Kristina Polk won’t pretend to be the lone spokesperson for the Ohio Young Birders Club, but you’ll have to admit she’s a very impressive representative.
Polk, 16, a junior at North Ridgeville High School, joined the OYBC after she attended the Biggest Week in American Birding at Maumee Bay State Park last year. Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and BSBO Education Director Ken Keffer introduced Polk to the OYBC.
“I got into birding around the spring of 2010,” Polk said. “I had heard of the club about a year or so before, but I didn’t think of myself to be a good enough birder or serious enough birder to join it. I didn’t think I would be good enough. I joined last year, but I wish I would have joined sooner. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.
“The people I’ve met, the places we go…our mission is to educate people on birds and help conserve them. That’s something I strongly believe in, and it’s nice to be with people my age who enjoy this. It’s not often you find other teens with a passion for the outdoors or this invested in nature.
“Especially in Ohio, we have a lot of really knowledgeable, high-profile individuals who can mentor us. It’s given me an outlet for teaching other younger birders and learning from older ones,” she said.
Polk and many other members of the OYBC will attend the third annual Biggest Week in American Birding May 4 to 13 at the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center. The OYBC is for birders ages 12 to 18 and is sponsored by the BSBO. The clubs goals include:
• Create a community for young birders throughout Ohio;
• Promote volunteering and contributing through service projects;
• Foster an interest in natural history and encourage young people to spend more time outside;
• Introduce young people to career opportunities in the wildlife and conservation fields;
• Connect young birders with adult mentors willing to share their time, knowledge and transportation.
Kim Kaufman, who helped found the OYBC, said club members participate in monthly field trips and conduct service projects around the state.
Kaufman says that the OYBC started in 2006 when she was still the education director for the Observatory. “I met a couple of teens who were really into birds, and they told me it was tough because they really didn’t know any other birder their age, Kaufman said. “And from that conversation, the idea for the club was born. BSBO brought these teens together with a group of adults who were willing to volunteer their time and students have helped run the OYBC from that day on. Having students make the decisions about the OYBC is the secret to its success. Students even give the presentations at their own annual conference each year.”
Kaufman, now the executive director for BSBO, has handed the education director baton off to Ken Keffer and he has kept the club’s success going strong. Keffer, a Wyoming native who’s been in Ohio for three years, says that his work with the OYBC is “The most inspiring work I’ve ever done. I love working with kids who are taking a proactive role in conservation.”
There are two components to the OYBC – student members, who are eligible to attend monthly field trips, and supporting adults whose dues help support the club. Supporting adults are not eligible for field trips; however, they do receive quarterly issues of the OYBC newsletter filled with inspirational stories and updates on what our youth conservationists are accomplishing. Local chapters are also forming near Columbus and Cincinnati.
The OYBC learns about more than just birds. The club learns about nature and nature conservation. Club members have taken field trips to the shores of Lake Erie near Cleveland and done conservation efforts in Amish country.
“We have a huge Amish component,” Keffer said. “It’s neat to see the interactions between the Amish and those with non-Amish backgrounds. We’re trying to have a good time in nature. The students came to us a couple years ago and asked what they could do to help fund conservation. They did the ‘Big Sit,’ which was like a walkathon, where they went out and got pledges for every species of bird they saw on this one day. They raised nearly $6,000 and that was split between the club and, this year, the Port Clinton Lakefront Preserve.”
The OYBC proved to be a natural fit for Polk, who said she has always been an animal lover.
“In elementary school, I was always the kid who read animal books,” she said. “I just naturally came to birds.”
Polk has been an amateur photographer since the age of 13 or 14 and she now contributes photographs and sketches to the OYBC newsletter, Golden-Wings, and website.
“Photography drew me to birds,” Polk said. “I was taking pictures of birds, but I had no clue what (species) they were. Then I bought a field guide and opened it up, and there were so many. It’s just incredible, the diversity. I just started reading and learning and watching.”
Keffer labeled Polk a “real ambassador” for the OYBC.
“She’s a regular contributor to our newsletter, and she’s a phenomenal writer,” Keffer said. “She is a wonderful bird photographer and illustrator. She does outstanding sketches and photography and is one of the most outstanding students out there. She’s a shining example of someone who brings a lot to the club, and she’s going to go on to do wonderful things in the field of conservation.”
Anyone wishing to learn more about the OYBC can visit the club’s website at www.ohioyoungbirders.org or go to Kristina Polk’s blog at www.imwildatheart.blogspot.com. Polk invites anyone between the ages of 12 to 18 to join the OYBC.
“You don’t have to be an expert birder,” she said, “you can just love nature. Being around people in our birding community, they’re so welcoming and inspiring. If you’re a young nature lover, come join us for a meeting and you’ll learn so much.”