by Ursa Born
Have you ever seen a baby seagull? Despite being a pretty big bird nerd who has visited Bodega Head multitudinous times, I hadn’t until I was there for an outing with Sonoma County’s Feminist Bird Club chapter. Typically my eyes are near the horizon, scanning for whales visible pretty much year round from our region’s westernmost point. But this day, my squinting eyes were trained on a nearby island of exposed continental granite amidst the frothy churning tide. My eyes were useless. An experienced birder with a high-end scope generously let me take a closer look and… gasp! A precious, awkward, spindly-legged fluff ball popped into crystal-clear view, perfectly mottled grays and browns blending seamlessly with its rocky home.
Now, with 34 chapters nationwide, the Feminist Bird Club aspires to “make birding and the outdoors inclusive and affirming to people who may not have safe access to it.” Sara Camnasio and Kate Freeman started a local chapter at the end of 2022 after finding that birding spaces were largely inaccessible, dominated by demographics they didn’t fit into, and often didn’t feel safe or inclusive particularly for people who identify as BIPOC, queer, and disabled. Jeffer Giang and Janelle Libertone were both eagerly present at FBC Sonoma’s first outing in January 2023, and quickly onboarded as co-leaders. “We wanted to focus on building community through birding and engaging about social and environmental justice topics relevant to this area,” says Camnasio.
This intersection of community, nature appreciation, and social justice is at the core of FBC Sonoma’s ethos. Their outings are always free and held with accessibility at the forefront. Route maps and conditions are communicated in advance, pronouns are always respected, and there are options for folks of differing abilities to participate. Most importantly, everyone, no matter their identity or experience level, is welcome. “People get into birding from different directions,” Giang tells me, citing members who come from fields like botany and mycology as well as environmental and social activism. “We are diversifying the community and creating spaces where people can feel welcome and safe.” Libertone quickly agrees and adds, “Birding is the excuse, but everything else is the purpose.”