This summer, I was granted the opportunity to attend ABA Camp Colorado, and I can’t begin to illustrate what an enriching experience this privilege truly was. Over the course of six days, I was able to explore an incredible diversity of habitats in the state of Colorado. The experienced Camp Colorado staff took us to some of the most iconic ecosystems of the North American continent and with their expertise and guidance we observed a rich array of wild bird species, and learned about the complexities of each species’ significance to the health of the area.
However, the knowledge imparted was not limited to simply the avian variety of wildlife. Through our exploration of habitats filled with bird life, we discovered a great abundance of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and plants. With each new find, we learned a deep understanding of each species’ ecological niche. In fact, I remember a specific experience from our visit to the Pawnee Grasslands. As we drove through a paradise of short grass, we came upon a field so rich in wildlife it was basically the equivalent of a food-web poster you would find in any biology classroom.
In this single field, in which we only spent an hour, we observed an active prairie dog town within flocks of McCown’s Longspurs, at least a dozen Mountain Plovers, a Prairie Falcon, a parliament of Burrowing Owls, a pair of Ferruginous Hawks, a pair of Swainson’s Hawks, a lounge of Short Horned Lizards, and a Swift Fox. It was an ecological masterpiece. My favorite species of all was the American Badger. Just the day before, our instructors were discussing the elusiveness of the American Badger. I remember Raymond VanBuskirk explaining how he had lived in New Mexico for 26 years and had only seen one badger in all that time. Not ten minutes after our arrival, this keystone species stuck its striped head out of the top of a prairie dog burrow at only 40 feet from our position.
Over the course of the week my absolute favorite trip was our hike through the Alpine Tundra, the crowning jewel of Rocky Mountain National Park. Without a doubt, this great National Park has the most accessible alpine tundra habitat of anywhere else on the continent. The feeling of being 12,000 feet on top of the world is simply ethereal. It is a feeling that never leaves you. The alpine wind is crisp and thin and as it sweeps across the tundra and across your skin you feel as if you could fly away with the breeze. There is such purity within the air that with each breath you become lighter in weight, as if you have joined the atmosphere.
The hills are brimming with age-old flora of all different shapes and colors, creating a spectrum of life as far as the eye can see. Majesty surrounds you, and glacier sculpted pinnacles capped with snow jut from the valley floor to cut the ever-changing skies. From one view you may find massive herds of Elk within the glacier-fed fields, Moose carving the valley floor, White-tailed Ptarmigan enveloped within the rocky meadows, or Brown-capped Rosy Finch flying about the snow fields; endless beauty.
In addition to the natural majesty we observed, Camp Colorado was an invaluable stepping-stone in my path to a career in wildlife conservation and research. Each night a counselor would elaborate on a field project or study they had accomplished in their careers, and how it allowed them to progress in their path in conservation. On top of sharing their own experiences, the Camp Colorado staff allowed chances to develop our skills in fieldwork through individual-lead classes based on that counselor’s skill set. My personal favorite was “keeping a field journal” by Jennie Duberstein. The class consisted of four campers, including myself, who created an atmosphere of cooperative, discussion-based learning.
My favorite, and most invaluable moment, over the entire week, was our last night of camp. All of the counselors sat in a panel across the front of the classroom and allowed us the opportunity to discuss our aspiring careers and to ask them their advice on how to make our dreams a reality. The ability to hear personal advice from such experienced individuals in the field of Ornithology was an incredible experience within itself.
I cannot begin to thank the Georgia Ornithological Society for such a life-altering expedition. In addition, I’d also like to thank the ABA, Leica Sport Optics, and my instructors for their guidance, support, and their work in the field of conservation and education. This camp has taught me a wealth of new knowledge to apply on my path to a career as a researcher, educator, and conservationist. I am grateful for the support I have received from the ornithological community in Georgia as I embark on my college career and beyond.