September 15, 2006
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I belong to two birding organizations, and both frequently lament the dearth of young birders.  I have two sons who both have sons who both recently became teenagers.  One's passion in life is guitar . . . and video games.  The other's passion in life is outdoor adventure sports . . . and video games.

This summer I chanced upon an active nest of blue-gray gnatcatchers.  Very active.  Gnatcatchers are frenetic little birds anyway, and this nest had four large youngsters just about to leave.  In fact, the next day I was privileged to actually watch them fledge.  Ever seen a family of birds on fledging day?  Birds everywhere, parents frantic, mother making multiple trips per minute with insects, father flipping about trying to maintain voice contact with departing young who are still screaming to be fed while they thrash around in the bushes trying to fly.  Sound familiar?  And for adolescent birds, like adolescents of another species we all know well, it's all about them.  It's the only basic instinct they have at this stage.  Hikers walking by, barometric pressure dropping, Cooper's hawks roaming about?  No worries, just get me those insects.  When does the realization of something-other-than-self kick in?  And what can we do to kick start it?

Friends Of Audubon Arizona, the new kid on the local conservation block, has three programs which will introduce school children to the outdoors and hopefully perpetuate a lifelong interest in nature and its conservation.

An Audubon Family Ecology Campout is planned for the weekend of November 10-12 at Coon Bluff on the Salt River. There is space for 25 families with kids in grades 3 through 7.  Need-based scholarships and loans of camping equipment are available for participants. Courses planned for the campout will cover birds, snakes, bats, plants, stars, river ecology, and orienteering. Hands-on hawks and herps will provide the "WOW" factor to hook the campers, if not their parents. For cost and registration contact Sarah at

The Wetlands Workshops program, presented in conjunction with AZ Game & Fish, is for 5th and 6th graders and is free.  Students are bussed to the site from their school for half day sessions on four subjects:  birds and birdwatching; water quality; mammals; and live raptors and snakes.  Workshops include trash collection, scavenger hunts, and the Beginner's Guide To Birds Of Phoenix, the latter with exercises in identification and habitat preferences.  Contact Heidi Vasiloff at

Gilbert Family Birdwalks will begin again in October, 8:00am, third Saturday of each month.  These walks will be led by local Audubon members, and loaner binoculars, field guides, and Bird Bingo cards will be provided.  Contact Krys Hammers at

Maricopa Audubon Society, the Valley's first birding organization, has a proud and storied history of fighting local conservation battles in the courtroom.  Friends Of Audubon Arizona is entering the arena with a different and overdue perspective--winning the minds and hearts of young people like my sons' sons.  Now if someone could just devise a video game--Cooper's hawk stalks fledgling gnatcatcher, young birding adventurer thwarts plot, bloody beaks and razored talons all cued to guitar music.