Building Bridges to Birding for Pride Month

“How would you rate your experience with birding: egg, nestling, fledgling, juvenile, or adult?” a guide asked.

“Definitely an egg! Is there a pre-egg?” Laughter rang out at as people got to know each other.

Pride Month kicked off in style at Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge. Fifty-five people had packed into the refuge’s Education Center on the evening of Friday, June 2, eager to learn more about birds and birding in safe company. For the third year in a row, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service organized and cohosted a “Let’s Go Birding Together” event in collaboration with the Black Hills Audubon Society and the Olympia chapter of PFLAG.

Few of the attendees had ever been in the Education Center, which was opened up for the special occasion. The facility is otherwise used almost exclusively for school field trips. It holds an impressive collection of taxidermy specimens of local birds, examples of species that refuge visitors may see on the trails. Taxidermied herons, mergansers, owls, and more, were on full display for attendees to view.

Andrew LaValle welcomes guests to the event in the Education Center.

“Birding can be an intimidating thing to get into. You might not know where to begin.” said Andrew LaValle of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “Delving into it alongside a community with a shared sense of identity can perhaps help remove some of that apprehension.”

While the event was geared towards members of the LGBT community and their families, folks from all walks of life were welcome, regardless of previous birding experience. The Audubon Society hosts “Let’s Go Birding Together” events across the country, and this annual partnership has been taking place at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge since 2021.

Alyssa Magliaro, AmeriCorps education coordinator for the refuge, handed out binoculars to use on the trail and gave a quick lesson in how to use them. Lacey Wright, AmeriCorps Education Coordinator for the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge’s Shorebird Education Program, taught participants how to recognize and imitate a few common bird calls. “Who-cooks-for-who!” the crowd called out in unison, mimicking the call of a barred owl.

Guides leading small groups on the trails included Julia Pinnix, Alyssa Magliaro, and Lacey Wright of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bonnie Wood and Michelle Huppert of the Black Hills Audubon Chapter.

Birdwatchers focus on something in the undergrowth.

Outside, the refuge delivered up marvels, as it so often does. Young birds were everywhere in evidence, from baby robins receiving caterpillars in the nest, to eager fuzzy mallard ducklings working their way through the pond. One group spotted four brown creeper fledglings stacked in a crack in a snag, popping out now and then to beg a parent for a bedtime snack as evening slowly deepened. Bald eagles soared over the estuary. Swainson’s thrushes hidden deep in the undergrowth sang over and over their spiralling notes.

Cool, calm weather and a rising full moon kept some birders on the trail for 45 minutes past the scheduled event time, soaking in the magic of a summer’s eve.

“How much do binoculars cost?” one participant asked on the way back to the Education Center. “I think I need a pair.”

Another reflected, “Birding seems to ask me to slow down and take my time.”

As Lacey shared in her lesson, simply hearing birds singing lowers blood pressure and relieves stress in people. And a walk on a summer evening with likeminded people can build new skills as well as a sense of community.

Story Tags

Special events
Wildlife refuges

Recreational Activities