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Sky is the limit for Vancouver Audubon’s Young Birder’s Club

Young residents enjoy birdwatching, say hobby has no bounds

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 28, 2023, 6:08am
9 Photos
Jackson Wolfe and Katie Warner lead Vancouver Audubon&rsquo;s Young Birder&rsquo;s Club. Together, they guide the group&rsquo;s fledglings on nature walks, share their knowledge and spark an enthusiasm for birds and their habitats. Wolfe and Caleb Thomas, a young birder, watch out for various species at Vancouver Lake on Dec. 16.
Jackson Wolfe and Katie Warner lead Vancouver Audubon’s Young Birder’s Club. Together, they guide the group’s fledglings on nature walks, share their knowledge and spark an enthusiasm for birds and their habitats. Wolfe and Caleb Thomas, a young birder, watch out for various species at Vancouver Lake on Dec. 16. (Allison Barr/for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Retired folks aren’t the only people who enjoy observing birds as a hobby. Teenagers Jackson Wolfe and Katie Warner lead Vancouver Audubon’s Young Birder’s Club.

Together, they guide the group’s fledglings on nature walks, share their knowledge, and spark an enthusiasm for birds and their habitats. Although young, Wolfe, 19, and Warner, 16, have been fascinated by birds for years.

When Wolfe was 5 years old, his best friends were a feathered bunch. Chickens spoke to him in a series of clucks. Ducks gently tugged at his curly locks of hair. The family’s geese, affectionately called Lucy Goosey or Suzy Goosey, provided endless entertainment as they waddled throughout the backyard.

Warner, too, became attached to birds when she saw a flashy blue California scrub jay sitting outside a window. Warner, then 10 years old, immediately dove into the world of birding, earning national recognition years later for her love of the hobby.

Become a young birder

Vancouver Audubon’s Young Birder’s Club is free for those who are 10-18 years old. Members can learn about fowl through art programs, research and habitat restoration, as well as on organized walks. Meetings take place twice or three times a month, either in the field or online.

For more information, visit www.vancouveraudubon.org/young-birders-club or email youngbirders@vancouveraudubon.org.

Free birding apps

  • Audubon Bird Guide
  • BirdNet
  • eBird
  • Merlin Bird ID

Im-peck-able places to go bird-watching

  • Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park
  • Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
  • Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge
  • Vancouver Lake Lowlands
  • Woodland Bottoms

Source: wabirdguide.org/vancouver-and-vicinity.

Trove of benefits

Observing birds is best described as grounding, and it has no bounds, Warner and Wolfe said.

Gazing out the window during class, walking across a store parking lot or waking up at 3 a.m. for an hourslong drive to a grassy expanse — all these activities provide a degree of refuge in nature. Warner and Wolfe take photos, stroll or sit in place as stress over schoolwork and busy thoughts dissolve.

“In nature, you’re your own audience,” Wolfe said.

Bird behavior never ceases to be fascinating, they said.

Warner recalled watching a young peregrine falcon hone its hunting skills in a minuteslong chase with a smaller, stockier ruddy turnstone. For her, a scrub jay’s bright presence at a feeder is a simple delight.

She has memorized a majority of the Unites States’ bird species, a tally she estimated surpasses 600.

Wolfe, on the other hand, doesn’t closely track the number of species he spots. Instead, he prefers to keep a keen eye on a bird’s social quirks or deciphering the meaning behind sequences of chirps, peeps or caws.

Melodic waves of birdsong that float through the air have been scientifically proven to improve a person’s mental well-being. The same goes for encountering birds in nature. Two studies published in Scientific Reports in 2022 showed that listening and seeing birds can minimize feelings of anxiety, paranoia and depression.

Researchers said the findings illuminate the “healing aspects of nature, or the not-so-positive effects of urban surroundings.” They hypothesize that observing birds improves concentration while minimizing mental fatigue — something Wolfe experiences when he sees a chickadee hopping in underbrush.

Warner said the hobby also carves a pathway for those who want to be involved in things “bigger than themselves.” Attending multiple camping events and workshops nationwide has taught her how critical birds are in different regions. By delving into ornithology, Warner has learned about various regions’ keystone species — those critical to sustaining a healthy environment.

“We need to protect our ecosystems, both for the birds’ benefit and for our own,” she said. “What we do might be small, but we can still make a difference.”

Tips

Warner and Wolfe said bird watching doesn’t require keeping extensive notes or owning expensive gear. Just grab a pair of binoculars and a field guide, they said, and tap into the local birding community, which is welcoming, supportive and accessible.

The rest is simple: Be aware, curious and present.

“You don’t necessarily need to know how to identify birds to enjoy birding,” Warner said. “Going outside and appreciating them is enough.”

More importantly, there is no age limit. Warner and Wolfe point to birding as a pivotal part of their upbringing.

“It’s a beautiful way to integrate wildlife into everyday life,” Wolfe said. “Getting kids out there and interested … they have something to care about.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer