October 20, 2015 - Continuing our new series here at Rogue Birder called "Rogue Collective". This series will feature guest po...

Rogue Collective - Amy Downing - Findlay, OH

October 20, 2015 -

Continuing our new series here at Rogue Birder called "Rogue Collective". This series will feature guest posts from birders, artists, naturalists, and nature photographers from across the state and the country. Having met so many talented and interesting people over the past two years, we felt it would be great to hear their stories. Start working on your story now - you may be next! Next up, Amy Downing - Birder, nature lover, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Enjoy!!!

I was the typical tom-boy in long pigtails and callused feet in rural Hancock County who learned early how to dog paddle in the farm pond before really swimming, to catch the biggest Bullfrog with bare hands at night in a canoe, rub pond muck all over me just to make Mom squirm, and mostly hung out with the boys every minute of the day. I was the youngest of six kids raised in the country, and to my total joy was left to run wild becoming a very brown, barefoot little girl always seen at the Lake (Erie), the pond, and in the fields. In the spring I was lucky to help dad plant a huge garden, quick rinsing veggies in the garden hose to eat so fresh I could still smell the wonderful aroma of fresh earth as I bit into them. 

I could tell you at a young age if the always surrounding corn and beans were going to be a good crop given flooding or drought that year, and still feel the farmer’s anxiety in the harder years. I learned by living near The River that it will make its way no matter what we do, like many things in life. Dad taught me to recognize many birds by their calls, how to stand completely still downwind from a doe with fawn to take in their beauty, and to help repopulate Mallards and Ring-necked Pheasants through the hatch, raise, and release programs—magical process. (By the way, Mallards bond to people much like puppies—they are so affectionate.) I respected seasoned hunters by seeing them educate themselves, practice careful hunting, and taking down only what they would really eat once home. Nature and I were completely in tune as a country kid, so when I went to Camp for many years I baited the other girls’ hooks, never worried about getting lost in the woods (the best part!!), and easily navigated the “wild” Sandusky River in my own canoe. Outside is where I had my confidence. 

Then along came boys and high school then marriage and kids with work, so I stayed inside way too much for many years. I never really lost interest in the outdoors, but waited for my time to get back out there and explore. 25+ years went by way too quickly...

Three summers ago I spotted a really strange bird on my pond that honked angrily at me when I flushed him. It took me weeks to identify him, pouring through pictures on line where I found Bitterns and Great Blue Herons which didn’t quite fit. I was getting close. Fortunately my friend Betsy Worden posted a gorgeous Green Heron photo on a cool Facebook wall; that was my bird! I poured through Birding Ohio pages for days, my heart racing at every amazing photo.

Green Heron
I was completely inspired by birders patiently helping out newbies to figure out bird heads from their tails, descriptions of “lifer dances”, and how much joy these birds were bringing them. I had now fully contracted Bird Fever, and it was time to head outside every minute I could squeeze into every day, much to the amazement and sometimes annoyance of my family and friends.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers
From there I met the local birders quickly who weren’t too annoyed by the excited newbie (Jeff, Bob, Shane, Jane, and others—in awe and deep appreciation—forever in my heart) and experienced a really great shore birding summer filled with Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson Snipe, Sanderlings, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. I started going on weekly walks with my new birding friends and too many completely-lost bird walks on my own in the woods. Wow, it really DID help when I bought my first pair of good binoculars and a Kaufman Bird Guide. The gift of a borrowed camera then my own at Christmas furthered my love of capturing the beautiful birds. 

Confusing Fall Warbler - Do you know what it is?
I remember getting a decent photo of my first Confusing Fall Warbler…I was overjoyed! Onto freezing, blustering walks on top of the Findlay Reservoir where I learned quickly how to seriously dress for that kind of bitter cold and saw amazing numbers of waterfowl, a few awesome gulls and spectacular winter scenes I had missed all my life like Snow Rollers and Hoar Frost (See photos below). 

The next Spring I felt like a kid in the candy shop at my first Biggest Week in American Birding where I added 25+ warblers to my Life List and was star struck meeting birding greats like Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, Greg Miller, and Tom Bartlett, all fantastic humans as well. It was simply amazing to FEEL the birding community come together to celebrate all things feathered; it took me weeks to wipe off the silly grin from my face! One of my favorite things is snapping photos of the joy on birder’s faces.

