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.
While Balitbit was the first in his family to study birds, his father, Willie Balitbit, now enjoys going with him on field trips.
“I got him into birding, too,” Mario Balitbit said. “I’m really proud of that.”
At Santa Rosa High, Balitbit is part of the school’s ArtQuest program.
His area of focus is visual fine arts, using paint, watercolors and colored pencils. And most of his work involves studies of birds.
Outside of school, Balitbit will soon start his third year as a junior dance instructor for the Nordquist’s Dance program.
He loves ballroom dance, he said, “but my favorite dance is hip-hop,” with some break dancing thrown in.
After high school, Balitbit plans to attend Santa Rosa Junior College. Eventually he hopes to attend art college and pursue a career as an illustrator for field guides.
Often he is the youngest person on a birding field trip, which has prompted questions about why he took up the activity.
He admits he isn’t sure of the reasons.
“It’s just something I was meant to do,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or email@example.com. On Twitter @rdigit.
Lives with: Parents, Keri and Willie Balitbit, and younger sister, Maggie.
What he is listens to: Christian rock artists TobyMac and Matthew West, but also bird calls.
Favorite hobby: Birding.
Dream job: Illustrator for bird field guides.
Favorite TV shows: “Community” and “Friends.”
Favorite food: Sandwiches and seafood, including Dungeness and king crabs.
Quote: 'There’s no exact reason why I love birds the way I do. But what I tell others is that it’s a calling. It’s something that I was meant to do. — Mario Balitbit (paraphrased from 'The Big Year')