I'm just back from the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium and this was the most insanely busy birding event I have ever been to. There was so much going on and so many people, my only complaint was that I didn't have the time to have an actual conversation with many people from people I want to meet to old friends I rarely see in person.
The symposium was held in a gated/resort community in northern Ohio, right on Lake Erie (and had a large feral cat population). It's a small "dry" town with cute houses fitted close together owned by wealthy people--I learned that the cottage I was in is owned by the Windex family so I was blessed with bright shiny windows. But you could walk/bike all over and it was interesting to walk from the cottage I was staying in to the speaker and vendor areas and pass birder after birder--many well known ones. "Oh, hey, there's Kenn Kaufman. And over there is Scott Weidensaul and over there is Sibley." The small community had totally turned into Birderville: population 1000. I have to say, that Minnesota birder and one of the best speakers on the bird festival circuit, Al Batt, brought down the house with his keynote. All the speakers were great, but Al as usual stood out and left people sore with laughter the next day--way to represent the Minnesota team, Al! Speaking of speakers, Jim McCormac has a blog post up and if you scroll down, you can watch a video of Kenn Kaufman behaving like a horny mourning dove (so much for Lakeside being a dry community).
I didn't take the above photo of ring-billed gulls. I lovely woman I met named Marilyn took it with my digiscoping set up. Part of my duties at the symposium was helping out at the Swarovski booth and help people with digiscoping. Even in early morning with low light, she was able to get a great shot with my HD 80 scope, Nikon D40 and DCA digital adaptor. I did enjoy working one on one with people to help them hone their technique...and explaining how to use Twitter.
The event was more about information and workshops than it was about birding but there was quite a bit going on. The bird of the festival was a Kirtland's warbler that was spotted five minutes from the event and many were able to go out and get photos of this accommodating life bird. Here's one over at 10,000 Birds. I went to look for it late in the day on Friday and had to chuckle at all the birder litter guiding folks to the spot where it could be seen. I did not see it, but I wasn't trying all that hard either (as can be seen in this blog entry over at Born Again Bird Watcher. Although, while a I was laying on the ground avoiding warbler neck, a Cooper's hawk flew low over the group and I had the best view. I joked that it appeared to have a warbler shaped crop and that was the reason we weren't seeing it. I left early, I think a Kirtland's is one of those rare birds that I know I'll see one day, I'd like to make it to Michigan. I actually spent more time watching shorebirds at the symposium--more on that later.
I had a total geek out moment. I was included in the book signing area for City Birds/Country Birds and it was an honor to be surrounded by the likes of Julie Zickefoose and Scott Weidensaul (above), but the real excitement for me was getting to sit next to Lang Elliot! He's written several great books, but many people out there know his voice. If you have any birding cds, chances are good that you have heard his classic, subdued voice narrating the species' names. I listened to these eight hours a day, five days a week when I worked at the bird store (eight years). I have to say, he may sound scientific and stuffy based on the narration, but he's hilarious. I told him that I had heard his voice so long saying bird names, I had always wanted to hear him swear. So, he swore at me. Loved it! Love meeting these hardcore dedicated scientific types and learning that they've got a little freak flag in there and they're not afraid to wave it.
Congratulations to Bird Watcher's Digest and all of their hard working staff who made the event so well attended and so action-packed with great content!