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A Note from our Chapter Chair
For the Birds

Susan Eastwood

May 2024

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Photo taken by Reggie S.

What a time! Strong winds of excitement and celebration met our community as we celebrated Black Birders Week. 2024 served as the 5th annual celebration of blackbirders by spotlighting black birders, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts, highlighting their contributions to the natural world while advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What is Black Birders Week? Black Birders Week is an annual opportunity to celebrate and uplift Black voices in the birding community. It's a chance to recognize the important role that Black birders play in conservation efforts, environmental justice, and community care. This year's theme, "Wings of Justice: Soaring for Change," underscored the commitment to bird conservation, environmental justice, and community empowerment. 

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Photo taken by D. Johnson

This celebration has particular significance in light of events that brought issues of race and representation in the outdoor community to the forefront. In 2020, a disturbing incident occurred when a Black birder, Christian Cooper, was birdwatching in New York's Central Park and asked a white woman to leash her dog, as per park regulations. Instead of complying, she called the police and falsely accused him of threatening her. This incident sparked outrage and highlighted the barriers that Black individuals often face while engaging in outdoor activities.

 

Black Birders Week was created as a response to such incidents, affirming the presence and importance of Black individuals in the birding and outdoor community. It serves as a celebration of resilience, community, and the power of representation.

 

This Week was intended to create safe spaces for Black birders and outdoor enthusiasts nationwide. Here in Connecticut, while we encouraged all folks to participate, we also recognized the importance of centering the experiences of Black individuals in nature. For many, this was their first birding experience, and we wanted to ensure that they felt welcomed and supported.

 

From virtual panels and workshops to in-person birding excursions, there was something for everyone during Black Birders Week. Not only were there events scheduled nationwide, but Connecticut held three in-person events that allowed for Black birders and outdoor enthusiasts as well as the general public to join in and celebrate.

Photo by Reggie S. 

How Black Birder’s Week Affects Remington Woods and Our Conservation Efforts 

The successful Black Birders Week events in Bridgeport and across Connecticut have significant positive implications for Remington Woods, underscoring the potential impact of engaging marginalized community members in outdoor recreational activities. These events serve as a vital pilot of what is possible when Remington Woods is conserved, demonstrating the community's strong interest in outdoor activities and nature conservation.

 

In 2021 Senator Blumenthal requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) look into expanding the Stewart B. McKinney Refuge to include Remington Woods. Since then, the Sierra Club Connecticut Chapter in collaboration with other organizations, residents, and stakeholders has worked to encourage the Service to continue movement on this priority. 

 

Our Black Birders Week events aligned seamlessly with the USFWS's Big Six activities, which include:

  • Hunting: Encouraging responsible and regulated hunting practices.

  • Fishing: Promoting fishing as a way to connect with nature and understand aquatic ecosystems.

  • Wildlife Observation: Facilitating opportunities for bird watching and observing other wildlife.

  • Photography: Inspiring individuals to capture the beauty of nature through photography.

  • Environmental Education: Providing educational programs about conservation and wildlife.

  • Interpretation: Offering interpretative programs to help people understand and appreciate natural resources.

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Photos by D. Johnson

For many marginalized communities, these traditional “American” outdoor recreational activities are non-traditional. Black Birders Week has shown that there is a keen interest and enthusiasm for birding, wildlife observation, and environmental education among diverse community members. 

 

By engaging in these non-traditional outdoor recreational activities participants had the chance to directly experience the types of recreational opportunities that could be expanded upon in Remington Woods. The success of these events highlights the feasibility and desirability of these activities, and the demand for these experiences, while also fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging in natural spaces. 

Black Birder’s Week Impact on Conservation

Traditionally, the birding community has not reflected the diverse demographics of urban cities. This lack of diversity means that data collected about bird species and populations often miss or underrepresent the full picture. Urban areas, rich in biodiversity, are frequently overlooked, resulting in incomplete data that can skew conservation priorities and funding decisions.

 

Black Birders Week serves as a vital community science project, engaging marginalized communities in birding and data collection. This inclusion helps fill the gaps in data from urban areas and highlights the biodiversity present in these regions. By involving a diverse group of participants, the data collected becomes more representative and accurate.

 

Inadequate data from urban areas affects conservation efforts. Without accurate information on bird populations and species in these regions, funding for conservation projects is often diverted to areas with more comprehensive data. This oversight leaves urban areas more vulnerable to overdevelopment and urban sprawl, threatening local ecosystems and biodiversity.

Immediate Success and Impact & A Pilot for the Future

On the very first day of Black Birders Week in Bridgeport, more than 22 bird species were identified, observed, and noted, including shorebirds, seabirds, raptors, and the famous Bridgeport parakeets. The group of 29 participants recorded more bird species in one day than had been observed by anyone in 1.5 months in that area. This remarkable achievement demonstrates the untapped potential of urban birding and the importance of engaging diverse communities in these efforts.

Photo by D. Johnson

The events act as a pilot program, illustrating what is achievable when urban natural spaces like Remington Woods are conserved and made accessible. The participation and enjoyment observed during Black Birders Week events offer a tangible example of how conserved spaces can serve the community. This pilot approach demonstrates the potential for similar initiatives in Remington Woods, indicating that there is a community ready and eager to engage with nature.

The enthusiastic participation in these events sends a clear message to the USFWS about the need for such activities for the joy and exploration of our communities throughout Connecticut, Fairfield County, and urban areas. It highlights the community's interest and the positive impact that conservation and accessible natural spaces can have on urban populations. This engagement is crucial for encouraging the USFWS to support the conservation of Remington Woods, as it provides evidence of the community's vested interest and the benefits of conserving the area for public use.

Albeit a very busy Memorial Day Weekend, the success of the Connecticut Black Birders Week events underscores the importance of conserving Remington Woods and other green spaces and engaging marginalized communities in non-traditional outdoor activities. It created a safe space for black nature lovers, skeptics, and birders, to explore the intersection of birding, Black communities, Black culture, and environmental justice. AND it aligned with the USFWS's Big Six activities and demonstrated the community's strong interest in nature, reinforcing the need for such initiatives to be supported and expanded.

A Special Note of Thanks

A sincere thank you to the BlackAFinSTEM Collective that graciously allows our organizations to join in celebrating Black Birders each year. Thank you also to the organizations, partners, and sponsors that made this week successful. Thank you to our photographers Reggy S. and D. Johnson. And thank you to all the black folks doing meaningful, impactful work in the environmental space. 

Here are some things you can do to stay in the loop with the Save Remington Woods campaign! 

  • Follow us on Facebook! Keep up with all the fun things happening each month with the Remington Woods Campaign

  • Do you love nature? Do you enjoy writing? Do you enjoy planning events? Do you enjoy community science projects? Join the Conservation Committee and help coordinate impactful events like this! Email remington.woods@sierraclub.org 

  • Check out a local East Coast victory that inspires our work: John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum: The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System, a network of lands set aside for the benefit of native wildlife and plants. Established in 1972 through local activism, the refuge protects habitat for the benefit of both people and wildlife. Visitors to the refuge may observe hundreds of species of plants, trees, birds, insects, and mammals.

  • Continue to spread the word about Remington Woods. Despite our steps towards a conserved Remington Woods, there are still many people who do not know about Fairfield’s Last Lung.

Jhoni Ada is Sierra Club Connecticut’s Community Outreach Coordinator on the Save Remington Woods project in Bridgeport, along with other outreach and projects within the city and Fairfield County.

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