The article below was written by one of our teenage Junior Conservation Technicians, River Hamlin. River and 11 other teens spent four months working at Audubon Vermont to learn about conservation career pathways through hands-on service learning opportunities. Learn more about the program here: vt.audubon.org/conservation/JCT
Audubon: the very place where my dream would come true. During my time as a Junior Conservation Technician (JCT) at Audubon Vermont, the summer camp was my favorite part of the program. I always enjoyed coming to work and interacting with the campers, ages 8-12. However, one day stands out in particular. In the middle of the week, Conservation Biologist, Mark LaBarr, and his intern led bird banding for campers. That morning, I walked up the hill to the Clubhouse on a bright sunny morning around 8 o’clock and checked in with my boss. As soon as I slipped on my comfortable shoes and applied bug spray my day officially starts. I helped set tables up outside for the little ones, but out the corner of my eye I was peeking at the bird banding station. I’ve been waiting my whole life to see a bird up close, let alone hold one! I crossed my fingers, hoping to someday hold a bird, while I continued to set up more tables and seats for the children. More campers arrived, and before I knew it, it's time for the morning circle. All the campers were laughing with the camp staff, and I knew that it would be a great day!
When the campers settled down, we went around the circle to share our name, pronouns, and answer the question of the day. After I said mine, I looked around at all the kids' faces in the morning sun. My mind began to drift, I could only think about the bird banding station right behind me… I was so close to the birds. My dream would finally coming true! My mind was stuck on all the different kinds of birds I could possibly hold. Would I see an American Robin, American Goldfinch, or even maybe... an Ovenbird? My mind drifted so far that I’m surprised it is already time for activities. I walk over to the stick forts we had built yesterday and watch the kids laughing and building together. I spot the Conservation Interns walking over to the bird station and immediately walk over with a group of campers to sit opposite of the interns at the banding table as they hold the birds and study their wings. One of my fellow JCTs asked if they could release a bird and the intern agreed. I watched as my coworker was taught how to hold a bird properly and then was handed an American Goldfinch. My coworker turned back to face the kids and I, and we watched the bird fly back into the dark forest. Everyone returned to their seats and concentrated on the intern holding the other bird. I couldn’t stop thinking about how my coworker was able to touch a bird…I really wanted to hold and release one! I knew this was my moment to ask, but I was so nervous. After a couple of minutes, I found the courage and casually asked “Hey, could I hold and release one of the birds?” One of the interns looked up at me with a smile on her face and nodded. I can't believe I asked! I was going to fulfill my biggest dream!
The Conservation Interns left to collect more birds from the mist nets set up around the property and a bit of time passes before they return with a bird in a cloth bag. She started to weigh the bird and takes measurements of the wings. I take the time to really listen and watch the intern as she handles the bird - a wonderful learning moment. She tells us how we can learn a bird’s age based on the size, wing length, feather characteristics, and other little details. I identified the bird as an ovenbird; it was so beautiful. An ovenbird is light brown with a white speckled belly, you can hear them on the forest floor singing “PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA!” Earlier in the JCT program, we joined forester Steve Hagenbuch to hear about bird-friendly maple sugaring and learned that the Ovenbird is one of several birds Audubon Vermont manages their sugarbush for. It was the perfect first bird to hold! The intern teaches me how to hold the bird properly and I hold the warm ovenbird in my hands. She tells me to let go gently when I’m ready. With this warm fuzzball in my hands, I breathe and accept this moment. I remember my dream of holding a bird and this is my time to shine and have my dream come true! I release the Ovenbird into the forest but the forest looks more alive and bright. The Ovenbird flies so far out of distance I can no longer see it… and my dream is officially fulfilled!