When Mario Balitbit visited bookstores as a child, he typically skipped the children’s section and went straight to the shelves containing field guides with their detailed images of hundreds of birds.
“I’d see the artwork in the field guides, and I’d say, ‘I want to do that,’ ” recalled Balitbit, 17, a senior at Santa Rosa High.
The lifelong Santa Rosan today is seeking to combine his passions for birds and art.
“I’ve been birding for almost three years now, all over Sonoma County,” he said.
Balitbit has seen golden eagles and red-tailed hawks and pelicans, but also his “biggest highlight”: a blue-footed booby, a gull-sized seabird often associated with the Galápagos Islands.
Balitbit also has volunteered for five years at the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa. He began there while performing community service as a student at Santa Rosa Charter School.
And this October, he is one of six youths selected from the West Coast to go to San Diego for the annual conference of the Western Field Ornithologists.
Balitbit heard about the conference scholarships when he was taking part in an Audubon Society Christmas bird count. He wrote an essay and obtained letters of recommendation.
“I still can’t believe I got in,” he said.
In San Diego, he will attend birding field trips as well as workshops and sessions at the conference.