9.26.16 Birdwatching - Wixon Innovation Middle School Dennis, MA A new school year and new flock of bird nerds! I'm very happy to be returning to Wixon, where I've spent many a sunny afternoon during the enrichment period of the day for these 4th & 5th graders! I even have a returning student - which makes the birds especially happy! We began by learning about binoculars today and how to treat them and how not to treat them. They are a wonderful tool when used properly, and I find them invaluable, though it's fun to test myself when they're not available. The kids jumped right in and enthusiastically slipped them on, ready to find some birds. They seem to be a simple tool, but there are some tricks to them, and part of my job here is to make sure everyone is familiar with the techniques to use them a little bit better. I wish I could report that we saw a bunch of birds, but we only heard them today. It's a challenge being patient and quiet, particularly at the end of a school day, when you're out in the sun... all you want to do is run & play. The problem with that is... we won't see a whole lot of birds if we're too loud or moving too fast. That's OK though... this is a learning process. One of the greatest aspects we have in our bird-loving group is the wealth of bird stories they each seem to have stocked up in their brains, ready to share. I LOVE THAT! So we will get to sharing them as we move through these afternoons together. I always want them to be on the lookout for feathery friends wherever it is they are, because even when you can't necessarily see or hear them... the birds are there. We're going to have a great time together! (double click photos to enlarge)
Excellent binocular technique!
Nest spotted! Bird nest, squirrel nest... not quite sure...
9.23.16 Bird Nerd Moment - Scorton Creek Sandwich, MA Learning with the senses... I really feel this is the best method of understanding a new concept. I know sometimes it's not wise, sometimes not even safe, to employ every sense when presenting ideas and information to others. When it IS safe to do so, well, then you can have some of those moments... a magical moment to maybe last a lifetime.
Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich is a gem of a place, nestled near a cranberry bog and the Smiling Pool, as Thornton Burgess so beautifully named it, just off of Route 6A in East Sandwich, MA. Years ago I was hired there as a part-time naturalist and I thought that I'd just won the job lottery! Seriously! It's not like you're out there in the woods, at the bog, on the salt marsh, sifting through silt looking for gold. Funny how it shows up though. What the HECK am I talking about? I was working for Green Briar on this perfect weather morning, the second day of autumn, with 10 second graders I'd never met. They'd previously had classroom presentations of their field trip to Scorton Creek, and lucky kiddos... here they were in Nature's classroom. We walked on the dirt road together, toward the marsh and the creek. We talked about plants, got interrupted by a few birds (Well I did. I always do.) we discussed why the salt marsh is such a vital and fragile ecosystem that deserves reverence. For some of these kids, it's their backyard. When you grow up with something so special just there all the time, it's easy to understand why such a place might become taken for granted. We had a check list of plants and animals and birds and isopods... we were doing well on the list, especially once we got to the creek and the kids could wade in if they wanted and use nets and buckets to get a closer look at whatever they discovered. I'm not used to kids who are dirt shy. When I'm at the Museum of Natural History, KidSummer kids expect and want to trash up their brand new white museum logo T-shirt with mud and sand and dirt. These kiddos were on a field trip from school - way to start the year Forestdale second graders! Some of them were less than enthused about the clay-like sand & mud in the creek bed though. No biggie. I'm not there to make anyone do anything they really don't want to do. The kids that did jump right in, literally, discovered some sea lettuce and some empty clam shells and 1 little green crab. So we got right up close and I held the crab and we talked about how it felt when the crab walked over our hands... could he bite us, yes, but his claws were tiny. Mostly - we all agreed, it tickled as he crept across the palms of our hands. Then, a bit of magic happened, though not everyone noticed. One of the more shy kids, who was not comfortable getting her feet muddy, who didn't want to wade or even step near the creek, who hung back so far until this moment... asked, "Can I hold the crab?" "OF COURSE!", said I! I was SO delighted and PROUD OF HER! I'd just met this youngster not an hour before, and here she was, growing right in front of me! This photo below is her, bravely & happily holding a young green crab in her hands. Don't miss the fading blue nail polish...
