Reigniting a Childhood Love of the Outdoors Through Birds

Bobbing sandpipers. Tiny toads. Swimming geese. Audubon intern London Thompson finds a lot to love on her first-ever bird walk.

Being surrounded by nature has always brought me peace. Growing up in Maryland presented me with ample opportunities to get my hands dirty as a child. I have fond memories of tumbling down the hill in my grandmother’s backyard or hunting for caterpillars on Sunday mornings with my cousins. I spent so much time outside that the majority of my jeans were grass stained.

Over time, I’ve grown distant from the outdoors as my career and education became more important than playing outside. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in journalism from North Carolina A&T in December, I expected to jump right into the workforce and leave jovial memories of my childhood behind. Upon receiving this summer internship at Audubon, I’ve been able to blend my career with my love for being outdoors.

Within the first few weeks at Audubon, I was asked to attend a bird walk with the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society at Guilford County Farm in May. I immediately accepted the invitation and began preparing myself for this new and exciting experience.

I woke up that morning very anxious for my day to start. I checked the weather as I tried to decide on a suitable outfit, but was shocked to learn that it would be 87 degrees that afternoon. I worried that the bird walk would be cut short due to unfit weather conditions. Thankfully the embrace of a cool breeze every once in a while made the walk bearable, I would later find out.

I was so excited to begin the walk that I showed up 30 minutes before the walk was scheduled to start. I wanted to make sure I was on time and didn’t miss a single thing. Slowly members of the tiny group began parking their cars and I watched as they placed their binoculars around their necks and rubbed on sunscreen. As they gathered around a picnic table underneath a huge tree and began conversing, I looked down at myself and felt ill prepared. I didn’t have a pair of fancy binoculars, a hat, bug spray, or an extensive knowledge of birds. I took a deep breath and walked towards them.

But when I introduced myself, I immediately felt welcomed. Marie Poteat, the trip leader, was very kind and made the whole experience very enjoyable for a newcomer. Poteat is the co-chair of the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Society and a member of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Commission. She informed the group that the farm used to be a prison. Today it’s home to several different farmers growing a variety of crops and the trails are open from dawn until dusk seven days a week.

We started our walk near the greenhouses and quickly noticed a bunch of Canada Geese huddled around a pond taking turns swimming. The lush green grass surrounding the pond was home to several tiny toads as well. The little guys hopped out to say hi to us, as we walked closer to the pond.

As soon as we bent down to get a closer look at one of the toads, we saw something black fly over our heads. A few of the group members put their binoculars to their faces and identified the bird as a Red-winged Blackbird.

One of the women in our group noticed me squinting to see. With a kind smile she nudged me to get my attention and handed me her binoculars, so I could see the bird. I looked through the binoculars and analyzed the bird. I made sure to pay special attention to its bright red patch of shoulder feathers.

An older member of the group began to tell us about the dragonflies that had been fluttering around us. He explained that they were called Common Whitetail Dragonflies, with the male exhibiting the white tales.

The longer we stood in the field, the more I felt myself falling in love all over again with the things most people are too busy to notice. I’d forgotten how beautiful the grass can be dancing in the wind. I’d forgotten the way ponds glitter in the sunlight. I’d even forgotten how magical all the insects sound buzzing in unison.

We walked a little farther down the trail near some cows and stopped by a marsh to view some of the wildlife there. The same woman from before caught my eye and walked over to me. She gave me her binoculars again and motioned for me to search for things in the marsh with everyone else.

Poteat spotted a tiny bird bobbing its tail up and down as it walked near a group of Canada Geese, identifying it as a Spotted Sandpiper. I giggled as I watched it bob around the sandy edges of the marsh.

It didn’t take long for the sun to take its toll on all of us. It was sitting high in the sky and the breeze had all but disappeared at that point. We strolled along the trail for a short while longer searching for anything else interesting, but decided to head back.

I’ll admit I was a bit sad to be going home, but I know that there will be many more bird walks in my future.

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