New Jersey Audubon

Its head consists almost only of eyes. When it hears a noise behind, it turns its head nearly all the way around. And its claws are razor-sharp. Owls are Emma’s absolute favorite birds. She thinks they are mysterious. While Emma, 15 years old, enjoys watching all birds, when she observes owls there is a bit of magic. For many teenagers they are just birds, which they often do not really take notice of. For Emma they provide countless hours of enjoyment and silent observation using her binoculars and camera.

She looks at each bird’s unique colors and specific characteristics and enjoys watching their behavior. Emma’s interest in nature began when she was five years old. Her mother Tracey supported this interest by looking for children’s programs at New Jersey Audubon. At these programs Emma learned how to look at birds and identify them. At an early age, she started joining the adult birdwatching field trips.

As youngsters learn more about the interesting lives that animals lead, they are motivated to become actively engaged in conservation actions.

New Jersey Audubon is the oldest and largest conservation organization in New Jersey, founded in 1897. Dale Rosselet is the Vice President of Education responsible for the young birders. It is important for her to introduce children to nature as early as possible. Dale reports researches, which show that connection to nature at a young age establishes a lifelong interest for environment. New Jersey is USA’s fourth smallest state, bordering New York and Pennsylvania.

It is the most densely populated state in the USA, but at the same time offers amazing habitat diversity from coastal ecosystems to dense forests. While exploring these habitats is a great adventure, it is also exciting to roam the urban parks and discover many species of birds. Dale knows that for young people, who are just starting to learn about birds, it is fun to get to know the birds in their neighborhood first.

Today Emma has a huge knowledge about birds, although she is still learning a lot. She especially gets excited watching rarities and “lifers”, birds she has never seen before.

While she enjoys birding by herself, she also likes spending time with her friends at the NJ Young Birders’ Club, which welcomes children and teenagers between the ages of 11 and 17. Together they go on field trips once or twice a month. But Emma and her best friends meet up to go birding more frequently. Even some of the young people, who have graduated from the club and have gone off to college, join the trips at times.

Sometimes Emma puts her binoculars aside as she also likes fishing and dealing with reptiles and amphibians. Dale Rosselet from New Jersey Audubon ensures a versatile program for the young birders. At the four nature centers, teacher naturalists conduct hundreds of programs to introduce wildlife to school children. From bugs to trees to birds they educate about habitats and how to protect them.

A central task of the organization is to foster environmental and conservation awareness and to protect threatened species. Last year, 3,256 children took part in some form of bird watching programs. These programs vary from basic identification classes to courses in bird ringing and data collection, where the learn how to participate in a migration count.

In the programs there is a balance between girls and boys involved, which is very similar to the adult birdwatchers. Last fall, Emma spent time at one of New Jersey Audubon’s hawk watches to learn how to count migrating hawks and how to inform visitors about the migration.

Occasionally, she has helped biology professor Tom Brown in bird ringing at one of the New Jersey’s coastal migration sites.

With all these types of programs, the New Jersey Audubon staff realizes that besides learning about nature, programs must be fun.

Often people give young children old binoculars or ones that do not provide the best viewing experience. Dale regards it as very important that young people have a quality experience with binoculars, so they do not get frustrated. Making sure the image of the bird being viewed is sharp and shows the birds’ true colors is a priority for Dale. This is why she started a partnership for New Jersey Audubon with ZEISS in USA. The nature centers already carried ZEISS binoculars for sale in their nature stores. Dale knew Rich Moncrief from this supplier relationship and found a close ally in him, sharing her mission to connect children with nature through birds – especially by using quality optics.

Rich equipped the Young Birders’ Club with ZEISS Terra ED binoculars within a sponsoring program. Emma knows too, that every detail counts when it comes to distinguish and observe birds. Not only is she excited about where birdwatching has led her, but her enthusiasm has infected her parents as well. They plan their vacations in a way that Emma gets enough opportunities for birding. One vacation in the Adirondacks, New York State, Emma remembers with pleasure where she hand-fed wild Canada Jays. Now in winter she focuses on owls and waterfowls. Emma is not sure what profession she will pursue as an adult, but she is certain that it definitely will involve birds.

Michaela Sulz

Michaela Sulz is a passionate birder and blogger for ZEISS Nature Blog.