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'Birding' high school brothers create field guide of Arlington County birds

Max and Dante Julius are on a mission to educate people about local birds and how to protect them

ARLINGTON, Va. — Maxwell and Danté Julius stealthily slip through a dirt path that cuts a serpentine route through Arlington County's Long Branch Park and Nature Center. They're equipped with binoculars, cameras and a permeating curiosity about the native birds of their home county. 

Together, the high school brothers have created a 'Guide to the Birds of Arlington, VA.' But it's much more than just a description of local birds. 

"We've created this guide not only for people to be able to identify and know what birds they have in their local parks but also so that they can protect them and foster ideas of conservation amongst their peers this way," says younger brother Danté Julius, a student at Washington Liberty High School. 

Danté was the first to have a self-proclaimed obsession with birds. 

"I have been a bird watcher for about four and a half years. I mean, I've always been obsessed with biology and the sciences," said Danté.

For Maxwell, or Max, his interest peaked a bit later. As an amateur nature photographer, it was a natural fit after his brother's obsession rubbed off on him. 

"We like to enjoy them [birds] and like seeing what they're doing. We watch them and see how they're behaving," said Max. "And every time we go out there's always something new. We would see a different behavior or a bird we've never seen before."

Our quest was to seek out a red-shouldered hawk the brothers have spotted frequently in the park. Additionally, they're always on the lookout for "lifers" which is what someone calls a species of bird that you'd never seen in your life. 

One particularly annoying "bird" is the metal birds of Arlington County which are a constant nuisance. Frequent helicopter noise disrupts the serenity of the park and can also affect the health of the birds and their ecosystem. 

As we search for the hawk's nest I ask what it is exactly that we're looking for, other than the bird itself. 

"Have you ever seen squirrel's nests and a jumble of sticks in a tree-like about this large?" says Max as he mimes the size of an imaginary nest.

"I have three kids," I respond. "That's what the inside of my house looks like."

Max chuckles, "Well this one would be the size for about ten kids."

Ornithology is the study of birds and clearly, both brothers are headed in that direction in terms of a future professional careers. 

Max, as a high school senior, is honing in on Cornell University which hosts the exceptional Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

"Birds are definitely very important ecosystems because they are indicator species," explains Max. "That means they basically indicate when an ecosystem is in trouble or when it's doing well. They're like the 'canary in the coal mine' but for ecosystems."

The two brothers are hoping their website can serve as a solid community tool to keep the bird chirps thriving in Arlington

"We want it to also be a way that people can start to take action and help birds, for example, planting native plants or taking part in one of the invasive plant removal events that are posted frequently around Arlington parks," said Danté. 

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