It was a magical nature moment. When the crab was in her hands, man-o-man did she break out into the most beautiful missing a few baby teeth smile! It was wonderful. Then another girl, who had also hung back away from the messy fun we'd been having, stepped up and asked the very same question. I was blown away! This is what the heck I'm talking about. Teaching with the senses. There is NOTHING like it. They could see the landscape, they could hear the breeze and the birds, they could smell the stinky sulfur of the healthy marsh, they could taste the salt from the brackish water on their hands, and they could feel the crab creeping gently across their hands...
All sorts of discovery going on
Pointing out Glasswort "sea pickle"
Courageously holding a skate egg case "mermaid's purse"
This student stepped WAY out of his comfort zone to hold this for my photo.
That's my hand next to his, letting him know that he would be fine.
Oak branches that dip into the water at high tide
Note the salt hay and grasses that dangle from the lower branches
I realize, this particular entry was not about birds, though we did see and hear: American Crow, Herring Gull, Song Sparrow & Belted Kingfisher; I felt like sharing this experience I had with these students. The 90 minutes I spent on the salt marsh with these 7 year olds, who I'll probably never see again (though I sure hope I do!) made my morning. I hope they visit Scorton Creek with their families, while walking the family dog and show them all they learned, in such a short time, in such a special spot, with Cape Cod magic all around them. Happy Birding, and crabbing!
9.14.16 Birdwalk for Cotuit Bird & Garden Club - John Wing Trail - Cape Cod Museum of Natural History Brewster, MA Today, I got to lead the Cotuit Bird & Garden Club along the John Wing Trail, north of the museum. I was surprised to discover that MOST of these club members had NEVER been on this particular trail! I was so happy to introduce them to it and to answer their questions and to see and hear some birds with them along the way. Determined to make it to the shore, especially because yesterday we had seen the large flock of Tree Swallows, I was really hoping we'd get to experience the same sight two days in a row... you just never know... I also felt that I should at least point out the plant species that I am familiar with along the trail. Much of it I've learned not only through my own curiosity, but also from both observing and asking questions of Nancy Wigley, my go-to Botanist. I tell you, I could listen to Nancy speak about poison ivy for 15 minutes and hang on every word. Her book, Trailside Treasures Plants of Cape Cod, is a tribute to this very trail we're walking. It includes photography by Susan W. Carr and gives a narrative about where exactly you can find particular species of plants and ALL ABOUT THEM, right here in Brewster. We were fortunate to run into Nancy after our walk, after I'd been raving about her! You can purchase the book at the fabulous gift shop inside the museum. What a perfect beach day, which can be a tease... I mean, we were there for the birds...and the plants, and the view, and the sun, and the sand and this amazing Cape we all live on, in, around... it's hard not to jump on in! It was such a nice bunch of curious caring bird and plant lovers. I do hope we get to spend time together again, surrounded by bird and/or leaves of some of their favorite plants. I have been known to say, "If it doesn't poop... I'm not always sure..." I do so respect the plant life we have here on the Cape especially. We are surrounded by a lot of blue...but the green makes it an extra healthy place to call home. (double click photos to enlarge) Our List: Black-capped Chickadee Blue Jay Northern Cardinal White-breasted Nuthatch Gray Catbird Tree Swallow Red-tailed Hawk American Crow Great Black-backed Gull Great Egret Mourning Dove Double-crested Cormorant Common Tern Semi-palmated Plover
