RIDGEFIELD — Samantha Zeiner wasn’t a real birder until coronavirus locked down her life. Now Zeiner goes on a rural birding walk early every Tuesday morning without leaving her home turf, and streams her journey for folks who wish they could go too.
Zeiner can’t guarantee glimpsing bevies of birds among the evergreens and thickets of her family’s 7 acres in the unincorporated area between Ridgefield and Battle Ground. But she almost always hears plenty of birdsong in the air. That’s why Zeiner recently purchased a sophisticated microphone to connect with the phone she uses for streaming.
“You don’t have to watch while I walk around, you can just listen and enjoy the sounds,” said Zeiner, the administrator and coordinator for the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
She grew up a few miles to the east of the refuge on this former farm that’s also a stopover along the bird-migration trail called the Pacific Flyway, she said. For years now, she said, she and her parents have treated their acreage as an auxiliary wildlife refuge and extra stopover for migrating birds.
“We get a lot of flyovers. We’ve curated it over the years to attract all sort of birds. Anything you can think of,” she said.
But Zeiner, 32, didn’t really learn to identify birds, their songs and behaviors until recently. A few weeks ago, after the new coronavirus pandemic broke out, some friends who’ve been attending a nightly virtual outdoor campfire streamed by Backpacker Magazine mentioned they were excited to hear, over the roar of the fire, smatterings of birdsong in the background.
“You want birds? I can give you lots and lots of birds,” Zeiner thought.
She started offering live, streaming bird walks on a loop through the family property. She embarks at 7 a.m. every Tuesday and streams at facebook.com/ridgefieldfriends. Each of her walks is recorded, too, so if you’d rather sleep later than the birds, you can play the recording whenever you like.
“I’m trying to get creative about using social media to get nature to people while they’re stuck at home,” Zeiner said. She started out hoping for as many as 10 viewers, but many more than that have shown up, she said.
Zeiner might murmur to her audience if she’s spotted something special, but she tries to stay mostly silent during her walks, just the way real birders do.
“I didn’t really consider myself a birder, but I’ve picked up a lot working for the Friends and a lot more walking the property in just the past few weeks,” she said. “I’m always trying to learn.”
Refuge and Birdfest
Zeiner wanted to remind Columbian readers that the northern Carty Unit of the Ridgefield refuge is closed to all visitors (and all nonessential personnel, including her). The southern River “S” Unit is open for auto touring only, and that means visitors should stay in their cars. No services or restrooms are open there.
She’s making tentative plans for this autumn’s annual Birdfest and Bluegrass festival in Ridgefield, she added, while figuring everything will likely go virtual. Many birders are at an age where they’re especially vulnerable to COVID-19, Zeiner pointed out.
“We want everyone to be safe,” she said.