Thursday, October 21, 2010

Watchable Wildlife Watching

The annual conference of Watchable Wildlife Inc. brought together folks from all over the Mid-West as well as from more distant locales such as Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota and Canada to discuss the wide range of values associated with wildlife observation and concomitant management issues. Attending the three days of sessions and field trips were park and preserve managers, conservationists, research scientists and educators.

When we walked through the doors of the upscale Holiday Inn Conference Center in Kearney, Nebraska we felt a bit out of our element. After all, we’ve been on the road in the camping mode for more than three months, and here we were attending an international conference that was being held in one of the most renowned bird watching locations in the world. Although we felt prepared for our imminent conference session, we felt the need for additional orientation to the mindset of this parliament of wildlife watchers. So, we grabbed a banana and cup of coffee (our reliable morning comfort foods) from a well-laden table to bolster our mettle and wandered into the Watchable Wildlife exhibit area to reconnoiter. We were immediately confronted by a gargantuan model of a piping plover that hungrily and purposefully looked us squarely in the eye. We imagined the sensation that a snail or grasshopper must feel just before becoming an energy snack for a migrating bird. A bit unnerved, we hopped quickly across the hall to investigate an eerie and alluring sound… It turned out to be a recording of tens of thousands of sandhill cranes at their pre-dawn awakening along the nearby Platte River. We were mesmerized; it was an ancient, timeless chorus that we found soothing and reassuring, and at once we were back in our comfort zone and ready for bear, or rather, bird... watchers, that is.

From Watchable Wildlife

Just prior to our session, we attended a session entitled Digital Bridge to Nature. This program aims to redress the “Nature Deficit Disorder” of today’s youth by getting kids interested in nature through the use of photography. During the session we were given tips and case studies on how to use digital photography to excite a curiosity about nature. This is what Digital Bridge to Nature is all about: giving youth an opportunity to approach the natural environment in a different way, one that gives them the chance to express their own personal creativity while developing a sense of connection to nature.

Our subsequent Leave No Trace session was attended by what at the outset seemed a rather reserved bunch. They were good “watchers” who listened quietly and attentively to the first part of our presentation, but suddenly came alive when we gave them a chance to compete for their teams, “Sasquatches” and “Yetis,” in the Step on It Challenge. From that point, it just kept getting “wilder,” and the audience was positively ebullient by the time we had covered the basics of the ever popular “How to Dispose of Waste Properly.” The session concluded on a great note as we all debated how best to apply Leave No Trace specifically to Watchable Wildlife challenges.

Overall the conference served as a terrific opportunity to connect with folks who are directly involved with stewardship of our great outdoor places such as the Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary and properties managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. We appreciated the invitation to participate, and extend special thanks to our charming and eloquent session coordinator, Alicia Hardin of Nebraska Game and Parks.

Hoping to see you down the migratory flyway,

Peggy and Barrett
2010 e-Tour Team

e-Word: “ebullient”

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