Parenting with Perspective is a blog series featuring working Seattle mothers, highlighting the way their career, personal interests and experiences, extended family, spiritual practices, fostering, gender, and culture shape the lives of their families. The aim of the series is to feature local parents and build a community, but also, in a very very modest way, to do that without portraying mothers as single-mindedly focused on constituting themselves as a certain one kind of person (as social media often seems to do). I focus largely on parents who are either running their own business or work in academia because juggling parenting and work when there are no clear boundaries imposed by fixed work schedules is familiar to me. In the future, this might change.
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Bryony is a birder and a writer on a mission. She writes about birding, conservation, gender and fashion. And if you never thought these things were related, or never considered yourself a birder, you must read her blog. It is likely to change the way you think about birding.
Tell me a little about your background. What inspired you to become a birder?
I’m a born and raised Pacific Northwest girl. I grew up in an artistic and environmentally conscious household with an artist/ornithologist dad and reproductive right activist mom. And one thing our family all did together was go birding (or bird watching). In an annual tradition, every New Year’s day we’d drive up to the Skagit Valley to count migrant swans and geese, watch eagles catch spawning salmon along the Skagit River, and tailgate picnic with family friends. Over the years my sister and I got to invite girlfriends to join these family day trips, and the joy of sharing a day outside with birds just grew and grew.
You write about birding in an effort to make it cool and accessible. Historically, what does a typical birder look like? Is it a white male? What else do you strive to achieve with your writing?
Yes, I want to popularize birding among women who might otherwise be discouraged by the image of the older white person with expensive optics and a competitive and stridently scientific (and humorless) attitude. Birding has an image problem, especially among people of color and younger birders. There’s a stereotype that you have to know a lot about birds already in order to call yourself a birder, and that you have to keep a life list for species seen and afford exotic trips to birding hotspots to be legitimate. I hope to establish a new archetype of birder, someone who birds on her terms, whether by watching a backyard feeder, birding in her city, taking trips, doing it alone or with friends, taking joy in common birds as much as uncommon birds. Birding is a sensory experience, and a way to fully engage with your surroundings, wherever you are. I am convinced that once a woman taps into paying attention, she’ll be hooked and never “not be birding.” That is my experience. I walk to work and hear birdsong through the layers of city noise. Aside from this, my larger goal is to bring awareness to the importance of wild bird conservation. My hope is that by noticing birds, people will care about preserving them.
Do you have a community of women birders locally?
Yes, but I wish I got out more with them! My sister and I lead annual birding trips in the winter, to the Skagit (our old stomping grounds), and I host a Facebook group called Birds Who Bird. The Facebook group is international, but many of the members are local to Seattle just because that is the critical mass of who’s been invited to join. I see more of my birding friends at Seattle Audubon events than I do out birding. I am a long time member of Seattle Audubon, as well as current board member. I support their mission of strengthening awareness of urban birds and building partnerships with other city environmental and social justice groups as a way to make birding more inclusive. Many of my women birding buddies are people I have met through Seattle Audubon. But I am constantly expanding on and building this community. I engage new friends who arent birders, and now they are birder friends, too! And I even met one of my birding buddies when I heard her on the radio talking about being a woman of color birder and wanting to redefine the narrative of who gets to be a birder. I fangirled her on Facebook and now we’ve gone birding together twice!
How have your birding and writing practices changed since becoming a parent?
I became a parent 8 years ago with my son, Vireo (named for a bird!), and started writing professionally when he was two years old. I suddenly felt this urgency to make a difference in my own words, as the future for my kid depends on me and others like me--saying something. I knew the best angle I had was my love of the outdoors and nature, and birds are what I know best. And guess what my first published story was about? Backyard birding with kids! At the time I tried a bunch of genres once I got my writing voice going: I wrote a lot about healthcare and childhood development and exploring parks with children. But I kept coming back to birds. I am not a science writer, and was instead interested in writing about the people who were interested in the birds, rather than the birds themselves. So three years ago I focused on writing about birding culture and appealing to women specifically. That is when I started my blog, sharing original content and published stories having to do with popularizing birding and showcasing women who work with wild birds as vocation or recreation. My daughter Vesper’s arrival in 2017 hasn’t changed my focus, but it has limited my time to write. My blog is now mostly Q&As, as these are quick to produce, and the limited writing I do outside of that is for pay. I used to blog for Seattle Audubon as a volunteer, but had to scale that back.
What are some creative ways in which you combine your passion with parenting. How do you keep up with your skills?
This is such a great question! I was a guest on the American Birding Podcast talking about how to bird when you have kids in tow. The long and short of it is that to bring my kiddos along birding, I have to make it more about them than what I hope to see that day. There absolutely has to be a draw for the kid outside of the birds or the hike. It helps if they can bring a friend along, or if there is some other distraction, like hunters and bird-dogs, such as you see in the Skagit. As for keeping up my skills, I mostly now bird in the city, so am getting to know common city birds more intimately since that is what I have time for at the moment. I have the Sibley Birding app on my phone and use it to confirm what I’ve seen or heard. I’m trying to improve my birding by ear right now. The other thing I do to keep up my skills is go out with birders who are more skilled than I am. I only know up to a certain point, and am aware of where I can improve in identification and bird behavior.
You love fashion and good design and you have made comments alluding to the way that we see outdoors culture and design (or fashion) sense as exclusive. This resonates a lot with some of my favorite social theory. Tell me more. What are your favorite pieces you like to wear when you bird?
Yes, I love to present well, to represent! In some birding conversations, women in particular say with a sort of pride that they do not care about fashion. But why not? Is that shameful or frivolous to care about fashion? My theory is this: because birding is historically an older, wealthier white man’s pastime, any woman who showed up was going to be at best, discounted and at worst, objectified. And especially if she wore something conventionally feminine or attractive to the male gaze. So birding fashion, if you can call it that, has become sexless. And birding remains that way to this day. Hiking, skiing and other outdoor apparel is now overtly and proudly varied from super femme to unisex, but in birding, it seems like any suggestion of prettiness is verboten. I firmly believe that we should showcase our best plumage when birding--the birds do it for us, we ought to do it for them. That’s my justification for having fun with what I wear when in the field. My favorite “uniform” is a fedora, tight pants, wool coat and galoshes.
What’s next for you and your family?
Well, I am at work on a book! The book has an interested publisher and it is about women in the North American birding scene, and how to get into birding. The target audience is, surprise! Urban and suburban women. Writing a book is all consuming, and I have to block out anything that does not have to do with this project, unless it is family or day job. I do not have birding trips planned, simply for lack of time. I want to use that weekend time to write! I know once this book is published that I will resume leading field trips and I would love to speak at bird festivals and continue writing articles about birding culture wherever I can find a home for such content. I already have another book idea in mind, too, after this one!
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