Outdoor Afros Take on Biggest Week!

Birding is for everyone – Really!

I left Ohio today, exhilarated after taking in a weekend of non-stop nature with friends old and new to kick off the annual Biggest Week in American Birding in Northwest Ohio, sponsored by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. The festival boardwalk bordering Lake Erie, is a place where the most unusual migratory bird species land to rest before continuing their journey northward across the Great Lake. This year’s festival theme is “Birding for Everyone”, to help more people engage with an activity that supports both personal enjoyment and conservationWorm-eatingWarbler2781.
Bird species observed at the event provide an opportunity for the experienced birder and novice to see something new and exciting, like this rare Worm Eating Warbler here – taken by Swarovski Optik’s Clay Taylor, who used a STX 85 spotting scope, and adapter for his camera to capture awesome bird images from several feet away.
Why bird?
People enter birding for many reasons. For some, birds are an easy expression of nature’s complex beauty, or a metaphor for how one might soar without boundaries. My new friend Paul Riss– of Punk Rock Big Year calls birds a “gateway drug” to nature, reflecting on his own early birding experiences that generated a lifetime passion for the outdoors. For others, such as LeShon Gray, birding is simply a way to de-stress and enjoy a spiritual connection with creation. Simply put, bird observation can lead to a greater awareness of everything else in nature that connects directly with the quality of life for all.


A signature bird for of the festival – a Blackburnian, by Clay Taylor

Over the weekend, I especially enjoyed the chance to connect with many cool folks while birding. I was quite delighted to discover many already aware or plugged in to Outdoor Afro. And like my previous birding experiences, I made new friends, while connecting with folks I had not seen in years. I got a kick out of meeting Douglas “Birdman” Gray for the first time in person, who has actually contributed many early Outdoor Afro blogs, and professor J. Drew Lanham, a key leader, writer, and mentor in the work of diversity and conservation.

Eastern Screech Owl – Clay Taylor

My Swaro-Cabin buddy Sharon Stiteler – the Birdchick, delivered on well-timed humor and a healthy dose of bird knowledge. She and I, along with actress and birder Lili Taylor were an easy, and chatty birding trio that spent some time capturing on film the cheeky fun of looking for specific bird species – more to come about that!
Another highlight was helping judge a bird tattoo contest, where contestants were judged on accuracy, creativity, coverage – and pain! Here is our winner pictured below.
Photo by Robert Bochenek
Photo by Robert Bochenek

“Birding for Everyone”
What struck me most about this event, was its deliberate focus on conservation messaging and diversity to engage more people and perspectives that help broaden the understanding of how all human actions have an impact in the natural world. Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of BSBO and organizer of the event, spent some time with me one evening, sharing how much relevant engagement through birding meant to her personally. Her efforts and authenticity showed up in every aspect of the program that includes new narratives, images, and conversation about the variety of people who love birds, not often visible and associated with the activity.
Outdoor Afro is grateful for the support of new partner Sworovski Optik, the Birdchick, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and Kimberly and Kenn Kaufman, for providing the generous support and visibility of Outdoor Afro at this signature event for North American birding. I am so happy to have participated in an effort to connect all people to nature — and the possibility of a Big Life for everyone!
Follow #biggestweek on our Twitter for a round-up of activities, links to new friends, and more photos all week long!