By Matt Reetz, executive director of the Madison Audubon Society, Foundation guest blogger
I’m pulled from a deep slumber by a gentle tapping on my elbow. I can hear a faint whisper. My fog lifts slowly and my squinted eyes adjust enough to find the clock. It’s 5:58am on a Sunday. There is a small, adorable person at my bedside. “Daddy…” he whispers again softly. I am able to muster a garbled “Yeah, buddy?” in response. “Is today the Birdathon?” he asks. The obvious anticipation in his voice is quickly replaced by disappointment when I tell him it’s not for another two weeks. Ever the optimist, he replies: “But we can practice, right!?”
My son Everett is six years old. Like me, he loves birds. I have been sharing birds with him ever since he was old enough to toddle about and simply notice they were part of his world. American Robin was his first species. Ev and I spend a lot of time stopping to watch, listen, and enjoy the fantastic birds around us. He picks things up quickly too. Everett can ID more birds than most folks, especially those his age. But he wants to learn more. So when I told him that a Birdathon gives you the chance to find as many bird species in one day as you can, he was hooked. “You mean, you could see like 10?!” When I tell him you can also raise money to help conserve birds, he is even more excited. When I ask him if he wants to join my team, he goes bonkers.
Everett and I start to put in the practice. I point out birds and songs at every chance. He learns the “potato chip” call of an American goldfinch overhead. We practice using binoculars–finding the target and adjusting the focus. We work together to carefully discover a killdeer nest and giddily watch as the female graces us with her broken wing act (he regaled his kindergarten teacher with this story). Our father-son skills are getting nicely honed.
The big day arrives and he is raring to go. We’re up early (but not too early!) to meet the rest of Team “So Suet Me!,” bird enthusiasts B.J. Byers and Emily Cornelius. In the parking lot, the three adults begin feverishly rattling off all the species we are seeing and hearing. I have to stop myself. I kneel down. “Ev, do you see that bird up there? That’s a male red-winged blackbird. He is defending his territory. Let’s listen for its call. Did you hear it? Pretty cool, huh? We’ll hear that one a lot so let me know when you hear it again.” He does. Later, Everett is beaming with pride at finding a mallard duckling and a drake that is sleeping on one leg. He thinks it’s hilarious when Dad excitedly yells out “Sora!” but it’s only Emily’s phone app. He sees more species in one day than he has his whole life. His favorite is the Baltimore oriole. It is a long day, he gets fed lots of snacks, and he mentions having tired legs only twice. Everett counts our total number of species. I am disappointed. Everett is utterly blown away. I am grateful for the perspective.
I love my boy. And so I owe it to him to share birds with him. They’ve made my life better and will be something we will share the rest of my days. Together Everett and I have found nests, spied chickadees feeding young, heard cranes overhead, watched loons foraging, and much more. But I also have a promise to fulfill. I must help conserve birds so my son may enjoy them his entire life and someday share them with his family. The Birdathon gave me a chance to both share birds with my boy and help me fulfill my promise. How fantastic is that?
Now if I can just get him to let me sleep in once in a while…