Building WFO with the Next Generation

Lara Tseng holding a banded Yellow Warbler. Photo: Maci MacPherson

Considering the many challenges that birds face in 2022, one may become filled with frustration and grief. After attending my first WFO conference, I am filled with hope.

The September 2022 Western Field Ornithologist’s conference was my first in-person experience with the WFO board, members, student scholars, alumni, and other young birders since joining as the administrator in March 2022. I asked to connect and interact with the WFO student scholars, students, alumni, and young professionals attending the conference. What I learned is that we have an incredible group of individuals who bring to our wonderful organization their passion for ornithology, ideas for the future of WFO, and eagerness to learn.

Walking through McCarran Ranch Preserve to check mist nets. Photo: Maci MacPherson

Time for Brainstorming

I gathered with the young birders at a student reception one evening. After sharing a taco bar meal, we discussed three questions that alumni scholars came up with: 1) What do you like about the WFO conference? 2) What challenges do you face attending the WFO conference? 3) What would you like to see in the future with WFO? This brainstorming session allowed us to consider many points of view and ideas. This enthusiastic group had great ideas for how WFO could be more inclusive and attainable to a wider audience. They praised the mentorship, friendship, and professional and educational skills that they receive at the WFO conference. They enjoyed learning during the Science Sessions and getting outside on field trips. The goal of this session was to invite them to share ways to keep WFO relevant and accessible to the next generation of birders.

Aaron Gomperts studying a banded Yellow Warbler. Photo: Maci MacPherson

One benefit of inviting young professionals and alumni to the WFO conference is that they bring their knowledge and background and share their experiences with the larger group. For example, Fianna and Blythe Wilde conducted a workshop titled Bird Migration Art: Mitigating the Impact of Light Pollution. They described their research and art installation activity, which taught us the importance of dark night skies for migrating birds and how to educate using art and science. Their workshop was interactive and inclusive, creating a safe artistic environment. Offering this type of program to the WFO audience allows our younger birders to practice their presentation skills in conducting workshops for the public in a professional setting.

Bird Banding at McCarran Ranch

On the last full day of the conference, with wildfire smoke hanging in the air, I followed the eager group of birders through six-foot-tall Big Sagebrush along the Truckee River at McCarran Ranch Preserve. Our goal was to investigate mist nets that the Great Basin Bird Observatory has been monitoring for many years.

The Great Basin Bird Observatory banding station at McCarran Ranch Preserve. Photo: Maci MacPherson

Along the way, GBBO staff Kelly Colegrove and Executive Director Dr. Elisabeth Ammon gave the group tips and tricks for monitoring a bird banding station, and told us about the history of the preserve’s restored riparian zone, a project of the Nature Conservancy. As we walked and waited, the group searched the tall cottonwoods with binoculars for any small movement or glimmer of avian life. The group got to watch Kelly band two warblers—a Wilson’s Warbler and a Yellow Warbler. She and Elisabeth explained the process, and even let a few birders hold the small songbirds. During our time at the preserve, WFO Board member Robin Leong shared his knowledge of how to act in the field, what to wear, and how to bird safely.

The passion, eagerness to learn, and amazing ideas that this group brings to WFO excites me for the future of ornithology and conservation of avian species. I look forward to working with these birders again next year and to continue to have them help us shape the future of the organization.

—Maci MacPherson

Maci MacPherson. Photo: Tori MacPherson

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