By Jake Bramante
We stood below the trees pishing so that we could count the Golden-crowned Kinglets that were flitting high in the canopy. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember the kinglets coming down to get a look at us. I was helping Al, a family friend and wildlife biologist, count his section in the annual Christmas Bird Count. I was also learning a few tricks of the trade that only come by mentoring from one birder to another. I considered myself fortunate. Over the next few years, I would participate in other counts. I would see Great Blue Herons, Black-capped Chickadees, and many other birds. I would even have a Northern Pygmy Owl fly up to a branch about ten yards from me. That cemented an already growing passion for birds.
My parents had given me a subscription to Ranger Rick and hung a bird feeder outside our home in the woods that attracted chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. I grew up on a patch of land that was a little over seven acres of wooded property bordering Forest Service land. My brother and I explored it all summer long. Al had also bought me a “Golden Birds of North America” book and a pair of binoculars. Each one of these experiences, objects, and adventures fostered this love of birds and nature within me.
Upon moving back to Montana after college in Arizona, I rediscovered my love for the outdoors which has now become an obsession. During a trip to Bozeman this past summer to visit my cousin, we purchased a bag of sunflower seeds and a bird feeder for their two-year old daughter. She excitedly helped hang the feeder and now gets ecstatic for the finches that come and visit the feeder. Birds are such an amazing gateway to our wild places. Through little acts like shopping for a feeder and participating in Flathead Audubon, I am finally starting to be able to pay it forward. Whether it’s a magazine subscription, a bird feeder, a nature walk, or a bird book, we are presented with golden opportunities to gift the love of our wild places to the next generation. Make sure you take the time to do so. It matters.