In consideration of spending more time outdoors, and that we are studying birds, the BRDC guides decided to initiate this year’s Bird Sleuth in March, not January, as we did last year. This Cornell Lab of Ornithology program has different components, and the one we chose for this year is called “Most Wanted Birds” which offers a more basic approach to bird study.
We are working in two Grayson County High School classrooms: Becky Absher’s 2nd block and Deborah Greif’s and Kathy Wilson’s 4th block, twice each week for all of March and most of April. Both classes average 10 students, smaller than last year, offering us a better opportunity to fully engage each student. The reception has been positive. By the end of March we should have accomplished most of our indoor studies, and will concentrate on bird identification in the field through a series of short field trips to local ‘hot spots’.
The main goals of Most Wanted are to familiarize students with birds’ size and shape, habitat preference, behavior, feeding strategies and other identification clues. We study songs, body parts and the nomenclature, molting regimens, flight patterns and seasonal expectations including migration patterns. Gaining skills with field guides and binoculars are essential to the success of field identification. The students are keeping journals including written descriptions and sketching exercises.
Behind the school, along the now infamous Stinky Creek, we have set up several bird feeders, which amazingly attract quite a variety of passerines, or songbirds…including Carolina Chickadee, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Tufted Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, and Blue Jay…while scratching on the ground beneath the feeders we can expect Song Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Wren, and White-Throated Sparrow.
Along the trail we often startle the territorial Northern Mockingbird, and above us American Crows call, and both Black and Turkey Vultures soar. But so far, the most exciting thing that has happened surprised even our adult birding guides. Just as we arrived at Stinky Creek one afternoon, everyone noticed much activity in the brushy area that included some leftover berries. From a decent distance, we all put our binoculars on the action which turned out to be a largish flock of Cedar Waxwings. How many? My guess is 30 to 40. After everyone got good looks through the lenses, we stealthily moved closer, and eventually ended up within arm’s reach of the oh so beautiful waxwings, who seemed not to be bothered one bit by us. Every single one of us understood that this was a special event not soon to be repeated.