Outdoor Asian at Union Bay Natural Area | Glenn Nelson

By Tammy VuPham

Seattle Audubon NextGen Council and Equity & Justice Committee Member

The morning sun just peeked out of the clouds as a group gathered at Union Bay Natural Area. On April 2, I helped co-lead an “Intro to Birding” event for Outdoor Asian, a local organization whose goal is to include people who identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) in outdoor experiences. With binoculars and field guides on loan from Seattle Audubon, the bird curious attendees learned how to identify birds by sight and sound. We even learned some tips on nature photography from Glenn Nelson, Community Director at Seattle Audubon.

Traveling through the various looped trails at Union Bay Natural Area that day, each person learned how to identify the birds they observed and shared their discoveries with each other. We had teenagers up to seniors in our group, representing a diversity of places, heritages, and lived experiences. Although the group would normally not interact with each other in our daily lives, it was very special knowing that birding brought us all together for this one day. The following weekend, I was proud to see some of these same people out birding with new friends.

We all know the feeling of being too scared to raise our hand in class, or the sinking feeling when something embarrassing happens to us in front of others. “Shrink-wrapping” our future selves from risk-taking has an outsized effect on our love of birding and, really, all of our life choices. I was surprised to hear comments from attendees about their feeling safe during the outing. Then I realized that we were a group of AAPI-appearing individuals at a time in U.S. history where violence against our community is at an all-time high. This had a profound impact on their willingness to try a new activity in an unknown space.

We in environmental education often prescribe more funding or more professional training for conservation and advocacy initiatives. But what about the masses of people who don’t attend our events or hear our calls for action? It starts with “calling people in.” We all have the power to create spaces and opportunities for others to feel comfortable enough to take chances and act on those micro-moments of bravery.

The Great Wall wasn’t built in a day and neither are environmental advocates. Data shows that those most affected by a changing climate are those most systematically marginalized within our society. When we offer our resourcestime, knowledge, careto others, we are doing our part to inspire the next generation of advocates and community leaders. When we are all involved in future solutions for a changing climate, we will all benefit.

So the next time you are out birding and observe some curious passersby, remind yourself that a bit of your knowledge and time might spark a lifelong birder in them.

I was most struck by how vast the range of species was in such an urban space. Getting so close to the Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagles, cormorants, turtles, river otters, hummingbirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds was so magical. It was also so special to learn from folks in my community and the space felt so safe to ask any questions I had. I actually went to Kubota Gardens when I got home Saturday evening and used my Merlin app to identify some hummingbirds and Black-capped Chickadees.
Arunika Bhatia

Outdoor Asian participant

Going out and birding with Outdoor Asian was such a wonderful experience. It felt really nice to be out there with other AAPI birders. I learned so many new things on the short hike and was really excited that we were able to spot a pair of rare White-fronted Geese hanging out by the water.
Chris Liu

Outdoor Asian participant

Tammy VuPham

Tammy grew up in Georgia, where her first experience birding was observing the raptor nesting season through local conservation groups. She has a background in design with a focus on behavior change, but also leads outdoor trips throughout Washington as a guide. With the council, Tammy hopes to increase species awareness and encourage responsible recreation. Her other interests include learning history and the scientific illustration of birds.

Tammy VuPham at the Outdoor Asian event | Glenn Nelson

Explore other articles in this issue of EarthCare Northwest | Summer 2022