Good Mourning Dove

I'm trying to wake up while not disturbing any ghosts!

I’m trying to wake up while not disturbing any ghosts!

I think it was a great idea to go birding at the cemetery on the week of Halloween, props to whose ever idea that was. I was able to tag along to Green Mountain Memorial Park, to go birding with a group of bird lovers that head out with owner of the Wild Bird Center, Steve Frye. It was my second outing with Steve and company, and I felt exceptionally confident of my abilities, maybe it had to do with me having capable binoculars this time. I even took a crack at identifying a raptor, and to my surprise was right on the money. I’m still astounded at how easy it is for experienced birders to identify birds simply by a evanescent glimpse of them or a snippet of their call. Isn’t there a saying about how patient mothers are or something? Well, they should replace mothers with birders because I tell you it is a truly difficult skill that one has to develop and maintain to become a birder. I’m glad there are people like the ones in the birding group that are not just very knowledgeable, but also very inviting. They can smell out a newbie like me and instead of casting me off they are excited to share with me what they know. Like, how a black-capped chickadee and a mountain chickadee differ in that the latter has a broad white eyebrow, or that just because a bird is blue, doesn’t make it a blue jay and a well secluded mourning dove in a tree is not a baby pigeon, whoops!

Can you guess what this is?

Can you guess what this is?

Well it’s great to see that we birders (I consider myself one now) are a friendly bunch! I was touched by the hospitality in such a way that later that day I decided to take my young cousins on a birding expedition. They cheered in unison when I asked them “¿Quieren ir a ver los pájaros?” although I doubt they’ed ever been birding, but they were game and so was I. So we hopped in the van and they in their car seats and we drove to Waneka Lake, where we walked around the lake and had some close encounters with canadian geese as we made or way to a marsh in the back where a handful of mallards sat. They asked me a lot of questions, some of which I answered and then some of which had me pondering them as well. I realized as we sat on the steps of the observatory deck, the girls switching between binoculars and pointing out the ducks, that the little encouragement and generosity shown to me by the expert birders had trickled down into myself and now my cousins. It makes a big difference when experiencing something new that those that have already been there make an effort to support those who have yet to indulge. Hopefully that adventure we took will ignite a desire for birds and nature in those kids, and they too can one day be engaging the new guy on the bird walk, teaching him what they know about mourning doves and chickadees.

Be the leader that you are

Robert G. Stanton, former Director of the National Park Service, came to speak at the University of Colorado. Mr Stanton grew up during the civil rights era of the 60’s. He was the first African-American National Parks Service Director. He went on to do many great things for the National Park Service, the American public, and in many ways, paved the road for people of color in the environmental field. He delivered a motivational talk on the history of the park services, the importance of the preservation of our parks and the importance of a diverse group of future stewards. He is what many would call a natural born leader and he knows exactly who he is. I am also very fortunate to know who I am. That is a strange thing to say, but at the same time how many of us can answered that with full clarity. On Wednesday morning I drove down to Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, where I attended a workshop hosted by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education and the Denver Foundation on inclusiveness in non-profits. The workshop was to be run by an Angela Park, founder of Mission Critical (look her up when you get the chance), advisor in some sense for the white house, and someone that looked like she knew her stuff, yet I didn’t know what to expect.

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right)

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right) at the CAEE and Denver Foundation workshop on non-profit inclusiveness.

The reason I share this with you is because of what I learned on that Wednesday at that workshop, that helped me shift my perspective. Angela Park opened her wonderful workshop with a very important message, consider yourself a leader in this field of inclusiveness. That’s it! I want to make sure that very single being, no matter what color, gender, age, orientation, belief or what, is in one way or another involved in conserving their beautiful earth and the creatures that live on it. Now that’s some inspiration! She added that we could not be effective leaders without “answering the why” and what she meant was, why is it important to your organization to become diverse (in all sense of the word), why is it to you. We all chuckled as she gave us some comedic renditions of previous environ groups she’s worked with struggling to answered the simple question of why; many of them not being able to conjure a reason that didn’t seem self-interested, but she said it’s okay if it’s a selfish reason as long as it’s YOUR reason. See that is what is most important; you can’t be inclusive because it is “the right thing to do,” while it is totally the right thing to do there has to be a clear, concrete reason that will guide your organization to inclusiveness. She continued on to talk about identity, as an individual, group, organization and so on. Now this is were I felt that a lot of us could learn more,  because the topic of identity is so complex and convoluted, I don’t think half of us even know what to call ourselves and others. That’s the thing about people, we can’t help but just label everything, and this was my problem. I Identify as Latino, very proud of it, and that’s how every person of any background should be, proud of it. The problem is when you let your group identity become your individual identity and maybe I had let my group identity slip a little into who I am as and individual. That’s why when Angela reminded us that while in some ways we might associate with the subordinate group, in others we might be part of an oppressive dominant group, whether conscious of it or not. Yes I am Latino, but I’m also a male and heterosexual, which give me big time privilege when it comes to certain things in life.

