Saturday, June 4, 2011

How I Became A Birder

My journey as a birder began quite unexpectedly when I was a 10 year old, leaving home and going away to summer camp. I was going to a place I was unfamiliar with and my emotions were brimming with apprehension and excitement. I was leaving the suburban concrete environment of Ferndale, Michigan to experience the sandy beach and cool refreshing waters of Lake Huron. This was a vacation meant just for kids, and secretly one for my parents. Though they never did admit to enjoying the peace and quiet of my being away for those two weeks.

In July of 1969, the world was transfixed with the impending Apollo 11 Moon Launch and the giddiness of astronauts walking on the moon. I was excited, and so were my parents, friends and neighbors. All I could think about was the moon and going away to camp. Little did I know, I was about to be introduced to nature and birds in a way that would change my life forever. Camp Stapleton would set the stage for a life long fascination with birds. I would see birds from a new perspective and fall in love with their ability to fly free above the treetops and come down to earth at a moment's turn. Men were flying to the moon on a rocket and I was learning to appreciate winged creatures through the eyes of that curious 10 year old's perspective.

The first stop was in Detroit, where hundreds of kids gathered from the area to embark on a bus trip to Camp Stapleton on the shores of Lake Huron in the harbor town of Lexington, Michigan.  Everything was new to me, a bus trip, meeting kids from all over southeast Michigan and seeing a Great Lake for the first time. There was much to anticipate and take in as we began our drive north to Camp Stapleton.      

The journey was long, hot and tiring as the kids sang the customary camp songs and felt every road imperfection that bus encountered. All I could think of  was getting off that bus and seeing that big blue Lake Huron, I was hungry, too. We arrived at camp where we met our counselors, were assigned our cabins and were introduced to our fellow campers. I was assigned to Cabin Seven, and that is where my fascination began.

The cabin had double bunks and rustic accommodations very typical of a camp setting. I thought it was the neatest thing, having sleepovers with a dozen other girls my age and time to go exploring the outdoors.  As a kid from Ferndale, experiencing the outdoors, playing in a big lake with a vast shoreline of sandy beach was a dream come true. I would be out of the city for two weeks. I would be see birds and mammals I had never seen before. Cabin Seven would be my home for the next two glorious weeks.

Cabin Seven's porch rafters was also the home for a pair of Barn Swallows. We filed in single file to our cabin, putting our sleeping bags and packed clothing in our assigned places. We gathered outside for a snack of freshly baked oatmeal cookies and milk as we introduced ourselves and relaxed after a long bus ride. As I walked out on the cabin porch I heard chattering coming directly from above my head. I looked up and saw a Barn Swallow. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes again and again as I caught a glimpse of these noisy birds building a muddy nest clinging to the wall of our cabin. I became a birder at that very moment. I could think of little else, but to watch these darling creatures making a racket outside our cabin door. Every morning, we would be greeted by this pair of Barn Swallows building a nest for the next generation of swallows. I was smitten, overjoyed and captivated with these iridescent blue and rust feathered birds working for hours and hours building a nest for their young. At camp, all I wanted to do was to watch these noisy and cheerful birds who sang bubbling melodies and performed aerial acrobatic flights with ease and graceful precision.       

Rugged Sandy Beach of Lake Huron, Lexington, Michigan

The Architect

Pine Needles & Wet Mud For Sculpting
Barn Swallow Sculpting The Nest
Adding More Mud

Barn Swallow Fledgling

Those two glorious weeks brought many adventures of swimming in the cold waters of Lake Huron, campfires at night, nature hikes along M-25 to the local roadside park, pot holder weaving, popsicle stick sculptures and countless hours watching those birds who chose my cabin as their summer home.

Lake Huron Roadside Park Overlook - Port Sanilac, Michigan

I would leave that camp after two weeks, and say goodbye to those Barn Swallows and the experience of a lifetime. That day, I wished I would see those birds again and feel that same wonderment of summer camp in 1969. I would, because, I became a birder that summer and have had my eyes on the sky ever since. Not a day goes by where I don't notice a bird and watch with admiration at their life on the wing. The best birding day of the year, is the day I spot my first Barn Swallow of the spring season.

What my future would hold for me would be even more remarkable, for my husband shared that same shoreline in 1969, and spent his summers at the family cottage a mere five miles or so up the shore from Camp Stapleton on Lake Huron. Today, as I visit the Port Sanilac family cottage, and drive by Camp Stapleton, I think of those Barn Swallows and wonder if the descendants of those same birds captivate new campers the same way they did for me, so many summers ago. I thank the Barn Swallow for transforming me into a birder. I am a Birder and forever grateful.

Barn Swallow Fledgling Being Fed A Large Insect


Cletch said...

Janet! How have I not seen your blog before now? Enjoyed reading your story and was surprised because I thought becoming a birder was a recent fascination. Great to learn new things about you, my friend!

Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

Such a heartwarming memories and story Janet. Beautiful photos to honor your memories! Really enjoyed this post :)

dAwN said...

What a wonderful story~thanks for sharing how you started birding. I love reading this.

Julie G. said...

Janet, I felt such joy from reading this story of a camper turned birder. So beautifully written! Your story brought back memories to me of my camp experience up in northern Wisconsin. I think that is where my love of the outdoors began.

Fantastic photographs to accompany your birding tale! Swallow nests are so very interesting. I can see why your love of birds was born observing the construction of such a nest.

A most wonderful post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your narrative and viewing the outstanding photos ... and now we know a little more about fabulous you!

D.M. SOLIS said...

Beautiful images and essay. I will look at both with time and thought. I just wanted to enter a quick word of affirmation. I recently discovered you followed my blog and have come to follow yours, by way of returning the kindness. I'm so glad I sought you out, because your work is beautiful and I would not have wanted to miss it. I very much appreciate your regard for nature's creatures.

Peace and all good,