9.13.16 Tuesday Tweets - John Wing Trail - Cape Cod Museum of Natural History Brewster, MA September seems perfect in almost every way when considering the beautiful world surrounding us on our bird walk this morning! We had a sea breeze to cool us at just the right moments and we had some new-comers who'd never been to Tuesday Tweets before. I do thoroughly enjoy visiting with the bird-lovers who return each week. Even though we hike the same trail, there is always something new to see and birds to hear and vistas to gaze upon. I was explaining to the folks who came along that I have daily bird walks with the KidSummer Birding 101 Kids, and how they sometimes will complain about the heat, or the sun, or the walk... blah blah blah. I do my best not to complain (unless someone's WHINING!) about the weather, and I will then also add, "Would you prefer to take a math test?" That will sometimes put things into perspective for them. Not everyone gets to set foot on the oh-so-wonderful John Wing Trail in Brewster, Massachusetts. Lucky me... I get to do it all the time, and I love to share it with nature-loving, bird-appreciating folks of all ages. We were pleasantly surprised by a flocking Tree Swallow air ballet for a few time standing still moments...what a SIGHT! They flew RIGHT over us, about 30-40 birds. We had a brief gull lesson by the time we got to the ocean. The 4 most common gulls were conveniently resting on the mudflats, all right next to each other. This is a great opportunity to compare field marks, though it can be tricky when you throw juvenile birds of each species into the mix. The fun part is realizing you're seeing a juvenile gull (or whatever bird you're observing) rather than a whole new species. Believe me - I get VERY excited when I see a "lifer" (what my bird nerd mentor Peter Trull calls a species you've never laid eyes on in the field before ), but I also find it fun to point out the field marks so birdwatchers perhaps less familiar with them can take that information with them. It's fun to know what species you're looking at. Birdwatching is obsessive. It's INCREDIBLE to do it in a locale such as this... if you haven't been on a Tuesday Tweets, well you gotta do it SOMEDAY! (double click on photos to enlarge) Our List: Northern Cardinal Gray Catbird American Crow Tree Swallow Black-capped Chickadee White-breasted Nuthatch Laughing Gull Great Black-backed Gull Herring Gull Ring-billed Gull Double-crested Cormorants Semi-palmated Plover Lesser Yellowlegs Great Blue Heron
Gray Catbird (looks like a juvenile to me, fluffy feathers)
Double-crested Cormorants, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls
Great Black-backed Gulls, Lesser Yellowlegs
Gulls, Gulls, GULLS... and a cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Gulls, with Yellowlegs on the spit of marsh grass (top of photo)
9.5.16 - Bird Nerd Moment - South Middle Beach South Yarmouth, MA There's a storm brewing... it's still off the Atlantic coast and is hundreds miles south of here, but it's coming....that's what all the weather folk are saying anyway. When this happens on the Cape, what's cool is, often you can see a storm headed right toward you, from a distance because we can just go to Nantucket Sound and well... look southeast. So I decided I wanted to do that. Today has been BEAUTIFUL here in Yarmouth anyway, and I wanted to go see what the water was doing. Curiosity got the better of me. I took a quick drive to our resident (aren't we LUCKY?!) beach, which is about 2 miles from home....
Well... as you can see - conditions at South Middle Beach - were perfect. It was breezy, the storm had evidently stalled out at sea as it was, pushed around by other pressure systems... meteorology is something I know nothing about. I pretty much look outside to forecast the weather, and I rely on our gaudy, one-winged fence ornament - Placido Flamingo - to let me know about the wind. I find him quite trustworthy. What was remarkable about this quick visit to the shore for me (sometimes that's all I get) was that I noticed a flocking of House Sparrows on the Rosa rugosa, AKA Beach rose. I wondered what they knew about the storm that we didn't. Typically you can learn a lot by observing wildlife and their habits and patterns. When a bad storm is coming, they KNOW. They seek shelter long before most of we humans do... this amount of House Sparrows did seem slightly unusual to me though... so of course, out came the phone camera. I know, not everyone is fond of House Sparrows (invasive species) and I've still got a beef with them from this spring. They kicked Tufted Titmouses out of a nest box in my yard. Stinkers. I had to take photos of them... tough to count, due to camouflage, but I believe there were about 40 that I could see...surprisingly quite well-hidden in the roses. See how many you can count! (double click photos to enlarge)
How many House Sparrows can you count?! (click on photo to enlarge!)