Friday, April 01, 2011

Next Generation of Birders

Birders and nature interpreters always worry about where we are going to find the next generation of birders, and how to get children outdoors. Today I had a wonderful opportunity to introduce about 200 1st and 3rd graders to birding, and enjoyed it immensely! To be honest, I was surprised at how eager the children were. Spotting scopes always generate interest though.  Frost covered the grass as I drove down a dirt lane on Ashbourne Farm. 
About 100 yards away from Harrod's Creek, I spotted a large sycamore tree with four blobby looking nests.  Gazing around the valley, many other trees had nests as well, probably 10-12 in total.  Some had Great Blue Herons on the nest, while others looked empty, for now at least.
 While I waited for the children to arrive, Herons flew around the trees, and called their rough squawk from a distance.  In other words, there was plenty of action.  When the children arrived we talked about what Herons eat, how they catch fish, and how they feed them to their babies. 
When the moment arrived to actually look at the birds through the scope I asked the first child, "Do you see the big blob of sticks?" "Yes," she replied.  "Do you see the white head and yellow beak of the bird?"  "No..."  You guessed it.  While we were talking the birds had flown away.  Well, as the morning progressed, some groups of children actually got to see the Herons in flight, some saw them sitting on the nest, and others only got to see the nest.  That's the way birding goes though, right? One little girl already knew all about Herons, though I didn't get a chance to find out how she came to be so interested and knowledgeable. The best part was the reactions of the children at the scope. "Awesome!" "Fantastic!" "Cool!" "I SEE IT!"  I think we made an impression on most of them. 
 On the way home, I decided to do a little birding of my own and stopped at a favorite small park.  It has a   "Managed Meadow," a small vernal pond which will dry up and disappear by July.  In the spring, however, there are always some ducks to be found.  Today the Blue Winged Teals were peeping along the shore, sounding more like baby chickens than ducks!
 Many people walk their dogs in this park, and ducks are more temptation than a Labrador Retriever can resist, no matter how much his owner yells.  I now understand why Blue Winged Teals have that name.
 The Teals were joined by a solitary Bufflehead female...
...and several pairs of Shovelers. Do you realize how many shots I took trying to get both of them with their bills out of the water?
 The guy behind me probably thought I had car trouble when I pulled off US 42 directly into the grass.  I couldn't resist jumping out for photos of some darling foals grazing in the grass with their mothers.
Congratulations to this Milkweed pod that survived the winter.  Now it's time to open and let the wind blow all the seeds to a location where they can grow and become feed for this summer's butterflies.  I'm ready for some warm weather again!

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