Volunteer Spotlight: Joseph Zeno
By: Vinay Karthik
Joseph Zeno, a junior from the San Francisco Bay Area, a climate advocate, and a member of the California Young Birders Club has a profound 6 years of experience and a deep passion for birding.
Joe first got interested in birding in 2017 when he and his friends were tasked with finding 30 species of birds from his local neighborhood for a sixth-grade project. “We pretty much just got hooked after that and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Joe said.
A year later, he officially joined the California Young Birders Club. The club would hold monthly field trips, some spanning overnight, to places across California such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mojave Desert. Joe recounts that “It helped expand my bird knowledge a lot and has led me to places that I never thought I would go.”
Joe also has a passion for photography and makes photo books and calendars with his photos of birds. “When you go out and see birds, they obviously look amazing. They are all so different and diverse, and it’s really fun to capture all those differences and save the memories and experiences that you have with them.”
Joe has seen over 550 species of birds from traveling to different places. One of the rarest birds that he has photographed was a Tropical Kingbird that had been blown off its migratory path from Mexico and was found on Halloween. He also posts photographs of birds he has taken on his Instagram account @joebirding.
During his travels, Joe has seen how climate change has impacted birds across California. “One of the big impacts that I have seen just here in California have mostly had to do with the fires and what that has done to the birds’ habitats.”
He says that some birds have specific habitat requirements such as Spotted Owls which can only live in old-growth forests. “Some of these forests are being removed because of urbanization, humans coming in, or due to wildfires and that is increasingly becoming a bigger and bigger problem as climate change gets worse and worse.”
Migratory patterns have also been affected by climate change as the time that birds can migrate to the North has been shifted earlier, giving them not enough time to prepare for their breeding season.
During the fall of 2020, the height of the pandemic, Joe had gone to Point Reyes and saw that there were even more birds in the trees there. “I wouldn’t really say that the pandemic has helped the birds but it has definitely helped me see them better.”
Joe believes that a price on carbon would help reduce the negative impact that climate change has on birds. “I know CCL is very focused on the carbon tax and I think that would definitely be a huge help in trying to get people to switch to alternate forms of energy that would help mitigate climate change. That would definitely help bird populations.”
He believes though that one of the main things people can do to help birds is by educating themselves about birds and other animals in their ecosystems. “If one factor of an ecosystem is removed, the entire thing can collapse and that can hurt humans in return.”
For aspiring birders, Joe says that the best way you can get better at birding is by going outside as much as possible. He recommends using a field guide or app to distinguish birds from each other and subscribing to rare bird alerts. He also advises using databases like eBird where people compare their bird findings to that of others, opening up a whole new community of birders.
Currently, Joe is working on a citizen climate project regarding birds that eat fish and how they are impacting endangered fish populations in the California Delta.
“You can do a lot without doing a lot, it doesn’t take much to make a bigger impact on ecosystems or on the earth in general. Anything helps and I would encourage people to follow their passions – especially their environmental ones. We need all the help we can get.”
Vinay Karthik is a freshman from the Wardlaw + Hartridge School in Edison, New Jersey, and a member of the Edison chapter of CCL. He is also an FXB Climate Advocate Ambassador and is part of the AI and Climate Committee doing research on optimizing renewable energy.