A Bus Tour, Fresh Air, Montana Mountains; Reporters Acting Human Through Their Bird Calls

Take a bunch of journalists out of the conference room and to a wildlife refuge in Montana surrounded by majestic mountains, and you can see them embracing their inner nature.

Bob Danley, outdoor recreation planner at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, guided a Saturday afternoon tour of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge as part of SEJ’s annual conference. He briefed a busload of journalists about the history of wildlife refuges established by President Teddy Roosevelt.

Somewhat rotund and with his own handlebar mustache, Metcalf bore an uncanny resemblance both to actor Wilford Brimley and to the President he described as responsible for preserving so much wildlife.

After arriving at the refuge, he schooled journalists in the proper breathing and mouth positions for making different types of bird calls. Then he broke journalists into groups of three and promptly handed them a duck wing and a guidebook. Their assignment: Present to the group, identifying the type of duck the wing once belonged to, and then make the appropriate bird call.

Journalists unabashedly rose to the challenge. One held up the wing, Vanna White-style, as others described it, then loudly started giving out sounds like “squawk,” “cacaw,” “purr,” and even “meow,” (for the duck that makes noises like a cat.)

Metcalf was pleased that so many willingly participated. Surprised might better describe Michael Scott, an environmental reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer who coordinated the tour. Skeptical when he first heard of Metcalf’s bird-call plans, he doubted the group of outwardly serious journalists would be up for this type of nature exercise.

Alas, the tour showed what can happen in the great outdoors when journalists become momentarily detached from their laptops, e-mails, and Tweets. It ends up that they’re human too. Who’d have thought?

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