Birders at Biggest Week in American Birding
The birds have taught me patience and to be still, endurance in nasty weather be it 10 degrees on top of the Findlay Reservoir, drenching cold rain at Christmas Bird Counts, or mosquito-infested wetlands, and to push my past limits on “what is fun”. I would have never before dared to seek out of state birders on a Georgia vacation (birded all day with a soft spoken “Great” well known in the Georgia Ornithological Society) nor considered an all-day Pelagic on Lake Erie. I remember each and every “lifer” bird along with a dear birding friend by my side; you are all engraved in my forever memories.

The summers of slower birding have taught me to explore beyond birds, really seeing for the first time many icky critters like Crab Spiders (yikes), Scarabs on dead animals (I think I’m going to PUKE), and 10 foot long Water Snakes (YIKES!) But I am seeing the fascinating beauty in these creatures now, how they are connected to the birds, to the trees and flowers, to each other, and to us. Throw off the balance by destroying a bad weed, and we see the steep decline of the Monarch Butterfly. Use deadly sprays to kill garden “pests” and you endanger critical bugs like Honey Bees which in turn threatens our fruit supply. Clear trees/grasses/weeds for neighborhoods and landscaping your yard with non-native plants, and you lose various wildlife. Build “clean energy” windmills and place them wrong, and you lose majestic birds such as Bald Eagles on a regular basis.

Prothonotary Warbler
We keep messing with Mother Nature, and she’s not happy. The long-term consequences are really terrifying. I do see signs of Nature adjusting and repairing as only she knows how, and bless her for tenacity! The fall of our gorgeous Ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer (man’s idea to chop down every single tree in the infested zones obviously was not a good solution) also brought Woodpeckers on the increase. I’ve experienced the Red-headed Woodpecker return to my neighborhood and hoping for a Pileated! So there is promise and optimism in my step, like all other passions in my life.

I’ve come to more fully realize the importance of the human connection to nature for all of us, right down to our kids and the next generation. Like my dad often repeated from a famous quote, “We plant trees not for us, but for our children.” We have to appreciate and help sustain nature that we have around us whether birding or hunting or just walking in the beautiful woods, on the shorelines, and near murky waterways. I’ve started focusing my planned giving towards Nature Conservation groups and causes, and do hope more follow this path. 

Another home grown connection I love is with my young grandson who seems very interested in birds and everything moving outside. We’ve already spent countless hours chasing absolutely nothing and everything, from birds and bird poop to butterflies to grasshoppers and ants. Talk about a silly grin on Grammy’s face, he recently made a great ID pointing intensely to a Ruby-throated Hummingbird aka “Hu-bird!” very close to his face. He’s already brought his mamma a cute little spider in his hands, good boy, especially good since it was NOT to Grammy! If he never becomes an infected Bird Brain like me, I’ll be very happy to know at least one little boy will grow to respect and appreciate all things outside much like my dad inspired me.

Loving Nature and the dear friends it has brought to my life--Pass it on!

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  1. :) Fantastic! I can relate to much of this - especially those years of staying indoors. Thankfully I'm outdoors again; where the best things are.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Amy! It's been great to "bump into you" a few times while birding and look forward to when it happens again. roguebirders - thanks for hosting.

    1. So fun to run into birding friends like you Carlton, and thank you!

  3. Great read, Amy! It is fun to watch you growing in your love for nature and I'm glad I get to see it firsthand. Your dad did you right by bringing nature into your life and he's smiling down on you today!

    1. Couldn't have made it this far without the best birding mentor, Jeff! :) Dad probably thinks I'm still his "windy girl" but enjoying through me too.

  4. I love it Amy!! Very insightful and true to the heart!! I love the pictures too!!!

  5. What a wonderful perspective on life's reflections!
    Chase your passions Amy. Way to go.

    Cathy Weygandt

    1. :) Sometimes it's a challenge to find new passions as others die off. This one I guess had been building up for years!

  6. Nice job my friend! I absolutely love this article Amy!! Thanks for sharing and for inspiring me as well as others to appreciate what is around us and have respect for nature. The pictures are fantastic as well.

    1. Brooke that means everything to me, thank you my dear friend! Sometimes the outside is what keeps me alive and going through the crap of life, and I hope that it brings you that peace too when needed.


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