With only a few days to go until our “Beginner’s Guide to Birding” seminar at the 62nd International Airstream Rally, I still couldn’t figure out what to say. When Anders and I volunteered to do the talk months before, the mission seemed simple: Persuade our fellow campers to try their hand at birding.
We had just parked our trailer alongside 700 other Airstreams on a sweltering July afternoon at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia. More than 1,000 members of local Airstream clubs had migrated from across the U.S. and Canada for this annual week-long gathering.
Spread before us was a sea of silver: Iconic Airstreams, the oldest dating back to 1947, the largest at 34 feet and 5 tons, and all of them gleaming. American flags, state flags, and local chapter flags proudly flew from the bowsprits. Scattered flocks of plastic pink flamingos, the de facto Airstream mascot, greeted folks passing by.
The splendor of it all took my breath away. But then came a severe case of nerves about this upcoming talk. I truly believe people who spend so much time camping could enjoy life more – and perhaps live longer according to scientific studies – by simply tuning in to the birds all around them. So I soldiered on.
My assignment was to craft a short but helpful sales pitch. But what if nobody showed up? And if they did, how could I communicate the thrill of the hunt and the overwhelming dose of awe each time we track down a new species?
This stage fright was not without cause. Lots of people ask us how we came to be birders in the first place. We start to explain, and nearly always, by a couple of sentences in, their eyes glaze over. Or else it becomes obvious that what they really want to know is how on Earth we completely lost our minds.
Family and friends have watched us cram all manner of stuff into a 23-foot “mobile home” and buy a Ford F150 to haul it around for weeks on end. (Our daughter’s reaction: “But you’re not truck people!”)
It doesn’t help that what we tend to talk about is which species we saw during spring migration. We launch into anxious diatribes on habitat loss, plus detailed descriptions of which bird eats what and why it matters. I frequently lose my train of thought at the sound of any chirp, squawk or tweet I don’t recognize.