Audubon chapter here, D.C. Audubon.
Today we’re on a scouting trip as D.C. Audubon plans its spring field trip schedule. These boat-based trips are increasingly popular among Audubon chapters, and this expedition certainly shows us why: We get up-close looks at brilliant Common Mergansers, crazy-eyed Ring-billed Gulls, and a voguing Belted Kingfisher.
And then there are the eagles. We see at least two, majestic and oh-so-fitting here in the capital. Our guide and captain is Bob Nixon of Earth Conservation Corps, who knows the names of all six Bald Eagles nesting in the District of Columbia and since the 1990s has spearheaded efforts to bring them back to the District and keep them here. He's brimming with partnership ideas for D.C. Audubon, including an eagle survey to track the three pairs as they hunt along the Anacostia and the Potomac.
We’re joined by three other D.C. Audubon board members, Sarah Kirchen, Chris Murray, and Liz Pomper. D.C. Audubon is undergoing a reinvention after a collapse several years ago. The new board is young and energetic, and they tell me that their field trip offerings have attracted diverse groups as large as 50 people. “It’s all ages, all languages, all people,” says Lund. “I get emotional about it.” They’ve recently started offering afternoon field trips too, to lure a younger crowd who likes birds but won’t get up too early on a Saturday.
I think that’s brilliant. Will I personally get up at 4 o’clock in the dark and empty morning to go look for birds? Sure. Will 99 percent of my bird-curious peers? Not even once in their lives. And 7 a.m. really isn’t much more realistic. You can bemoan that fact, or you can do something about it. D.C. Audubon is doing something about it. They’re also considering offering field trips guided in Spanish.
Speaking of field trips: Spring migration is upon us. As waves of birds start rushing across the continent in the weeks ahead, Audubon contingents will fan out across forests, fields, beaches, and, yes, rivers, to celebrate their passage and introduce thousands of newcomers to the joy of birds. If you’re curious, if you’ve recently moved, or if you always meant to look up other bird people near you, go to Audubon Near You now and find your closest Audubon chapter or nature center. Sign up for a field trip, and see what you discover.