May 5, 2014 Updated: May 5, 2014 at 2:44 pm
After the devastation of the Black Forest fire, 15-year-old Alec Wyatt learned firsthand about the resiliency of birds.
Taking it upon himself to check on nest boxes affixed to charred trees, the Black Forest resident and teenage bird enthusiast was astonished to find dozens of eggs still intact along with signs that mother birds were returning to blackened turf to care for their offspring.
Out of approximately 60 eggs representing six species, about 47 baby birds were born in that charred landscape - and Alec was there to document it.
"It was absolutely incredible," the Rampart High School freshman told The Gazette in recounting a community service project that helped win him the title of the American Birding Association's 2014 Young Birder of the Year for the 14-18 age range. He won second place in 2013.
The national honor this year came after a 5 1/2-month-long effort in which Alec submitted writing samples, a report on his community service and notations from his field work - culminating in a 150-page contest submission.
For his work, he was published in the ABA's Birding Magazine and awarded a top-of-the-line pair of Leica binoculars - all the better to glimpse birds with.
Rather than rest on his laurels, Alec is sharing his insights - and his passion for birds - on a series of youth birding tours planned this summer through the Wild Bird Center, 5020 N. Nevada Ave. His first guided hike was on Saturday at Willow Springs Ponds in Fountain. It drew a half-dozen children and their parents, who peered through binoculars as Alec offered a primer on spotting gender differences among woodpeckers.
His next tour is tentatively scheduled for May 31. For details, call the center at 719-548-9863 or check its website at birdingstore.com.
Alec acquired his passion for birds as a fourth-grader at School in the Woods in Black Forest, a limited-enrollment Academy District 20 program emphasizing the natural sciences.
Soon, spotting birds became a steady focus. He recalls a family camping trip in which he waited for nightfall and went on the hunt with a flashlight, seeking the source of calls he could hear from camp. It was a Common Poorwill, and finding it remains a highlight in his deepening hobby.
"They're fairly common. But they're not very easy to see," he says.
It's a thrill he hopes to pass on to other young birders - not only through his birding tours, but by his volunteer work with today's fourth-graders at School in the Woods, he says.
"It really helps your awareness of the world around you."