It is crucial for us moving forward that we all understand that we have some privilege in on way or another. I can’t disproportionately say that I am at a disadvantage because I am Latino, I have advantages in so many other ways. Mr. Stanton was an African-American student at Huston-Tillston University when he first started working for the Park Service, during arguably one of the most difficult times to be a person of color. Yet we can see now 50 years later, that back then he embraced his privilege and decided to be a leader; to know who he truly is and not let himself be defined as someone who is disadvantaged, but instead someone who through hard work and perseverance is a reminder, just like a monument is or a state park, to all of  us that we can all be leaders in the field of inclusiveness as long as we are willing to acknowledge and accept all the parts of who we are.

Hello, you’ve got mail!

From: Passenger Pigeon

To: Me and You!

I’ve been thinking lately, that many of us don’t know that birds are truly the messengers of the natural world. When you think of a bird messenger, if you’re like me at least, then you think of a pharaoh from ancient times, in his robes made of the finest silks and gold, delicately placing the characters of an urgent message on a papyrus scroll, which he then rolls up to give to his falcon as it flies off into the distant desert sunset. Very Hollywood right? But in reality while historically there has been some “avian delivery,” the real message that they bring is more subtle and of greater importance.

They are, in some cases, the sole indicator of the overall health of an ecosystem; a task that is so perfectly achieved by them. Everyone has heard of the ‘canaries in the mine’ reference, so it’s known that birds are greatly affect by there surroundings. With that being said, do you wonder how many researchers are looking at the responses that birds are having to the environment?

Well many actually, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on a Webninar hosted by Allison Vogt, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Ken Rosenburg, Cornell Lab of Ornithology where they went over the NABCI State of the Birds Report for 2014. For those of us who don’t know what the State of the Bird Report or the NABCI are, let me shed some light. The State of the Bird Report is one of 5 yearly reports that goes back to 2009, which uses data from citizen science groups like North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count to analyze the populations of birds in distinct ecological habitats as a way of understanding the trends of the populations in those habitats and the environments themselves. NABCI is a congregation of federal agencies, conservation organizations and others that together work to maintain happy and healthy bird life in North America; and thanks to all the hard work and collaboration we now have a “report card” as Allison put it, for how effective our conservation efforts are. There are people looking at the affects of our environmental manipulation on birds, and while many species are in decline there are still some hope.

So I encourage you to read the report if you haven’t already, it isn’t technical, long or confusing; it’s main audience is policy makers and the general public. Learn about what habitat you belong to and the severity of the decline of species. Understand how appropriate governmental policies can bring about change for birds, the environment and yourself. Don’t let the messages that our feathery friends are sending go unread.


Open a New World

International Migratory Bird Day, Bird Day, Bird Festival, bird fest, Dia de las Aves Migratorias, Dia de las Aves, festival de aves

The International Migratory Bird Day 2014 poster theme- Why Birds Matter.

International Migratory Bird Day, Bird Day, Bird Festival, bird fest, Dia de las Aves Migratorias, Dia de las Aves, festival de aves

Dia Internacional de las Aves Migratorias 2014 afiche. International Migratory Bird Day poster.

Driving on my way home one day I received the important phone call from Natasha Kerr, the Celebrate Shorebirds internship coordinator. She called to let me know they decided to  offer me the position. I was shocked and I’m pretty sure Natasha could tell. After the initial muteness I said yes and she congratulated me and I said thank you and so on. Immediately after I had hung up the phone I started yelling with jubilee and and thrusting around in elation, could you imagine what that would look like when you’re stuck in traffic? But who wouldn’t react this way- right? After all I had been struggling to get my foot in the door after college, and now I’m staring what could be the catapult into an amazing career.

It was the metaphorical stepping through into a new world, and just like that I hit the floor running taking on the Back to School Night event at the Ridge Creek Mobile Home Community all by myself. I was running the International Migratory Bird Day 2014 themed activity- Why Birds Matter. This year’s IMBD theme focuses on the ecosystem services birds provide. I played the “Who AM I” bird game and colored masks with children. I met representatives of the CU Natural History Museum, Boulder and Lafayette Open space; Coordinators, activist, volunteers, parents and students all which shared this great moment in their community, and I was part of it! I felt like at last I was doing something I could go hang my hat on, and not go home feeling unaccomplished. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, from an outsiders perspective, teaching young children about birds might not look like a great achievement, but there is where the outsider is wrong. I understand the impact that all of us educators had on the life of those kids on that fall night.

EFTA table at Back to School event in Lafayette, CO

EFTA table at Back to School event in Lafayette, CO

During the event, I was telling my newly made friend Martin, from Lafayette Open Space, about the fact that later that week I was going birding for the first time. He told me numerous things about birding of which I probably couldn’t remember now, but there was one thing he said that resonated in me so clearly and now in my second week of my internship, I see it becoming a theme. He said “Birding will open up a new world, that you didn’t even know was there” and it did. Not only that, this internship opened a new world, the world where we actively engage in and acknowledge what matters, see Martin had hit it on the head; I had walked around not realizing that I myself could have been advocating for the voiceless all along, the birds, the habitats they live in, and the critters they share it with. The new world is there and very visible, the question is, will you step through for yourself and all the ‘others’ that depend on it?