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What’s that bird?

By on July 25, 2017 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

When a student exclaims “Whoa!” volunteer birder knows she has shared her enthusiasm

A childhood illness introduced Susan Rae Sampson to the joys of wild bird watching.

By Susan Rae Sampson

Why am I freezing my butt off on a windy day in the state park at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers?

I’m here at “Youth on the Columbia,” a program of the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, a day of field trips for school children. They’ll visit the museum, paddle a 25’ long voyageur-style canoe, courtesy of the Wenatchee Row and Paddle Club, and take a lesson in using binoculars to finding and identifying birds.

I help with “What’s That Bird,” staged by the North Central Washington Audubon Society. We expect to coach six teams of 12 to 20 students each, third through fifth-graders, for each of these field days. We ask the kids to spot nine replicas of local birds that we’ve perched in nearby trees, then to identify each from photographs on field guide posters, and finally, to check its name on a long list of local species that birders call  their “life lists.”

For me, the enjoyment of bird-watching goes back to exactly my 10th birthday. My throat was sore from a tonsillectomy and I was being held out of school while I recovered.

To keep me busy while she attended to my younger siblings, Mom pulled a chair close to the living-room window and handed me a 1950s edition of Audubon’s Birds of America. She told me to identify the wild birds feeding in our front yard.

I already knew the robin; my first new identification was the Oregon Junco. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to see a Pileated Woodpecker beating its red-crested head into a bug-ridden pine tree.

Identifying this bird is easy: It is an osprey, perhaps looking for its next meal.

When November came, I was distressed when my father brought home ducks from a hunting trip, and mentioned that the beautiful Wood Ducks were becoming scarce. I asked him to stop shooting the pretty ones. He agreed, but he continued to buy a federal duck stamp every year, because money from the stamps was used to conserve duck habitat.

Every year he gave me the duck stamp to put into an album. I don’t think he ever hunted ducks again.

The kids here at the Confluence are clamoring to use the binoculars and are racing from tree to tree looking for birds. I help with the binoculars. They can be tricky, but I know that a student has focused correctly for the first time when he shouts, “Whoa!” I’d love to share this enthusiasm with my own grandsons, but they live the width of the continent away, so I’ve borrowed 90 grandchildren-for-a-day.

Opening our plein air classroom, retired college biology professor Mark Oswood warns kids that our replica of a robin is undersized because it ate too many Twinkies for breakfast and stunted its growth. They laugh, but they get the message.

He also answers serious questions from children and other volunteers.

He explains that even animals that are normally vegetarian will eat meat if they are starved for protein, particularly during their breeding seasons. That’s why leaf-eating bugs will cover a dead salmon, deer will eat road-kill, and yes, you can believe your own eyes — you saw a Steller’s Jay kill and eat a sparrow.

Meredith Spencer points out the first Loon that I’ve ever seen, and mentions that her life list is 428 species long. Merry Roy uses her teaching experience, keeping the kids attentive during her safety briefing, and later, teaching them the call of the chickadee, “Chickadeedeedee” from a bird app on her smart phone. Writer Susan Blair shares her plans for the next volume in her series of children’s activity books.

Photographer Bruce McCammon shows us beautiful bird images that he uses to illustrate his birding blog (https://bmccammon.wordpress.com/). He also shares a tip — I should dial my point-and-shoot camera from auto-focus to manual focus so I can photograph that Eastern Kingbird that is fluttering close to me without accidentally focusing on the mallards swimming through the background.

I think we all hope that the children at the river will become intrigued enough about birds to become the next generation of good citizens who want to protect their habitats, and thus, the environment.

So, if I’m standing out here on a riverbank today in a cold wind, it’s for kids, it’s for birds, and it’s for me to learn a few things and to enjoy talented company.


To learn more about the local Audubon Society

Information about the North Central Washington Audubon Society is available on its website at www.ncwaudubon.org and on Facebook.

The website allows a visitor to read the June 2017 newsletter, including Merry Roy’s list of books about birds that she recommends for summer reading.


See birds the way Audubon saw them

Switched-on Audubon: The original lithographic plates of John James Audubon’s Birds of America have been digitized and are available for downloading in a high resolution format for free.

See www.Audubon.org/birds-of-America.

Birds are listed by name, or by state birds.

Clicking on a picture opens a text about the bird, with a small picture in the upper right hand corner. Underneath that picture, you can click to look at the full sized plate, or to download it. When you click to download, you are asked whether you would like to receive an Audubon newsletter. You have the option of saying “No thank you,” and you can download the plate anyway.

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