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Interview with the Prairie Birder: A Young Blogger Offers Her Insight into Birding

Charlotte with a Burrowing Owl from the Beaverhills Bird Observatory, April 2012. (photo by Alexander Wasylik)

When I first started reading the amazing blog called Prairie Birder, I was instantly taken by the earnestness of the posts, the detailed and educational content, and the great insight offered by the author. That’s why when I found out it was written by a young 15-year-old girl, I was dumbfounded.

I knew I had to reach out to the intelligent young writer named Charlotte (aka the Prairie Birder) to learn more about her. Check out the interview below to find out more about this passionate young birder and what inspired her to start writing such a great blog.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am 15 years old and going into grade 10. I’ve been home schooled since grade 1, which gives me extra time for birding and reading and writing about birds. I live on a farm with my parents and two younger brothers near a small town in Alberta, Canada. We farm 640 acres, raise beef cattle, chickens, and grow grain such as wheat and barley; our farm has been certified organic since before I was born. I am very lucky to have diverse habitat around my house—woods, sloughs, grasslands, and an alkaline lake all within a five to ten minute walking distance, which makes for great birding.

I have always loved animals, on and off the farm, and in addition to helping look after our cattle and chickens (I sell eggs once a week in town), I have two horses and four rabbits. I’ve been an avid birder for about four years. I blog at Prairie Birder and recently started the Alberta Birds Facebook group.

When and how did you first become interested in birding?

I had always liked birds and I did know some of the common species around our part of Alberta, including Western Meadowlarks and Bald Eagles, but until about five years ago didn’t pay that much attention to them. I became more interested when lots of American Goldfinches visited our yard in the spring 2009, after my mother decided to put some nyjer feeders around the garden. The goldfinches were such fun to watch.

Later that summer, for my birthday, my parents gave me the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. The more I read about the different bird species, the more interested I became. And when I went to visit my grandparents in New York that fall, my grandfather gave me my first pair of binoculars, Nikon Monarchs, and I went on a birding walk through Central Park, which was lots of fun. The binoculars are great and I still use them all the time, and they help me think of my grandfather, who died two years ago.

A Blue-winged Warbler at the Long Point Bird Observatory, Ontario, August 2012. (photo by Charlotte Wasylik)

There are so many different species that the variety is endlessly amazing—so many different behaviors, songs, and plumage. And birds are always very entertaining. I find birds’ songs especially fascinating, maybe because I like to sing so much myself. I’m trying to learn most of the bird songs/calls in North America. After the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop, I have a new interest in birds’ plumage, and it’s so neat that you can sometimes tell the age and sex of a bird by their its patterns, wing length, and wear of its feathers.

I’ve learned a lot of interesting things from your blog, which is amazingly educational. What inspired you to create prairiebirder.wordpress.com?

In 2010, after my grandfather died, my family spent two and a half months on the small island of Nevis in the Caribbean, helping my grandmother sort through and fix up their retirement house. While we were there I was able to add many new species to my life list. I wrote down my sightings in a notebook but wanted a more permanent place for my observations and also a place to display my photos. My mom suggested I start a blog, and I thought that was a great idea! I try to post regularly with interesting content and about happenings in birding.

How does your interest in birds manifest itself the most? Do you love learning the scientific aspect of birds, taking photographs, writing about birds, going birdwatching, bird-banding, or is it simply a combination of it all?

I like all aspects very much. I like taking photos and am working to learn more about my camera and how to take better pictures. I love writing posts for my blog, and also participating in the AlbertaBirds listserv at Yahoo. I also started an Alberta Birds Facebook group so Albertans could post photos and comments about birds in the province.

I go birding almost everyday, regardless of the weather. And thanks to the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at Long Point earlier this month, I have learned so much about the scientific aspect, including banding my first birds and learning to make a study skin. I am hoping to get a banding license, so the experience from YOW was an important start.

Is there a bird on your wish list or a “nemesis bird” you would really love to see?

I would really love to see even one Evening Grosbeak, though it would be nice to see an entire flock. Depending on what the seed crop is like this winter, I may have a chance!

Do you think it’s important for young people to get involved in birding?

I think it’s important for young people to get involved in birding because birds are a vital part of our ecosystem, and in order to ensure their survival, especially in this time of climate change, we need young people who are interested in birds and birding. Plus, I think it’s important for kids to spend more time outdoors and in nature. As much as I like my laptop, blogging, and watching television, there is something both relaxing and energizing about being outdoors, observing and being with nature.

And on a very personal level, while I have lots of fun birding by myself, it would be even more fun to bird with my friends if they shared my passion for birds.

Charlotte with a Hooded warbler she banded earlier in the day, Long Point, August 2012. (photo by Ana Maria Gonzalez)

Tell us a little about the birder retreats you’ve been on recently. What have you learned?

Earlier this summer the special event coordinator for the Edmonton Nature Club invited me along on their field trip to see Piping Plovers. I was very excited to go along because I had never seen Piping Plovers before and their status in Alberta is listed as endangered. We saw 10 adults and five chicks and removed the exclosures from the empty nests.

I’ve also gone out this month and last with a retired Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologist, checking on Turkey Vultures nests sites, the first to check abandoned buildings for vulture chicks and several days later to wing tag them. It was very exciting both days but the wing tagging was especially neat and I was able to hold two young Turkey Vultures!

I have been to many wonderful places for birding, but Long Point, Ontario, will probably hold the place for my best birding experience ever!

What is the most memorable birding experience you’ve ever had?

Birding at Long Point for the YOW (Young Ornithologists’ Workshop)!

Do you have any long-term plans with birding? For example, do you hope to build a career around birds, like ornithology or other bird-related jobs?

I’m thinking of going to university to study wildlife biology or zoology. At the moment I’m thinking of a career in wildlife rehabilitation, and it also would be interesting to have a career leading birding tours and writing.

Again, I highly recommend reading her unique and fascinating blog, Prairie Birder.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

6 Comments

  1. […] at Backyard Chirper’s Into the Air blog just interviewed me. Here’s the blog post if you would like to read the interview. I had lots of fun doing it. Thank you very much for […]

  2. Thanks so much for the interview, Tim, and for the kind and generous words!

  3. I’ve followed Charlotte’s blog for some time now and I always enjoy reading her fun & informative posts. I look forward to them all.

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