How Birding Opens up the World
Jacob Van Patten is a 14-year-old Petoskey native who volunteers for Little Traverse Conservancy’s Kestrel Box Monitoring Program. Here he shares how his love for the natural world has evolved; Summer 2016.
I have an ever-growing interest in birds and in the natural world. While birds have remained the focus of my studies, I have found that getting into birding has gone deeper than just counting and watching different species of birds. It has given me an awareness of the natural world around me. I now pay more attention to the different types of trees and plants present and what species of birds will benefit from them for food or nesting purposes. I now pay more attention to the chipmunks and deer and the vital role they play in the environment. Also by learning about various alarm calls of different species, I have been able to locate birds of prey and more.
My appreciation for nature began in the spring of 2014. My sister and I were homeschooled at the time, and our mom had us do a unit on ornithology. We mainly studied backyard birds and their adaptations and behavior, and it opened up the natural world which had previously gone unnoticed by me. One afternoon, as part of the class, we took a short hike near our home through a small wood lot that continued out over a shallow cattail marsh. What I saw on this walk were Downy Woodpeckers and Red-winged Blackbirds, which are just common birds, but they were birds I hadn’t ever seen in our urban backyard. Since then, my dad has also been very supportive by taking me on birding trips and teaching me the tracks and signs of other wildlife. I suddenly began hanging bird feeders and getting my hands on every field guide I could with a huge desire to learn about what else was out there.
I always enjoy going to any place where I can observe in different habitats. Whenever we’re planning a trip somewhere, I quickly look up all the birds I may find in that location, but the local nature preserves have trails that course through a variety of habitats where wildlife is very diverse. A couple that stand out to me are the Waldron Fen and Round Lake Nature Preserves. On a trip to the Waldron Fen Nature Preserve this past spring, I found 46 different species of birds across the extensive fields, densely vegetated fen, and coniferous forest habitats. I have taken many hikes at the Round Lake Nature Preserve and whether or not I was a birder yet, I have enjoyed a variety of wildlife on each visit. I am so grateful that these places are protected for everyone to enjoy—wildlife and humanity.
Anyone can learn a lot about the natural world by just spending time outside and taking it all in. Also, in this day and age, conservation is a much needed act by all of us as many species worldwide face steep declines. While whatever we do individually may not seem significant — whether it be picking up trash, or planting a tree, or contributing to restoring an endangered habitat — it is very useful in the grand scheme of things.